On observing the nakba

Many of you have seen the traffic coming to a stop on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance day and Memorial Day, with drivers getting out of their cars and pedestrians standing stock still, at attention while a siren sounds for two minutes. It never ceases to move me to tears, no matter how many times I’ve experienced it. Ordinary Israelis understand quite well why their independence is important and what it still costs them.

If you’ve seen videos of the event, you may have noticed a few vehicles that don’t stop. These are primarily Arabs. After all, it’s not their grandparents who were murdered by the Nazis (the father of Palestinian nationalism, al-Husseini, was a Nazi himself), and the last people they would want to honor are the soldiers who died to keep the Arabs from finishing al-Husseini and Hitler’s program. Indeed, today the Arabs of Judea and Samaria will sound  a siren of their own to commemorate “nakba day,” the day they failed to prevent Jewish sovereignty from returning to the Land of Israel.

The experience of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, which all come within the space of a week, always affects me profoundly, creating feelings of love for the Jewish people and pride at what we have accomplished. I don’t have the slightest twinge of regret for what my people had to do to get their independence, and what we continue to do to keep it. And I don’t think there is a place in the state of Israel for the observance of the nakba, the catastrophic failure of our enemies to kill or re-disperse us.

Some Jewish Israelis, like the one that wrote this, disagree.

God, I love this country – and I am not ashamed to be a Jewish citizen of Israel… and yet… and yet… I think about others… the nearly 23% citizens of Israel who did not look toward Zion, who were already here when we returned home, the people who cut their teeth on stories of banishment, of exile so like ours, only done by us to them during one of the most tumultuous periods in modern history… a time when we, too, uprooted were building a home. A time when they, firmly rooted, had to flee. …

Yes, we need a homeland. And yes, I’m glad we have returned home. And I’m not going anywhere, nor are my kids — but until both people [sic] who share this land can celebrate and mourn their narratives together, I find no reason to celebrate wholly. For truly, being strong means allowing space for others. For truly, if we are to be worthy of our ancient hope, we must respect the yearnings of others, too. For truly, we are not free until both peoples celebrate and mourn side by side, and hold both truths as one.

The author of the above, Sarah Tuttle-Singer, has an overdeveloped ability to empathize with others (many of these others would as soon kill her and her children as look at them), but she is also making a fundamental mistake about the nature of the Jewish state. She is ignoring the fact that it is a Jewish state.

I’m sure she would deny that. But what is the meaning of the concept? In order to understand, we need to reflect on the beginnings of Zionism and why the state came into being. There are many threads here, but the central one is that in order for the Jewish people to be free of oppression they must live in a state that belongs to them. It isn’t enough to live under a tolerant regime among mostly tolerant people, like the US, or even in a place with a Jewish majority. There needs to be a nation-state of the Jewish people, belonging to the Jewish people, where Jews provide the labor and defend the state, where Jews make the rules and enforce them. Where Jews hold title to the land.

Yes, our Declaration of Independence proclaims a Jewish and democratic state. But it makes no sense to understand ‘democracy’ in such a way as to negate Jewishness. To suggest otherwise is to deny the validity of the Zionist idea and its insistence on a state that belongs to the Jewish people. Without Zionism, Israel would be just like any other democracy. It would be like the US, perhaps Tuttle-Singer’s paradigm of a democracy. She forgets that Israel is not aspiring to be a multicultural democracy like the US.

Unlike the planned ‘Palestinian’ state, the Jewish state affords civil rights to its minority residents. But it would be self-contradictory for it to give them the right to negate the Jewish nature of the state. And that is exactly the program of Palestinian nationalists among the Arab citizens of Israel.

The nakba story is a story about the land belonging to a ‘Palestinian people’ and how that land was stolen from them. It is not only historically false, it is designed to provide a justification for the violent destruction of the Jewish state. It is not a ‘truth’, as Tuttle-Singer seems to think, which is as valid as the Zionist narrative.

The ‘Palestinians’ who don’t have a language or religion of their own, or a historical tradition in the land going back more than a couple of hundred years – for most of them, far less than this – didn’t start developing a peoplehood until they were faced with the possibility of Jewish sovereignty. Their ‘exile’ was mostly self-imposed, and their rejection of our sovereignty was the primary reason for it. Their actions, both before and after the founding of the state have been profoundly immoral, even murderous. And we are supposed to “celebrate” together with them? Respect their “yearnings” (to kick us out of our land)?

This is our country, the nation-state of the Jewish people. If our Arab citizens enjoy living here and taking advantage of the safety, stability, liberty and functioning economy of the Jewish state – so different from the chaos, oppression and poverty of most Arab states – we will treat them as equal citizens under the law.

We can’t stop them from believing fairy tales. But we don’t have to embrace a narrative that contradicts our own national existence. Who would?

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One Response to On observing the nakba

  1. traderjoe91 says:


    I’ve always “known” about the invention of the modern Palestinian people, but never really gave it much thought – dismissed it as historical ignorance. At this point though, it’s really starting to bother me that I have to discuss this issue on THEIR terms – using their nomenclature. I don’t want to say, for example, “Hamas’ use of Palestinian civilians as human shields” – it is Hamas’ use of Arab’s as human shields. We seem to put ourselves in a weaker position when we give in to their narrative each time we utter the word “Palestinian,” and there doesn’t seem to be any way around it except a concerted media effort to get people to recognize the inaccuracy here.

    So my question is – Netanyahu, a lover of history, a great speaker who loves to seize the opportunity and point out logical inconsistencies and other stupidities in his big speeches…why doesn’t he start shifting the tide in this particular arena? Is it to his disadvantage to point out that – “Hey, the Palestinians are Arabs. Arabs have 23-24 states already, and Israel is a Jewish state 1/600th the size of all the Arab states combined. Given this, we don’t have to make any territorial concessions to the Arabs.”

    Otherwise the dialogue is “we don’t have to make any territorial concessions to the Palestinians,” which conjures up not the image of the entire Arab world but a little sliver of it.

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