You Have to Be Sad, Then Happy

In a short period of seven days the State of Israel dictates three times what its citizens should feel.

In a short period of seven days the State of Israel dictates three times what its citizens should feel: They should grieve twice - on Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Memorial Day, and to be happy once - on Independence Day. These three days are commemorated in Israel with near zealous totality, a sort of missionary sanctity that appears to be intensifying over the years, including the issuing of fines to anyone violating the holiday's laws.

The inspectors who check up on feelings fined thousands of people who opened their coffee shops and restaurants on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, including in Arab Jaffa. There is no democracy that mobilizes its forces to such an extent as to dictate to its citizens what they should feel and how they should behave on Memorial Day. Similarly, no other media like the Israeli media, rallies with such absolute commitment to the task, dedicating most of its print pages and hours of broadcasting to these three customs.

This missionary activity has lately also taken on a character of persecution: Had Avram Grant not worn a black arm band with a yellow Star of David on his arm while he coached his English team on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a ridiculous sight in the eyes of many, and exemplary for others, and rushed the next day to his Champions match at Auschwitz, one can only imagine that he would have been denounced and ostracized in Israel, at least like a singer who did not serve in the Israel Defense Forces. These are troubling signs that only undermine the essence of our sacred national holidays.

The Holocaust must be remembered, and it is imperative that we honor the memory of sons lost in battle, but not by coercion and persecution. It is unfortunately true that without state intervention these dates would not be observed. Were Israelis given the freedom to decide, some of the centers of entertainment would be open on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Memorial Day, and the special character of these dates would quickly dissipate. It is of course legitimate to also ask: So what? If this is the wish of some Israelis, what is wrong with it? But the wish of the state to shape a national heritage is understandable - to establish national holidays and to maintain a tradition, in a society that is relatively young and made up mostly of immigrants. There is a huge difference from this approach to the totalitarianism in place.

The problem is that these dates are not really part of the tradition of a not insignificant portion of Israelis. Holocaust Memorial Day is perceived by some of the Mizrahi Jews as a memorial day for Ashkenazis; the Memorial Day for the IDF fallen is alien to at least part of the ultra-Orhodox; as for the Arab citizens, who constitute a fifth of our country, not only are they estranged from two thirds of these dates, but they are also hostile. Not only are the dates of our catastrophes not the days of their catastrophes, but the day of our celebration is the day of their great national disaster. No amendment and no law will alter these eternal facts.

But the state does not only make do with imposing these dates on that same community that feels alienated or hostile to them. It also uses oppressive methods when it tries to prevent them from freely expressing their genuine feelings. If the national decree on the memorial days of the majority is to be sad and to be happy during their days of celebration is acceptable, it is not acceptable to bar the minority to also express its unique national feelings. A siren during the Memorial Day for the IDF fallen? Then why not a similar siren for the Nakba (the Palestinian term for what happened to them after 1948) in the Arab towns and villages in memory of their casualties and displaced persons?

Late last week the Nazareth District Court had to intervene to allow the Islamic Movement to hold a memorial for the Palestinian Nakba in Kafr Kana. Ilan Gabrieli, the head of the local council appointed by the Interior Ministry, argued that this constitutes a "political event," which should not be allowed in the community. Why is commemorating the Nakba "political" and celebrating Independence Day is not?

No less ridiculous are- the right-wing spokesmen who are railing against the court's decision - Gideon Sa'ar, who established that the ruling is "morally bankrupt," no less, and Zevulun Orlev, who said that it "belittles the Declaration of Independence." That same declaration that established the state "will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture... ." Remember?

After 60 years it is now time to be mature. There is no longer a need to forcefully impose or to prevent national sentiments. Israel is sufficiently mature to commemorate with the majority what is relevant to the majority, and to allow the minority the freedom to express its feelings. The Jewish National Fund, which recently rescinded its promise to Zochrot, a non-government organization, to commemorate the names of lost Palestinian villages on the historic sign posts it puts up, only highlights our weaknesses: The land is still burning under our feet. The local council head who tried to prevent the memorial for the Nakba ("The Catastrophe"), failed to prevent the Arab citizens from feeling that Independence Day is the day of their catastrophe - it really is. Must there be happiness on Independence Day? Only to those who really feel it.