Nakba Day

May 15th—the day I’m writing this—was Nakba Day in the Palestinian territories. I’ll admit that I had never heard of Nakba Day until sometime last week. It’s an annual holiday celebrated by Palestinians, commemorating their displacement from their land after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. It’s traditionally marked by speeches and demonstrations in the territories, with solidarity rallies throughout the Arab world. While tensions have always run high on this day, in recent history it has also been marked by violence.
I condemn acts of violence and terror, by both Palestinians and Israelis, and both sides do perpetuate this violence. However, today a Palestinian driver sped into a busy Tel Aviv street killing 1 and wounding 16, yet you can’t find the story on the Palestinian news website Ma’an, and only three short paragraphs within a much longer article about the protests appears on Al Jazeera English.
Yes hundreds of Palestinians were injured, and some killed, protesting in the territories, and illegally crossing the Israeli border from Syria. That’s the top story on Al Jazeera, as well it should be. Only through knowledge can we abolish hatred and bigotry. And to be fair, Israeli newspapers framed the deaths in a different perspective. (The Haaretz headline: Last infiltrators return to Syria after day of bloody clashes on northern border) Also, along with what happened today, Ma’an featured the 16-year-old boy that was killed on Friday after firing rocks at Israeli soldiers.
Did this boy deserve to die? Probably not. Could his death have been prevented? I wasn’t there, but I presume it could have; he was an unarmored teenager apparently shot by a settler in one of the contested Jewish settlements within Palestinian territory. Today reports from the Arab world are of the opinion that Israeli soldiers fired in a controlled and calculated manner at the legs of unarmed, or lightly armed (as in throwing stones) protestors and refugees. It’s easy to sympathize with a group of people armed only with stones fighting against tanks. Yet from the Israeli side there are reports of protestors planting bombs, advancing against warnings, and generally inciting violence. The IDF also admits to an intelligence failure at the Syrian border but claims the deaths and injuries it inflicted prevented more lives from being lost. (It should be noted that Lebanese forces also fired upon the Palestinians at the border.) Admittedly the “true” story in all this is probably a mix of both sides.
I sympathize with any outside observer who takes the side of the oppressed Palestinians—again, Israel is not blameless or infallible—but please also be aware that the Palestinians are winning the media war for the hearts and minds of the Western World. The media talks about the death of Palestinian civilians caught up in Israeli raids in Gaza and the West Bank. What they don’t mention is the incredible amount of training and planning that goes into every raid in an attempt to avoid these deaths. They don’t mention that Israel doesn’t target civilians, they target terrorists living in civilian areas; and they do ground raids instead of air attacks precisely because bombing a building destroys everything and everyone. They don’t mention that the terrorists being hunted often booby trap their own houses, aware that Israeli soldiers come on foot, and that often the difference between life and death for an Israeli soldier is as arbitrary as whether he enters the building first or second. They don’t mention that women and children are sometimes forced to be human shields by their husbands who know that Israeli soldiers won’t intentionally kill innocent civilians. The problem is, in 21st Century urban warfare, it’s hard to tell who’s a civilian and who isn’t.
“Palestinians have the right to resist Israeli occupation and will one day return to property they lost in 1948.”
“We are determined to defend our borders.”
The first quote is from Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of Hamas, leader of half of the Palestinian government. By occupation he doesn’t mean the occupation of the territories like what probably first came to mind, but the occupation of the entire land of Israel. This is the voice of half of the Palestinian population, and he’s encouraging—even urging—further attacks against other human beings.
The second quote is from Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. Seeing these two quotes alongside each other makes it seem like the violence will only keep going forever.
Israel kills Palestinians. They maintain an ominous presence in Palestinian cities. They surely violate basic civil rights of innocent people. But Palestinian leaders call for not simply a state of their own, but the destruction of Israel and the Jews. Palestinians are also one of the few ethnic groups that, as a whole, maintained their support for Osama bin Laden over this past decade. Haniyeh publicly mourned bin Laden’s death and praised him as a martyr. Palestinian militants deliberately target busy public places filled with civilians—cafes, buses, etc.—to set off bombs. Wherever you stand on this issue, please understand that this conflict is so much more complicated than Good vs. Evil, Oppressive vs. Oppressed, and/or two sides of an Apartheid state. Israel is not an Apartheid state; there is a Jewish majority living in a country that allows all citizens who want it the right to vote. They are also surrounded on all sides by hostile neighbors. Israel has a right to exist just like any other nation in the world. Hopefully one day, before it’s too late, we can find peace.
(Photo: Alexis Rosenblatt)