Uri Dromi
The Miami Herald (Opinion)
March 31, 2011 - 12:00am

Last week, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a law allowing the state of Israel to cut its funding for institutions that celebrate the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe). Nakba, for the Palestinians, marks the 1948 disaster, when hundreds of thousands of them fled Palestine and became refugees. So in May, when Israeli Jews celebrate their Independence Day, Israeli Palestinians, on the same day, mourn their great loss.

In my opinion, this legislation is a mistake. But before you become red in the face and call me a leftist and an Arab-lover, keep reading.

The war of 1948 actually started in 29 October, 1947, following the U.N. resolution on the Partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. The Jews accepted it, and my mother even told me how my father, a very reserved man, had joined the joyous dancing in the street.

The Arabs, on the other hand, rejected the partition, and started shooting. After the initial phase of the war, David Ben Gurion, on May 14, 1948, declared the establishment of the State of Israel. On the following day, four Arab armies invaded the newborn state, from Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. The Secretary General of the Arab League, Azam Pasha, proudly proclaimed on the same day the war aim of the Arabs: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the crusades.”

Nothing of the sort happened, but many Palestinians believed that, and accepted the recommendations of their so-called leaders, who, from their safe heaven in Damascus and Beirut, urged them to leave and come back after a few weeks, when the Jews had been thrown into the Mediterranean Sea.

Of course, the Palestinians and some post-Zionist Israeli historians have a diametrically opposed perspective of what happened. To them, it was a settler-colonial Zionist conspiracy to destroy Arab Palestine, with the war presenting a golden opportunity for “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine of its Arab population.

To them, my answer is simple: There was a compromise on the table. The Arabs rejected it and opted for war. The Arabs lost. End of story.

Not so simple, though. The past is important, and historians make a living on researching and debating it. I’m more interested, however, with the present, and even more so, with the future.

There are millions of Palestinians today who consider themselves as victims of that 1948 Nakba. In the last 63 years, life has taken them in different paths. More than one million of them are Israeli citizens. Others are now split between Gaza and the West Bank, trying to establish a Palestinian state on the tiny part of Palestine left in their hands. Others are scattered in the Middle East, in refugee camps, and the rest have settled elsewhere. One thing unites them, and that is the feeling of a great disaster which had changed their destiny forever. This shouldn’t sound so strange to Jewish ears.

Every Palestinian will tell you that the long conflict between Arabs and Jews over this piece of land will never come to an end, until the refugee problem is resolved. However, if that means that the refugees who fled in 1948 and their families are to return to their old homes in Jaffa and Haifa, then this means mayhem and the end of the State of Israel.

A viable plan, which was accepted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad, in their respective talks with Israeli then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Zipi Livni, calls for the return of the Palestinian refugees to the Palestinian state once it is established. A small number of refugees will be allowed into Israel, on the humanitarian basis of family reunion. Since it is believed that the Palestinian state will not be able to absorb all refugees, the rest will have to be settled where they are (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan), with the help of a huge economic aid, like the post-war Marshall Plan.

However, for this ambitious plan to take off, money is not the only necessary ingredient. It is not even the most important one. If Israelis want to share their future with the Palestinians, instead of fighting with them forever, they will have to understand what they feel deep in their heart. Understanding, even empathy, doesn’t mean giving in to their demands.

At the same time, Palestinians will have to acquiesce with the plight of so many Israeli Jews who, around the same time, had to leave their homes in Morocco, Iraq and elsewhere.

Israelis can do that. After six decades of proud existence, with such a wonderful record of success, and from the vantage point of self confidence, we can start engaging the Palestinians in a different, more relaxed mode. Legislating against their Nakba is definitely not the right way.


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