C) The Israeli-Jewish Palestinian Fault Line

a) Yom Ha-Atzma’ut and Nakba

The hundred-year-war between the Jews of Israel and the Palestinians continues, not unabated, but not without casualties. On April 24, 2023, Israel National News reported a car-ramming attack near Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehudah open-air market; 5 civilians were injured, 1 very critically, while the driver was shot and killed by another Israeli civilian. The next day, Memorial Da, Yom HaZikaron for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, another attacker shot at a group of Israeli runners. At the same time, rockets from Lebanon were reigning down on Israel’s northern areas.

The hundred-year-war took its most radical turn when Zionists in Israel declared its independence. That day is celebrated in Israel every tear as Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, the birthday of the State of Israel. May 15, 2023 was the 75th anniversary of the state of Israel, but the day is celebrated in accordance with the Hebrew calendar and the celebrations took place in 2023 on April 26th. The previous day was memorialized for Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron. However, Nakba Day (ذكرى النكبة) or Dhikra an-Nakba, Memory of the Catastrophe, is generally commemorated on 15 May of the Gregorian Calendar, the day Israel declared independence in the eyes of the international community, even though the actual declaration took place on May 14th because May 15th in 1948 fell on Saturday, shabbat. Nakba memorializes the Palestinian Catastrophe, the day on which the large displacement of Palestinians from what became Israel as a result of the 1948-49 war (720,000) and the armistice, even though flight began before Israel was established and continued throughout the most critical phase of the hundred year war.

Both Israelis and Palestinians sanctify the whole land of what was called Palestine under the British Mandate.[i]  For Israeli Jews, the sanctity of the land (הארץ הארץ) was introduced into the Declaration of Independence by Harry Zvi Davidowitz, an American rabbi and former lieutenant in the United States Army who fought in the war of independence and was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Victory Medal by the American government.[ii] He also became a translator of Shakespeare’s plays into Hebrew, translations that are used in Israeli schools; in addition, he served as a congregational rabbi. He advised including in the Declaration the biblical phrase, Tsur Yisra’el (Rock of Israel), to mollify the differences between secularist and religious Jews, thereby consecrating at the same time unity in spite of the radical differences between the two groups as well as the sacredness of the land for both groups.

At the beginning of the state of Israel, many, if not most, observers, believed as I did in 1967, that in 1948, Israel would be crushed by five invading Arab armies. This was true even among those Brits who, very influenced by George Eliot’s nineteenth century novel, Daniel Derrida (an assimilated Jew who discovers his identity and makes Zionism his cause) became philo-Semites and even Christian Zionists as an inheritance. In the nineteenth century these Christian Zionists had been the precursors to the Jewish political Zionists at the end of that century.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence is as much a moral as well as political document. It declares the right of Jews to establish a state not only because of the UN resolution of 1947, but because of the connection to the land as recorded in the Torah, the Jewish bible. When Ben Gurion, as head of both the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Palestine, read out the Declaration (מגילת העצמאות) in the Tel Aviv Museum at 4:00 p.m. on May 14, 1948 (5 Iyyar 5708),  he declared Israel an independent state. It is noteworthy that the declaration only came halfway through the text. Preceding that political statement was a prologue that rooted the declaration in that traced Jewish habitation in the land for over three millennia, even though, in the Torah, they are first immigrants to the land and later, refugees in flight from Egypt.  The only religious justification and implicit (but not explicit) acknowledgement of God’s role, as stated above, is the phrase “with trust in the rock of Israel” (מתוך בטחון בצור ישראל). Further, the main emphasis is on the right of Jews to self-determination as is the right of all nations. There is NO appeal to the Jews as God’s chosen people or of a divine promise. Nor is Israel’s right to the land contingent on Jews keeping their covenant with God, but an irrevocable one as a result of the November 1947 resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. According to Ben Gurion, Jews were the native and indigenous people that had been exiled from their land for centuries and the UN document was a declaration of restoration, similar to the idea presented in the Book of Chronicles as distinct from the Torah.

Nakba recalls 1948 very differently. Though Palestinians, like the Zionist Jews, are also celebrated for their resilience, the call to resistance is the major theme. It is to “Free Palestinian land, Free Palestinian people, Free Palestinian art and Free Palestinian culture. FREE PALESTINE!”[iv] Note the reference is to Palestine and not just the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem. In the 2021 documentary film Recovery by Rashid Masharawi shot at the beginning of the Covid Pandemic and shown at the 2023 Toronto Palestinian Film Festival (TPFF), the audience is taken on a journey through memory lane of Palestinian life in Jaffa (now a very integral part of Tel Aviv) between 1930 and 1948 before the declaration of Israel as an independent state and his father’s forced exile. It is a film of nostalgia. It is a film of dreams. As the first Palestinian to show his film at Cannes. Masharawi described film as escapist: “Cinema is like dreams. Israel cannot occupy dreams. They can occupy houses. We want to dream. In a refugee camp you dream as well. You want to change your reality.” When he recalls seeing three movies for two pennies with his father, I am thrown back to a very early period in my life when my father took me to one of the big movie houses on Yonge Street in Toronto where I was treated to candies, two films and a serial.

Using photographs, oral testimony, sensuality and sound, life in Jaffa, as conveyed in the old mesmerizing stills, the vivid VHS tapes of Taher Al-Qalyubi and Viktor Epp’s perfect sound track, we stroll with Taher (who fled Jaffa and was not forced to flee) as we experience the sounds and smells of its streets, the sweetness of its inhabitants and its spirit, and the gentle waves on Jaffa’s shore while watching Palestinian fishermen. It is remarkable at how brilliantly he translates the feelings of closure and confinement, of curfews and coercion, of the Covid shutdowns that so enhanced and enriched his memories of his childhood in the Al-Shati, the Beach refugee camp in northern Gaza.

In contrast, there is the delightful experience as a kid of summer camp perched on a camel presumably with siblings or cousins. There is also a “sacred” personal rock and the taste and smell of Jaffa oranges identified in international memory entirely as an Israeli creation.

The film is, however, not primarily about delight, but about loss, a sense of loss that is reinforced as refugees haul out their keys to their former homes, and about confinement and compression.  Of course, it is admittedly a film of mnemonic history and not objective history. It is an exercise brought forth through the lens of recollected experience with no attempt to provide a comprehensive and detached portrait of Jaffa at the time. Because the film starts in 1930, the writer and director cannot be expected to record anything about the Arab riots in Jaffa between May 1 and May 7, 1920, that killed 95 Jews. But the Arab revolt of 1936 definitely had an impact on experience but the filmmaker was too young at the time to be affected by the violence.

The revolt against the British began with spontaneous acts of violence committed by the religiously and nationalistically motivated followers of Sheikh ʿIzz al-Dīn al-Qassām, who personally had instigated the violence in 1935. After he was killed by the British, in April of 1936, his group initiated a general strike in Gaza as well as a general strike not only in Nablus but in Jaffa as well. Rumours spread in Jaffa that Arabs had been killed by Jews and Arabs began a riot. The British killed two of the rioters when the Anglo-Palestine Bank was attacked. The mob began killing Jews in the street. A general strike was the instigated by the Arab Higher Committee. The History of the Haganah claims that the rioting first broke out among the dockworkers in Jaffa Port where a mob of Arab men rampaging through the mixed Muslim, Christian and Jewish neighbourhoods wrecking businesses and homes and beating and killing Jews. 9 Jews dies; many others were wounded, mostly by knives. Ultimately, the British suppressed the riots.[v]

It is well to resurrect objective history as well as mnemonic history, if only, in part, to understand the motives of the Israeli nationalist right at the same time as one notes that the 2023 government of Israel is both maintaining and deepening its occupation over the Palestinians. As the Jewish reestablishment of the Jewish presence in what was once the Mandate of Palestine expands and Palestinian control and occupation of the land shrinks and is compressed, as the new government of 2023 establishes new settlements and extends new ones, throws overboard any intention to resurrect the two-state solution based on a land divided between two nations, we instead experience the hardship on Palestinians enhanced by their nostalgic dreams while progressive Israelis protest against blinkered nationalism and the undermining of Israeli democratic institutions, of Israeli rights while putting Palestinian rights on the back burner.

[i] Cf. Nili Wazana (2018) “Declaration of Independence and the Biblical Right to the Land,” Torah Journal.

[ii] “The Conservative Rabbi Who Kept God – by Another Name – in Israel’s Founding Document,” Mosaic, April 25, 2023.

[iii] R. Avital Hochstein (2023) “Sanctity and Land Yom HaZikaron & Yom Ha-Atzma’ut 5783,” Mosaic Magazine.

[iv] Toronto Palestinian Film Festival (TPFF) 2023.

[v] Albert Viton (1936) “Why Arabs Kill Jews,” The Nation, June 3; Aryeh Avneri (1982) The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs, 1878-1948. Transaction Publishers. p. 32.


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