70 years later, Palestinian refugees are no longer waiting for peace talks to determine their fate. In Gaza, they are actively reclaiming their place at the table.
On a warm spring day in late April 1956, Moshe Dayan, then the IDF chief of staff and Israel’s eminent war hero, delivered an address that would become a central part of Israel’s national ethos. Dayan had arrived at Kibbutz Nahal Oz to eulogize Roi Rotberg, a kibbutz security guard who was ambushed by an Egyptian police officer and a Palestinian farmer, and then abducted into the Gaza Strip where he was brutally murdered. The chief of staff had met Rotberg the previous day during a routine visit to Nahal Oz, as the community was preparing for a number of upcoming weddings. The eulogy took him just half an hour to write.
Rotberg’s murder was especially gruesome, shocking a country that had already seen a tremendous amount of bloodshed and calamity in a short period of time, imbuing the eulogy with a warrior pathos of the kind one would hear from today’s leaders. “Our children shall not have lives to live if we do not dig shelters; and without the barbed wire fence and the machine gun, we shall not pave a path nor drill for water,” Dayan told the crowd. “The millions of Jews, annihilated without a land, peer out at us from the ashes of Israeli history and command us to settle and rebuild a land for our people.”
Dayan’s speech was likened at the time to Israel’s version of the Gettysburg Address, a sober statement of purpose delivered to those who shouldered the burden of carrying on the nation’s mission. But the eulogy also carried a curious secondary message: it was the first public address by a high-ranking member of the Israeli military brass to acknowledge — without reservations — the suffering that Palestinians had endured during the establishment of the State of Israel, as well as the source of their rage:
Let us not hurl blame at the murderers. Why should we complain of their hatred for us? Eight years they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and seen, with their own eyes, how we have made a homeland of the soil and the villages where they and their forebears once dwelt.
Not from the Arabs of Gaza must we demand the blood of Roi, but from ourselves. How our eyes are closed to the reality of our fate, unwilling to see the destiny of...