JERUSALEM: The inevitable clash between the historical narrative of the Jews and their attachment to the land and that of the Arabs citizens of Israel takes on many forms. The one aspect of this clash which stands out above the rest, possibly because it comes up often on Israel s Independence Day, is the attitude towards the state s foundation in 1948.
The Jews celebrate their day of independence while the Arabs wish to commemorate it as Nakba day, which means catastrophe in Arabic. Clearly for the Arabs this was a national calamity, and for many, if not most, it also constituted a private catastrophe for their families.
The question is how should Jews and Arabs in Israel deal with these clashing narratives?
It is important to remember that despite its importance, the Nakba is not the source of the conflict. Rather, the conflict began before 1948 and is rooted in each group s perception of a historical right to the land. As a first step we must tackle these diametrically opposed narratives regarding the question of attachment and right to the land. Is it possible to find an ultimate position which represents a compromise on this issue?
It is clear that every people-including the Jews and Palestinians-have a basic right to sovereignty and independence. It is also clear that of all the places in the world, the Jews have an affinity and a historical right only to the land of Israel and only here can they exist as a sovereign people. On the other hand, the country has been populated by Arabs for many generations, people who have built villages and cities and for whom this is their homeland-one to which they are attached body and soul. Neither side has absolute rights. But how does one determine the limits of each side s right to this land?
Two generations ago, a group of serious well-known Jewish humanist Zionist thinkers tackled these questions-from Mordechai Martin Buber to Schmuel Hugo Bergmann, Gershon Scholem and others. Perhaps the following words by Buber could serve as the conceptual basis for a compromise: Once Nordau came to see Herzl terrified, and said: I have heard there are in the land of Israel Arab residents. If that is the case, then justice is not on our side ; if that statement is true, it exhibits a wonderful naiveté. Life, by its very nature as life, is bound up with wrongdoing. At any rate, there is no life without the destruction of life. If we observe closely, we will find that, at any moment, everyone is robbing someone else of their living space … We cannot avoid doing wrong but we have been given the grace so that we do not need to cause injustice beyond what is necessary.
The limits of what is necessary is the heart of the issue. One must remember that the Jews of the land of Israel accepted the partition plan in 1947 while the Arabs of Palestine rejected it along with the Arab states and launched a fierce war on the relatively small Jewish settlement. It was a harsh, exhausting and bloody war for both sides. At the end, the Arabs lost out and many of the Arabs of Israel became refugees-having either run away of their own accord or being forced to flee.
Almost every nation has experienced a war of independence in their formative years which then shaped its geographical boundaries. Perhaps in this land we can accept as a compromise the position that necessary is a state of Israel within the borders determined by the War of Independence. Are these borders sacred? Not necessarily. Thus, considering the facts on the ground, especially in the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, while adopting the principle of minimizing the agony and injustice, exchange of territories upon mutual agreement is advisable.
Indeed, these borders would allow for a sustainable existence and equal rights for all its citizens, including the Arab minority who clung to their land throughout the war. These borders, otherwise known as the two state solution, whereby the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem are returned to the Palestinians, have received widespread support on both sides.
However, beyond the discussion of the future boundaries, Israel must acknowledge the loss experienced by the Palestinians, particularly the refugees among them. It is natural that the Arab minority living in its midst would experience this history as a terrible loss. An Israel which is both self-confident and sensitive to the feelings of the Arab minority living in its midst should allow it to mark Nakba day as an expression of feelings, so long as it doesn t imply a repudiation of the existence of the state of Israel in present times.
The acknowledgement by the Arabs of their role in their tragedy on the one hand, and the acknowledgement by the Jews of the injustice caused to the other side can be coupled with an acknowledgement by both sides that it actually was – as Buber would say – a necessary injustice. This is one way to mitigate the contrast between what is Independence Day for one side, and Nakba day for the other.
Dr. David Adleris the former Director of the Division of Biomedical Engineering, Instrumentation and Communication at the Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).