Israeli Independence Day – marking, not celebrating.

You know, you’d think I might grow weary of writing mournful posts about Israel and Palestine. And you would be right.

But in the midst of writing my follow-up to Wednesday’s piece about Confederate History Month, I suddenly realized that the annual cycle of Israeli Memorial Day/Israeli Independence Day begins on Sunday — and these are events that demand thought, even when I wish I could stop thinking.

Every year, for about 15 years now, I have lit my yahrzeit candle for the dead on both sides. I have said kaddish for both sides. I think of the Israeli men and women, the Palestinian men and women, the victims of terrorists who explode themselves on buses, the victims of bombs that fall out of the sky, the children and grandmothers and hardened combatants and the frightened ones too, all of the many, many thousands who have fallen since 1947 — all of them victims not only of violence, but of an idea. Each of them precious to someone, each a loss to us all.

I am still a Zionist, as I’ve said here before, in no small part because I support Palestinian nationalism. How can I support the Palestinians and deny my own people?

For 2,000 years we prayed, three times a day, toward Jerusalem, and were slaughtered, frequently and en masse, for who we were. Jerusalem, Zion — these were our dream and our refuge, and when the modern-day notion of nationalism was developed it was only natural (natural? I mean: “it made all the sense in the world”) that the Jewish people would seek to escape powerlessness and slaughter, seek to rebuild and recreate ourselves, in our ancestral home. Like many, many peoples around the world, it mattered very little to us that our home happened to also be the home of someone else.

But in our case, the “someone else” also had a nascent sense of nationalism, and was not going to give way or go away — and so war came.

And we won. Except not really — because we’re still fighting.

The endlessness of our war is a big part of why I have come to understand nationalism as a deeply flawed notion, the type of Grand Idea that humanity will use until we are able to outgrow it. I mourn the Israeli dead and the Palestinian dead and I see them not only as victims of each other, of me and mine, of them and theirs, but also of nationalism itself. I am a Zionist, but I hope that someday, no one will have to be.

And so on Saturday night, I will light my candle, and make kaddish. I will try to picture real faces and think of real names, and I will try to honor them all — many of whom (on both sides) would probably rather I not. I don’t know any other way to respond to their blood, even if they don’t want me to.

And then the next day, at sunset, I will go out front and fly two flags: the Israeli, and the Palestinian.

I will mark the birth of my home, I will pause to think of those who were brave and innovative and tireless in creating a refuge and a citadel for a people badly in need — and deserving — of one. I will listen to Israeli radio, and long for the smell of the sea, and (no doubt) think morbid thoughts about the Jewish State’s future, a future I believe its current government is sacrificing on the altar of settlements, occupation, and the ideology of Greater Israel.

I will mark Independence but I will not celebrate it — because we are not yet a free people. Because we have yet to acknowledge that our triumph was another’s disaster.

Only when those two flags fly together everywhere, will we be free. Only when Israel and Palestine hold Jerusalem in common, our shared holy city, will we be free. Only when Israelis and Palestinians no longer loathe, fear, and kill each other — will we be free.

And then I will celebrate.

Od lo avda tikateinu. Our hope is not yet lost.

Abir Aramin, killed at age 10 by an Israeli soldier.

Gal Eizenman, killed at age 5 by a Palestinian suicide bomber.

May all their memories be for a blessing – יהי זכרם ברוך

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  1. Amen. Amen. Amen.

  2. Erika

     /  April 26, 2010

    Your words bring me to tears, once again. I’ve been inundated recently with messages from celebrating Jewish friends – but celebrating in such an angry, hostile way. I, like you (although from a third-party and therefore unasked-for perspective), am not yet sure that this is something to celebrate. Remember, yes, and honour, yes, but joy might be a bit premature. Thank you again for putting it all into such painfully important perspective.

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