Sunday, May 18, 2008

60 years

Israel celebrates its 60th year of existence. Over the years, we have seen many celebrations of independence around the world, but a national birthday is quite a rare moment is history. Like many Israelis, I cherish this moment, although for different reasons.

I believe this moment can be used to draw attention to a number of historical events, prior to and following the establishment of Israel. A few years ago, I was amazed to find out how little some people knew about the history of Israel. In their view, Israel existed for thousands of years, and was not just created following a political process overnight. Should we blame them? Yes, and no. Indeed, the Israeli discourse claims historicity by taking the Israeli roots back to the ancient time, when Moses led the exodus of his people from Egypt. They were called Israelis too. But that is the only similarity. The truth is that those people, apart from a shared religion, have no cultural or racial similarity with the majority of individuals who call themselves Israelis today. So what do we mean, when we are talking about roots?

The establishment of Israel seems to be a forgotten event. It is not in any way represented in the Israeli and Euro-American political discourses, although it lies at the very basis of the Arab-Israeli conflict. “Israel has the right to exist”! That’s one phrase that is being recycled over and over in response to critiques of Israeli aggression. But how exactly has Israel acquired this right? The creation of Israel has been a result of a political consensus between a few powerful states directly following the Second World War. It was decided that Jewish people, being the primary victims of the holocaust, should be able to live freely in their own land*. But as they did not possess a land, the former Palestine, which was at the time under the British mandate, was chosen as the best geographical location for the new country. Almost the entire Western world approved a UN resolution, which sought to implement this plan. All Muslim states rejected it. No one asked the Palestinians whether they liked the idea of a Jewish state in the middle of their territories. In a few years time, a large part of the original residents of the Palestinian land was forced to flee their homes, following Israeli military aggression. Thousands of people lost their lives, others have lived under repression ever since. To date, Israel has persistently denied these refugees’ their legal right to return to their homes, in spite of numerous UN resolutions.

Today, as the 60th anniversary of Israel in being celebrated, I cannot stop thinking about the atrocities, and the human suffering this country has caused. I wish the Palestinian refugees a safe journey home, perhaps some day in my lifetime.

* Apparently this plan had a historical context.