Nakba, Naksa, and Yom Yerushalayim

Shavuot: Late last night I walked around this peaceful neighborhood under a bright crescent moon, watching moderately religious strolling couples holding hands or pushing strollers, groups of boys and girls talking animatedly in Hebrew or English (earlier, stepping into the supermarket for last-minute shopping, I’d heard Italian and French in the crowded isles as well). These young people were coming home from shul, but I knew that others, mostly older men, were beginning the traditional Shavuot all-night study, to end with davening at dawn.

I was tempted, but I am tired, having had an intense month of travels, lectures, and meetings around the country and beyond. Much has happened while I’ve been here. At the moment former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is on trial for various corruption charges while the present one, Bibi Netanyahu, is gleaning the glory (clear in the polls in both countries) of having embarrassed and defeated an American president on his own territory, while Obama was away.

This could be a Pyrrhic victory if Obi is re-elected. Mitt Romney just entered the race, the only one so far who might beat the Osama-Slayer, but he is least likely to win the Republican primaries. The president’s chances are not sure, but good. What will he have to lose in the four years between ’12 and ’16? He can oppose Netanyahu in a strong sense, not just in the weak way he has tried out so far.

So when Bibi comes up for re-election in ‘13, strained White House relations may not be such a plus. But he and his government are very pleased with themselves. Israel’s economic and technology engine is running at full steam and without sign of running down. European and American criticism is muted. Israeli liberals and even the centrist opposition are in thorough disarray.

But the clock is running down toward a UN vote to recognize and admit a Palestinian state, within the ’67 borders. On Nakba, or “Catastrophe” Day, which was May 15, some hundreds or thousands of people living in Syria and Lebanon surprised the IDF by massing on the Northern Border fence in certain places, claiming to be Palestinian refugees returning to their homeland. They broke through in one, and some infiltrated deeply into Israel before all (authorities say) were apprehended.

On Naksa, or “Setback” Day, marking the first day of the 1967 war, three days ago, another like attempt was made; it was well prepared for and repulsed. Syria accused the IDF of killing 20 demonstrators by opening live fire (after repeated warnings) when the crowd reached the remade fence. Some of those deaths occurred when Molotov cocktails thrown by demonstrators touched off land mines protecting Israel. Some were caused by errant rifle fire aimed at legs.

The IDF was satisfied with its response, and international criticism was muted. The next day, Monday, there was no activity at the border. Why? Because Syrian guards, instead of encouraging the demonstrators, stopped their buses before they got to the fence, as Lebanon and Jordan had done in the first place.

On June 1, between Nakba and Naksa, a march of 40,000 Jewish Jerusalemites through Arab streets on Yom Yerushalayim provoked understandable protests, but the police only had to arrest 24, mostly Jews. Watch the video of Jewish marchers in Muslim and Christian streets joyously singing, “Death to the Arabs, Death to the leftists,” and “Muhamad met, Muhamad met”—”Mohamed is dead”—to get a glimpse of the people most likely to undermine and destroy Israel. See a pretty young woman say in a thoroughly American voice, of the Arab neighborhood she’s waking up at 4 AM, “Because it’s ours, so we’re happy.”

Meanwhile, the larger neighborhood continued in turmoil. In Yemen, where some of my Palestinian friends are working, the revolution is ongoing, the president wounded in a successful attack on the capital and apparently driven out; in Libya, Qaddafi holds on amid much bloodshed; and in Syria, more protesting citizens have been killed by their own troops every day for weeks than were allegedly killed by Israel on the the two days that crowds tried to breach its border.

My life, however, is normal, or rather, abnormal in a nonviolent way. I have given four lectures and seminars to the medical and public health faculties of the Hebrew University (Hadassah/En Kerem), two lectures (hospital-wide rounds and pediatric rounds) at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, hospital-wide rounds and a seminar for midwives at Bnai Zion (also in Haifa), a seminar (together with Ann) for developmental psychology students at the Univesity of Haifa, and a seminar for anthropologists and anthropologists at Hebrew University at Mount Scopus.

In the midst of all this, I gave a lecture at St. John’s College, Cambridge University, at a conference on the origins of violence, and was asked, with little notice, to comment on parallels between the conflict in Northern Ireland and the one between Israel and the Palestinians. As my friend the Rav says, I’ve been a busy bee.

I also had tours and meetings at all these places, learned a great deal, and was immensely impressed with the quality of the people and the facilities, much of which, in terms of research, training, and clinical care, is on a par with leading institutions in the U.S. and Britain—not surprisingly, since many of the Israelis were trained in those institutions. I’ll be giving a seminar to Palestinian midwives and nurses in East Jerusalem next Monday. Perhaps I can show them a different Jewish face from those of the fanatics who threatened them and their families on Jerusalem Day.

On Shavuot, Jews read the story of Ruth, a righteous Moabite woman, a member of a tribe hated as persecutors of Jews. Yet she is embraced, marries a second Jewish man after she is widowed, and becomes the great-grandmother of King David and thus the ultimate great-great-…grandmother of the Jewish Messiah, according to the faith of religious Jews. If only they took Ruth’s story to heart.

5 thoughts on “Nakba, Naksa, and Yom Yerushalayim

  1. The young people in the video are markedly different from many same-aged people in the U.S.,  who are among the most tolerant citizens in American history. That tolerance has been carefully taught through rigorous democratic curricula in public schools and through the giant social experiment of desegregation.  As a child of the Segregated South, that change in the ethos of young America is very moving to me.  To see the bigotry of American kids in a different context, the march in the Old CIty, reminds me of the fragility and context-sensitive nature of social attitudes/ behavior and of the obligations of leaders to create a culture of peace.

  2. Ann,

    Subtle and insightful as always. I bet these American kids who are marching with people singing "Death to the Arabs," if not singing it themselves, would be mortified to hear themselves uttering the slightest slur against African-Americans. At least I hope they would.


  3. Chauvinism and hatred are always ugly, and of course I have no sympathy for anyone wishing death on Arabs. However, I would be wary of interpreting the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of American race relations, for at least two reasons.

    First, even though the Arabs are a minority within Israel today, they belong to the ethnic group that enjoys majority status throughout the region and that oppressed the Jewish minority for many centuries. The slogan of nascent Palestinian Arab nationalism was: “The Jews are our dogs.” In this sense, it is the Israeli Jews who are the equivalent of African-Americans. Pursuing this analogy, the fanatical anti-Arab Jewish nationalists are the equivalent of black nationalists in the US. White Americans hated the black nationalists, and the feeling was mutual. But perhaps both Martin and Malcolm were needed to achieve black emancipation.

    Second, unlike the US, Israel is in a state of war with many of its Arab neighbors. However racist some Jewish fanatics may be, the main reason for hatred directed against Arabs has nothing to do with racial animosity and everything to do with the fact that they are, quite simply, the enemy. Imagine how Americans would view Canadians if Canada regularly shelled the United States and sent terrorists over the border to blow up school buses and stab families in their beds. I can guarantee you that most Americans would feel a deep, visceral loathing for Canadians even in the absence of racial differences.

    Under the circumstances, the fact that liberal democratic institutions have thus far survived in Israel is nothing short of miraculous – or perhaps (following Ann’s comment) a testament to the power of education.

    Finally, I would also like to say something about the new Arab tactic of trying to storm the borders, not only of disputed territories like the Golan, but of pre-1967 Israel. While the world prepares to recognize a Palestinian state in the territories that Israel liberated from Egypt and Jordan in 1967, the Arabs are already moving on to the next step, indicating their determination to claim all of Israel. This confirms that they still reject the 2-state solution.

    I am afraid Netanyahu is right about one thing: the heart of the problem is the refusal to admit the existence of a Jewish state. And I notice that even your sympathetic and hospitable friend Yasmeen (the subject of your previous post) favors a one-state solution, meaning no state for the Jews. As long as even the Yasmeens on the Arab side still think this way, it’s hard to see how there can ever be peace.

  4. I had the misfortune of being able to follow the Hebrew of this violent video —  interesting, scary, and not surprising, if one remembers Isaiah Leibowitz’s prophecy. Some of the slogans were "Mavet Lasmolanim," meaning "Death to the leftists." It is naive to assume that we can tolerate the loss of respect to the Israeli non-Jews and maintain human respect and dignity towards ourselves. Once the license for bestiality is given, the targets are not selected carefully. Even for this reason alone, for our own self protection and preservation, we should stop tolerating such hateful, fanatic demonstrations.

    I agree with Ann – the answer is most likely in education, even though this is fragile and without guarantees. Unfortunately though, if one follows the current changes in the Israeli educational system, they explain rather than prevent such extreme behavior.

    There was a moment of hope, though, in the video: When the crazy mob entered the Moslem Quarter of the Old City, an old Arab man walked towards the camera and the mob. Thankfully, no one attempted to harm him despite the screaming wishing the Arabs death and their villages fire.

    Let’s hope that the deeds will not follow the words. This video documents a horrifying event that could have never happened when I grew up and got my humanistic education in Israel. And thank you, Mel, for warning us.

  5. Dear Mark and Shlomit,

    I consider both of you to be wise colleagues and friends, and in this case you seem to have different reactions. Shlomit, who grew up in Israel, is one of many Israelis who has seen a rightward turn in the culture and the country during her lifetime, and is very disturbed by the openness and vulgarity of the bigotry now too-frequently seen. So am I.

    But bigotry in Israel is not really something new. Israeli historiography now includes a recognition that ethnic cleansing of Arabs was a part, albeit only a part, of what happenend during the war for independence. Also, it now seems to be recognized that what we think of as the golden age of Israel’s first three decades included second-class citizenship for non-Ashkenazic Jews as well as Arab-Israelis.

    This does not justify current bigotry, or, certainly, the particularly toxic mix of haredi messianism, Russian-Jewish racism, settler expansionism, and interference by American Jews with little at stake that produces hateful demonstrations like the one in the video.

    Mark’s analysis is right up to a point. Ann, who made her first visit to Israel in May and who isn’t Jewish, came up with this analogy: It’s as if we had established American democracy in Kentucky, but the rest of North America was still controlled by non-democratic Native American states mostly wanting Kentucky back, while we continued to have a restive and sometimes violent Indian population within little Kentucky/America.

    But of course this would not justify our marching through the Native American settlements within our borders shouting “Death to the Indians!” After declaring our little country to be a democracy for all its citizens, we would owe them more than that, regardless of the external threats.

    I think Ann in her comment above was making a point about the young American voices in the video, suggesting that they would never be so offensive toward minorities on the other side of the ocean. All analogies are imperfect at best, and neither Ann’s above, which sees the Palestinians as similar to American blacks, nor Mark’s, which sees the radical Jewish right as Black Panther-like, is very close to the truth.

    I see and have supported in this blog and elsewhere the need for Israeli Jews to defend themselves. I saw the deaths of Arabs in the Second Lebanon War, the Gaza War, the Mavi Marmora incident, and the recent border incidents to be a tragic but necessary part of that self-defense—although to be sure it is in Israel’s interest to minimize such casualties and to perfect the art of less lethal self-defense in certain circumstances, which is surely within Israel’s technological capabilities.

    No Arab nations threaten Israel now, nor have they since 1973. Iran does, and so do its proxies in Arab lands. Israel needs to defend itself against those real threats. But yelling “Death to the Arabs!” in peaceful East Jerusalem at 4 o’clock in the morning in supposed celebration of the unification of that ancient city is in my view neither decent nor Jewish.

    Thank you for your comments, all of which, I know, are intended in Israel’s best interests, and which help me to clarify my own thinking as well.


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