‘Happy Independence Day, Israel’ …
from a Palestinian expert in conflict resolution

Published: 29 July 2010
Briefing Number 266

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Summary:   This is an article by Palestinian Arab academic Aziz Abu Sarah, welcoming Israeli Independence day 2010.  He seeks to break out of the mindset that it is impossible to be “pro-Israeli” and a Palestinian Arab at the same time. And he explains why such thinking is so critical to the future prospects for peace and Palestinian statehood.  Abu Sarah is the Director of Middle East Projects at the Centre for World Religions at the George Mason University. The article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 20 April 2010 (www.jpost.com).

Key message: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a ‘zero sum’ game in which you are either ‘pro-Israeli’ or ‘pro-Palestinian’.  As Abu Sarah shows, it is imperative to be argue humanely and rationally for the legitimate rights of both peoples.    

Who is Aziz abu Sarah?

Palestinian Arab scholar Aziz abu Sarah has a strong track-record building coexistence – in theory and in practice.  He is an expert in conflict resolution.   

He is the director of Middle East Projects at the Centre for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.  He is a winner of the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Common Ground Journalism. His blog is at: http://azizabusarah.wordpress.com

Abu Sarah writes as follows:
Happy Independence Day wishes from a Palestinian
Although Palestinian and Israeli narratives are different, our vision for the future can be one

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

Three years ago, I was co-hosting a bilingual (Arabic and Hebrew) radio show at Radio All For Peace in Jerusalem with my Israeli co-host, 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 Israeli independence day, and we received a surprising answer.

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

Sharon and I were shocked.

Building a different kind of relationship between Israelis and Palestinians….

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 so much suffering.  He could have used that chance to recount history according to the Palestinian narrative: he could have said something about the Deir Yassin massacre, or the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were left homeless after the 1948 war.  But he didn’t.  Instead, Ibrahim simply said Happy Independence Day, and in so doing, took the first step towards building a different kind of relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

From a narrative of fear, to a narrative of hope…..

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 the Palestinians also dream of a peaceful tomorrow, where freedom prevails and safety is realised.   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. [Beyond Images comment: Israel’s wars since 1948, the Palestinian intifadas, and the missile assaults and threats against Israeli civilians on multiple fronts, are not just in the Israeli mind – they are real-world, bitter experience]  
When Ibrahim uttered the words “Happy Independence Day” he challenged that narrative of fear and doubt, and assured his Israeli friends that he knows that they are hear to stay, and accepts that.  He wanted them to 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 over the nakba [the ‘catastrophe’ of 1948 which the Palestinians blame on Israel – Beyond Images] is still fresh.  The lost olive groves, orange groves, vineyards and homes which are part of the Palestinian identity and heritage, the stories, the poetry and songs of Palestinian life in what became Israel will always be there.

Uniting round a vision of a two-state solution
These are collective memories that will always be carved in the heard 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 towards 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 to let it motivate us towards actions of hope.

Some related Beyond Images Briefings:

Briefing 173 – 10 May 2006
Rejecting militant Islam, accepting Israel:
Muslim women speak out

Briefing 6 – July 2002
Recognising Israel’s right to exist:
Actions speak louder than words