Time to Stop Mourning

If they would only extricate themselves from the sackcloth of the Nakba, Palestinian-Israelis could celebrate their impressive accomplishments on the 60th anniversary of the state.

The celebrations planned to mark Israel's 60th Independence Day have become, as expected, a source of confrontation between the Jewish community, which seeks to foster patriotic feelings and build bridges between its divided populations, and the Palestinian-Israeli community, whose national tragedy it recalls. It is an exact reenactment of the confrontation that occurred 10 years ago, when the celebration of the state's jubilee served as a catalyst and focal point for feelings of mourning and protest, and for designating Nakba Day, which, together with Land Day, became a central date on the Palestinian calendar.

The confrontation is unavoidable. After all, the day of celebration for one side is truly a day of mourning for the other. The pious attempts to find a common denominator are of no avail. It would have been possible to leave the Palestinians alone and not impose an obligatory celebration on them, but Israeli spokespersons cannot remain indifferent to the Palestinian expressions of protest. They see the Palestinian protest as a disguised aspiration to destroy Israel, ostensibly cloaked in "mourning over the establishment of the state."

Only paranoia and a repressed feeling of guilt could produce the shocking sentence uttered by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter: "Those who sit year after year and cry about the Nakba shouldn't be surprised if in the end they really do have a Nakba." The Palestinian community is entitled to express its pain and those, like Dichter, who think it is possible to buy them with "livelihood and education" demonstrate they are still stuck in the thinking of the military government of the 1950s.

The protest and boycott of "the hypocritical celebration" is understandable, but their public and organized expression actually highlights a different facet, which counters the weeping and mourning of Nakba Day. Anyone examining the history of the Palestinian minority in Israel since the establishment of the state cannot but be surprised by its achievements.

It started as a community that numbered less than 200,000 people, who were considered a fifth column by Israelis and as traitors who served the occupier in the eyes of their brethren across the border.

The Palestinian-Israelis lived for many years under a repressive regime and they were mainly concerned with the difficulties of earning a living and the danger of their land being robbed. They had little confidence in themselves and the authorities worked to deepen this feeling.

Under these conditions, one does not focus on collective rights, but rather on the daily struggle for improvement on a limited scope. Slowly, the economic, social and legal situation began to improve, and attention could then turn to the source of the deprivation: the collective discrimination and the ethnic labeling.

The expressions of protest, such as Nakba Day and Land Day, did not develop and become more acute because the deprivation became more severe. The opposite is true: The system became more flexible, the Arab minority grew fivefold and despite the deprivation and discrimination in education and social services, many of its members recorded impressive achievements.

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian-Israeli minority could proudly note the dramatic change that occurred in their community, which transformed from a marginal group into a consolidated minority that recognizes its own value and challenges the majority community by presenting documents demanding collective equality and the rights of an indigenous national minority.

If the Palestinian-Israelis were to liberate themselves from the tradition of mourning the Nakba, they would be free to see how they have changed from a group that was disparaged by their people across the border into a community whose leaders and intellectuals are at the forefront of the Palestinian national movement.

Indeed, while the PLO is changing from being the leader of a national liberation movement into a collection of beggars at international conferences, while Hamas bunkers itself in anachronistic positions that can only lead to tragedy, and while the Palestinian diaspora remains without leadership - the Palestinian-Israeli community becomes the standard bearer of Palestinian democratic nationalism, cognizant of the limitations of its power and intimately familiar with its Jewish-Zionist rival.

If they would only extricate themselves from the sackcloth of the Nakba, the Palestinian-Israelis could celebrate their impressive accomplishments on the 60th anniversary, and thus accord the correct proportions to the celebrations.