In this piece there are no intentions to compare the struggles of the two peoples. Both Palestinians and Israelis have had traumatic experiences. Both encompass a tremendous pain, which I do not intend to compare, assess or belittle. Both have youth who carry a very heavy weight on their shoulders, designed by nationalism, history, tradition and education. Both carry heavy responsibilities for the future.
The Israeli Yom HaZikaron is a national memorial day in remembrance of fallen soldiers and victims of politically-motivated hate activities targeting civilians. It is a very hard day for all Israelis. The radio fills up with old Israeli songs about wars, the army and loss of a friend. On television, the entire day is dedicated to civilians and soldiers who were killed, their family members, mothers, fathers, siblings and young widows, who praise their loved ones who left this world too soon.
Children are taught about heroes, about loving our country and about the hostile environment that surrounds it. They are often worried about their future, due to Israel’s mandatory conscriptions, only to be assured by their parents who usually say, ‘Don’t worry. When you’ll grow up there will be no wars.’ Though both the parent and the child know that it’s probably not true; that the day the unwilling parents will send their frightened child to the recruitment office is perhaps closer than they think.
It is the day that makes you think about all your family members and friends who have died, about bravery and dedication, an emotional catharsis being reinforced by the Israeli flag hanged on cars, street lamps and buildings, but also by the Tsfira, a two-minute siren heard throughout the country that requires every Israeli to stop their everyday doings, stand up and think about those loved ones they lost, and about all the victims who died protecting their friends and their country.
The day is then followed by the Israeli Independence Day, which Palestinians commemorate as the Nakba (meaning catastrophe, or disaster), marking the date of the Israeli declaration of independence, the subsequent exodus of 700,000 Palestinians from their villages and the killing of many Palestinians by the IDF before and after the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948.
‘But the Nakba, for me at least, is mainly about the Palestinian history and identity’ my ethnically-Palestinian, Jordan-born friend explained when I asked her about it. ‘The dream of returning to our old land is something distant, my grandparents are pessimistic about returning to their childhood villages.’ Her grandparents, she claimed, don’t even call the country ‘Palestine’. They always call it ‘The Land’ or ‘The Country’ (very much like many Israelis refer to Israel as Haaretz, ‘the country’).
The Palestinian identity has changed fundamentally since 1948, my friend explained. All the violence the Palestinian society faced in different countries helped to crystalize their identity, which is constantly questioned and shaped through protests and political discourse. Visual artists, writers and scholars, my friend explained, are very dominant in the exploration of Palestinian identity and the way it was changed throughout the years.
Both peoples experienced severe losses; both were heavily impacted by wars and violence, and it seems that the hateful discourse makes it more difficult to reach understanding of one another. But there is hope: we can reach understanding through our common loss. The Palestinian-Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace organisation brings together bereaved families from both sides, encourage them to talk about their experience and promote peacebuilding. Together with Combatants for Peace, they organise an annual Yom HaZikaron ceremony, for both Palestinian and Israeli families, where bereaved individuals share stories about their loved one, and remind us the importance of peace, to stop using violence as a way to end conflicts, and find a viable non-violent solution.
We consolidate our identities based upon our past. We honour our dead and sanctify our mourning. But dwelling on the past will not solve our conflict. We cannot change the past. Ever since 1948, and even beforehand, the destinies of our peoples were tied together; one people’s defeat is the other’s victory. And until we find a way to balance our needs, to put the past aside and be willing to progress into a future of peace, there will be many many more unnecessary deaths.