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Afternoon gratitude

Independence and mourning

יום העצמאות / Yom ha-Atzma'ut and يوم النكبة / Yawm an-Nakba are conjoined in complicated ways. One day celebrates Israeli independence -- the declaration of the modern State of Israel, the flowering of the long-cherished Zionist dream. The other commemorates what is called in Arabic "The Disaster" -- the founding of that same modern state, seen from the perspective of those whose lives were irrevocably changed when Israel entered the scene. (A few years ago I reviewed an excellent book which tells some of those stories in a dispassionate and balanced way -- see my post A history of Jaffa, about the book City of Oranges.)

One historical moment takes on two vastly different meanings. For one community it's an occasion for celebration, joy and memory, patriotism and pride. For the other it's an occasion for mourning.

The cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable. I think about my friends and loved ones in Israel, about how hard they've worked to try to create a modern state which operates according to Jewish ideals, in which our sacred language of prayer is the language of street and marketplace once again, and I want to celebrate them and celebrate with them. I think about the Palestinians who have spent the years since Israel's founding as refugees, about a million petty injustices at checkpoints, about how difficult it is for East Jerusalem Palestinians to obtain housing permits (so Palestinian houses there are usually built illegally, and are therefore in constant danger of being demolished), and I begin to understand their sense of loss and grief.

The Israeli Knesset recently passed a bizarrely Orwellian piece of legislation which makes it possible to fine any communities which observe Yom ha-Atzma'ut as Yawm an-Nakba. (For more on this, read Nakba Law: Inside Pandora's Box.) Attaching monetary punishment to the memory of mourning won't do anything to heal the underlying reality that there are people in Israel who feel pride in Israel's existence and accomplishments and people in Israel who feel sorrow and frustration at the realities of Palestinian life. Indeed: there are people in Israel who feel both at once.

And people outside of Israel, too. My spiritual practice calls me to hold both of these narratives in my head and heart. I rejoice in the existence of the modern state of Israel, and I grieve that the Palestinians are, in the words of the late Israeli journalist Amos Elon -- may his memory be a blessing -- "victims of our independence." (I found that quote in the New Yorker's excellent essay The Future of the Israeli Newspaper Ha'aretz, which I highly recommend.)

I dream of the day when things will be different. When each community will be able to celebrate its own story and its own home. When the resentment and violence will be replaced by cordial cooperation and even friendship. When sentiments like those voiced in Aziz Abu Sarah's essay Happy Independence Day Wishes from a Palestinian won't be startling or rare.

But I don't know how to help create the reality I yearn for. Emily Hauser recently posted a call to reach out to President Obama and demand real leadership on Israel and Palestine; I think she's right, so I've reached out to the president. But it feels like a paltry thing. I don't think it's enough. I don't know how to make things really different for anyone.