Palestinians, Israelis See State's Creation In Different Light

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel and the Palestinian Authority are both preparing to mark the 53rd anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel Tuesday - but in very different ways.

The Palestinians refer to May 15 as Al-Naqba - the "catastrophe," in reference to the tragic fate they believe befell them 53 years ago. Israel calls it Independence Day.

The PA is urging Palestinians to take to the streets in massive demonstrations and leaders have called for a "day of rage." Israeli forces will be on high alert in the likely event that protests become confrontational, especially at known flashpoints.

At one rally, for instance, the participants "will express their protest at the Israeli checkpoints in the Ramallah area," according to a press release by one of the organizers.

Demonstrations are also planned for a number of Arab capitals including Amman, Beirut and Damascus. And this year, for the first time, Israel's Arab citizens jointly organized events with the Palestinians.

One of the events of the day will be the broadcast of a speech by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, published in advance in Arabic. A translation was obtained by Monday.

In his passionate address, Darwish says that "the tragic and heroic story of the land and the people continues to be told in blood - in the open conflict between what they want us to be and what we want to be."

During the last seven months Israel and the Palestinians have been locked in a downward cycle of violence and terrorism, which has left well over 500 people dead, most of them Palestinians.

Darwish accuses the Israelis of creating a "mirage" of peace over the last decade "with its suggestion of a promise of the possibility of bringing an end to the conflict, an end that would be based on [two peoples] sharing the same land."

Calling Israel the "Naqba-makers," Darwish said they "have not managed to break the will of the Palestinian people or efface their national identity."

For Tamara Tamimi, 28, a Palestinian-American who moved to Ramallah two years ago, the significance of the Naqba day is that it "links the past to the present."

"One of the reasons the Palestinians don't forget the creation of the State of Israel is that they continue to live in the wake of that catastrophe," she said in a telephone interview.

Tamimi said the day is linked with the issue of the right of return for millions of Palestinians - refugees and their descendants - who are still suffering in camps because of the creation of the State of Israel.

Refugee mentality

Raphael Israeli, professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Affairs of the Hebrew University, said the Palestinians continue to mark the "catastrophe" because they decided to maintain the mentality of "victims and refugees."

In November 1947, the U.N. voted to partition what was under British mandatory rule into separate Jewish and Arab Palestinian countries. Israel accepted the decision but the Arab nations rejected it.

When the British departed six months later, Israel declared its independence and the armies of surrounding Arab nations as well as local Arabs attacked the fledgling state vowing to wipe it off the map.

In the end, a substantial part of what had originally been designated by the U.N. for an Arab state fell under Israeli control. Other areas were annexed by Jordan's late King Hussein and named "the West Bank" - indicating that his kingdom extended to both banks of the Jordan River - while the Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt.

Between 430,000-650,000 Arabs fled their homes in what is now Israel. Israeli historians point to calls by Arab leaders for them to leave their homes, promising they will be able to return after the Arab armies had destroyed Israel.

Over the past 53 years, according to Israeli, Israel had "rolled up its sleeves" and worked hard to build a viable and modern state. The Palestinians, on the other hand, chose to stay in the camps, he said. When they see by comparison what Israel has achieved they feel they must blame Israel for the condition they are in.

Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing from persecution in Arab lands following the declaration of the state. By contrast, Palestinians refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan remain in refugee camps, those governments having done little to integrate them into societies, despite a common ethnicity and religion.

Even in PA autonomous areas, squalid refugee camps continue to exist years after they fell under Palestinian self-rule.

Israel says the Arabs keep Palestinians as refugees for anti-Israel propaganda value.

The PA is demanding the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. The U.N. says there are more than 3.5 million refugees and their descendents. Palestinian sources estimate the amount to be more than five million.

Israel, with a population of just six million - more than one million of whom are Arab citizens - are opposed to the idea for demographic reasons, fearful of the future of the Jewish state if huge numbers of Arabs are allowed to enter.

Tamimi insisted that this reasoning is based on a misunderstanding of the "right of return." She said that what the Arabs are waiting for is for Israel to accept responsibility for causing the grief.

Professor Israeli argued that allowing Palestinians the "right of return" would inevitably lead to the dismantling of the State of Israel. That is a view shared by Israelis across the political spectrum.