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Happy Independence Day wishes from a Palestinian

I published this article last year at the Jerusalem post; I thought today is an appropriate occasion to repost it.

It might be hard to believe that a Palestinian would wish an Israeli Jew a happy Independence Day, but I am only following in the footsteps of another Palestinian I know, Ibrahim from Hebron.

Three years ago, I was cohosting a bilingual (Arabic and Hebrew) radio show at Radio All for Peace in Jerusalem with my Israeli cohost, Sharon Misheiker. Our weekly show happened to air on Israeli Independence Day, and on that day we invited Ibrahim, a peace activist, to talk about the land that had been confiscated from him for the building of the separation barrier.

I remember that Ibrahim spoke with compelling passion and heartbreaking emotions about the loss of his farmland, which had been a main source of income. Before ending the conversation, we asked him how he felt about Independence Day, and we received a surprising answer.

With his characteristic candor, Ibrahim told us that he had already called his Israeli friends and wished them a happy Independence Day.

Sharon and I were shocked.

Ibrahim told us that he received the same response from all his Israeli friends: silence, shock and disbelief. They didn’t know what to say. They were caught by surprise. They had never heard a Palestinian wishing them a happy Independence Day.

Some of his left-wing friends asked how he could do so, when the holiday was celebrating the same event that was causing much of his suffering. He could have used that chance to recount history according to the Palestinian narrative: He could have said something about the Deir Yasin massacre, or the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were left homeless after 1948 war. But he didn’t. Instead, Ibrahim simply said happy Independence Day, and in doing so took the first step toward building a different kind of relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

WHY WAS this step important? Part of the Israeli narrative describes a long history of suffering which hit the highest point with the Holocaust and the fear that Arabs would drive the Jews into the sea.

For years, Israelis have heard that Palestinians would never accept Israel’s existence and would always work to destroy it. Many Israelis don’t believe that Palestinians accept the reality that we are stuck here together. They doubt that Palestinians also dream of a peaceful tomorrow, where freedom prevails and safety is realized. This narrative of pain and fear has captured the minds of Jews, even though Israel has developed one of the strongest militaries in the world.

When Ibrahim uttered the words “happy Independence Day,” he challenged that narrative of fear and doubt, and assured his Israeli friends that he knows they are here to stay, and accepts that. He wanted to let them know that he is not waiting for a chance to strike back. In essence, Ibrahim was digging a grave for the narrative of fear and replacing it with a narrative of hope.

For all of us, the past is painful and our narratives are very real to us. For the Palestinians, our pain of the Nakba is still fresh. The lost olive groves, orange groves, vineyards and homes which are part of the Palestinian identity and heritage, the stories, poetry and songs of Palestinian life in what became Israel will always be there.

These are collective memories that will always be carved in the heart of every Palestinian. But memories, pain and longing do not have to lead to revenge and destruction: They can also be motivation for a new tomorrow.

When Ibrahim’s friends asked him how they should respond to his wishes, Ibrahim had a simple answer. He asked them to wish that next year both Israelis and Palestinians can celebrate Independence Day together, with the creation of a Palestinian state next to the Israeli one.

Although Palestinian and Israeli narratives are different, our vision for the future can be one. We can all unite and work toward the overdue dream of a viable Palestinian state before it is too late. It is time for our people to not let the past rob us of our future, but rather let it motivate us toward actions of hope.

Update;

Israel celebrates its sixty third independence day while Palestinians still yearning for their own state. However Israelis have the opportunity to actively work for the creation of the Palestinian state coming this September. I hope that next year both Israelis and Palestinians will be free from the yoke of the occupation and can celebrate an independence day without being oppressors or oppressed.

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    COMMENTS

    1. RichardNYC

      This is encouraging, but it takes more than a majority wanting peace to create peace. Peace requires that the majority wanting peace enjoys a monopoly over violence, and that the minority that would thwart peace have no substantially capability for violence.

      Reply to Comment
    2. sinjim

      There are a hundred million ways to let Israeli allies know that Palestinians don’t want to ethnically cleanse the Jews without negating our suffering. There are a hundred million ways to return the sentiment of solidarity that is expressed by Israeli activists without insulting the memory of our dead and dispossessed.
      .
      You have no right to wish any Israeli a “Happy Independence Day” in the name of Palestine and Palestinians. And especially in the pages of the racist rag The Jerusalem Post.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Thanks for this. It’s good to know that these sentiments abound, even on SINJIM’s terms. Sadly, the media only focus on the negative, and our government (which, sadly, represents a small majority of Israelis) doesn’t seem to want to change that. I pray that your position, and that of Ibrahim, even of SINJIM, should carry the day come September. I pray that someday we shall see two countries living side by side, perhaps intertwined, between the river and the sea. I pray that we will one day be able to come together, both to mourn our dead and to celebrate our interdependence.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Arlosoroff

      “You have no right to wish any Israeli etc etc..”
      surely as an individual he has any right to do what he wishes..?

      and opening to the possiblity of an alternative course of action (which evidently has encounterd entirely new reactions..) in my opinion may in fact honour the “dead and dispossessed” in condemning the endless cycle of revenge from both sides to history, and allowing for a new reality to exist, in practice.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Borg

      careful Aziz, you may be kicked off 972 for expressing moderation. 972 is our local Taliban. Yossi Gurwitz in particular might be upset

      Reply to Comment
    6. Sinjim

      @Arlosoroff: Just because I would never insult the memory of my grandfather, whose family lost their home in Ramla, by telling Israelis “Happy Independence Day,” it doesn’t mean I want the cycle of revenge to continue. As I said, there are countless ways to demonstrate the desire for peaceful coexistence without this pathetic kowtowing.
      .
      @Simcha: I hope for that day, too, but it cannot happen so long as the occupation defines the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Richard Witty

      “When Ibrahim uttered the words “happy Independence Day,” he challenged that narrative of fear and doubt, and assured his Israeli friends that he knows they are here to stay, and accepts that. He wanted to let them know that he is not waiting for a chance to strike back. In essence, Ibrahim was digging a grave for the narrative of fear and replacing it with a narrative of hope.”

      Thanks for this obvious reminder.

      The relief from the pain that the Jewish community experienced in the early 20th century was a liberation.

      And, it is time for Palestinians to experience similarly.

      There are ways to address plausible and tangible Israeli fears without suppression.

      Reply to Comment
    8. I’m looking forward to the day that I will wish my Palestinian friends a happy Independence Day. My dream is that it will be as easy to meet with them with borders as open as they were previous to the first intifada. We have more in common with with each other then we have differences.

      Reply to Comment
    9. RichardNYC

      @ES
      hear hear

      Reply to Comment