Wanted for Alternative Ceremony: Arabs

Only 20 of the 160 people who showed up to participate in the conference connecting Nakba Day and Independence Day were Arab.

Unlike those who relate them, the Israeli-Jewish narrative and the Palestinian-Arab narratives usually share what seems to be a productive coexistence, a kind of strange mutual support system: the more one develops and grows, so its colleague-rival is reinforced and strengthened.

So just now there is a festival of narratives: the traditional torch-lighting on Mount Herzl was accompanied last week by a "Procession of Return" event, which is held annually on the Hebrew date of Independence Day, and was marked this year by a pilgrimage to the abandoned village of Saphoria (Tzipori); while Israeli Jews were lighting barbecues, internal refugees visited their destroyed villages, which were usually not far from their present homes; the President's Conference "Facing Tomorrow," which opens today and will host world leaders, will be followed by Nakba Day - literally, "the catastrophe," the Palestinians' term for what happened to them after 1948, which falls on May 15, the Gregorian date of the establishment of the State of Israel. Nakba Day is marked in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Arab states and even in Europe.

There was an unusual attempt to have the narratives not only coexist, but also actually be in the same place, over Memorial Day and Independence Day at the Givat Haviva hostel. This is the sixth time that "the experiment," as it is called by the organizers, has taken place. This year apparently there was a record number of participants: 160 adults and 20 children.

"Political-spiritual peace work" was the title of this encounter; "Jews and Palestinians, citizens of the State of Israel, together mark Memorial Day, Nakba Day and Independence Day," stated the invitation.

Mattresses on the floor

The hall in which the participants gathered was set up in advance: Mattresses were spread out, pillows scattered, and the participants (mostly Jews), immediately after removing their shoes, slipped into yoga sitting positions. The few participants who are accustomed to Western-style sitting, or who didn't want to stretch out on mattresses, made do with two rows of chairs along the walls of the room.

Dr. Jamal Darash, a Haifa resident and a family doctor, opened the event. "The majority are not with us," he said. "The majority are not here and chose to be alone, not together. You chose otherwise, not to go with the flow," he complimented the participants. His partner in organizing the event, Michal Tal-Yah, a music therapist, spoke after him. "Welcome to the transformation of the impossible into the possible," she said and received a round of applause.

But it is unclear whether the impossible was indeed transformed into the possible. Inequality stood out here, too. Arab Israelis were a rare commodity, and the Jewish participants had a hard time "sharing the anger and pain with the Arabs." Of the 160 people present, 140 were Jews, 20 were Arabs.

Darash related to the numerical facts:. "It's like a share of the population," he said. "Attendance is a sign of a maturity and growth. Thank you, to those of you who came and expressed a commitment. Don't think they don't want to meet you, but think about the fact that you are generous and willing to give, even if there is no one to receive."

Tal-Yah said that if there are winners and losers, there will not be peace, and that only by finding a common path based on equality, will progress be possible. "We want to meet in a place of pain, to recognize the suffering of our fellows," she said, "and it's hard to empathize with the pain of one who is perceived as an enemy."

Groups of three

After the introductions, the participants split into groups of three to get acquainted. The organizers stressed they should not conduct a conversation, but just listen for a few minutes to what the group members had to say. Journalists did not get an exemption from the icebreaking exercise.

R. came to the group to be comforted a little. In her professional life, she works all the time with Arabs, and it's going well. To ease her conscience over the issue of the occupation, she also shows up at roadblocks as part of Mahsom Watch-Women for Human Rights, but recently she attended a political gathering with Arab colleagues, who, she said, let out tremendous hatred for Jews. "It's a little depressing," she said.

Z. came to promote joint efforts, but unfortunately, her Arab colleagues, whom she repeatedly urged to attend the event, did not bother to show up.

After the introductions, there was a lecture given by an "internal refugee," Adnan Mahamid, today a resident of Umm al-Fahm, who was born in the destroyed village of A-Lajun, who told the audience about what life was once like.

Eitan Kalinsky, a Petah Tikva native, related his recollections of growing up next door to the Arab villages before the war, and of their destruction after the war.

After the lectures, an alternative memorial ceremony was held: The lights were dimmed, music played in the background and each of the participants could go at his own leisure to the center of the circle, light a candle and dedicate it to anyone he wanted, out loud or silently.

So does one actually share the pain?

Darash says it's hard to explain. "It's like explaining how to swim theoretically. You have to come and try it," he said. Tal-Yah is also very optimistic. "There has to be less cynicism; we need to make room. Talking about the Nakba will not lead to Israel's collapse," she said.