"I don't expect an Arab national to sing 'A Jewish soul still yearns,' Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said two months ago, after Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran refrained from singing the national anthem. Although the message was conveyed to Joubran indirectly, it reflected Netanyahu's understanding of the fundamental contradiction underlying an anthem that addresses only one people, the Jewish one.
Yet such an understanding is nonexistent when it comes to remembering the Nakba, or "catastrophe" - the Palestinians' term for what happened to them when the state was founded in 1948. This is the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of refugees and their millions of relatives, for whom May 15 - the day the establishment of the State of Israel was announced - symbolizes the day they lost their land, property and status.
The historic controversy over the responsibility for the Palestinian people's tragedy is still pending. It will continue to hover over both nations, and its explosive potential will continue to grow as long as the conflict is not settled at the negotiating table.
But washing our hands of the responsibility for the Palestinians' suffering should not mean revoking the right to remember it. Nor is it supposed to prevent us from empathizing with the suffering of the other nation living in Israel.
The tremendous effort that the state puts into wiping out the Nakba's memory is astonishing and outrageous. The Nakba has been scoured from textbooks, and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has "suggested" that Tel Aviv University reconsider holding the Nakba Day ceremony it had planned. Does the government really believe that thwarting a commemoration ceremony, imposing a ban on teaching the Arab chapter in Israel's history, and passing laws that forbid empathy with the Nakba will erase the tragedy from memory? Will the state's expression of grief for the refugees' suffering really shatter Israel's right to exist? And why shouldn't the state allow the uprooted villagers of Ikrit and Biram, who are citizens of Israel, to return to some of their land, which has been abandoned and unused for decades?
A person who understands that an Arab citizen should not be forced to sing "a Jewish soul still yearns" should be expected to let that citizen commemorate the Nakba without having to pay for it and without being denied government funding. Nakba Day does not belong only to the Arabs; it is an inseparable part of the story of Israel's revival.
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