On May 15th, the day marking Independence Day for Israel, many Arabs within Israel and throughout the world commemorate the Nakba (the “catastrophe” in Arabic) when most of the Arab population living within the new-born state were forced to flee in 1948. Much of this population continues to live as refugees to this day, or as internally displaced persons within Israel.
But public commemoration of Israel’s independence as a day of mourning could be penalized should a bill approved on Sunday by a ministerial panel be brought to the Knesset and cabinet for vote.
In a scathing editorial, Haaretz laments this latest manifestation of the undemocratic agenda of the Netanyahu-Lieberman cabinet.
The Knesset yesterday put Israeli democracy to shame when it passed the “Nakba Law” at first reading with a majority of 15 against eight. If the law is passed at second and third readings it will be able to deprive bodies of state support and fine them if they mark Independence Day as a day of mourning, or if they hold memorial events for the Palestinians’ “catastrophe” in 1948.
The editorial goes on to ridicule an effort to erase a people’s collective memory by fiat.
The idea that it is possible to blur the Arab community’s past consciousness with laws and threats of fines is stupid. The “Nakba” wasn’t forgotten in the 62 years since Israel’s establishment, and the term is much more familiar and prevalent among Israelis today than in previous generations.
The Palestinian refugees’ flight, the destruction of hundreds of Arab villages and the erection of Jewish towns and settlements in their stead are part of Israeli history. It cannot be made to disappear, as the majority’s narrative cannot be foisted onto a fifth of Israel’s citizens.
Haaretz concludes by articulating what is in the real national interest of Israel vis a vis its minority citizens, and holding out some hope that the bill may be defeated in the end.
Integrating Arab citizens into Israeli society is first and foremost a national interest, and its implementation requires that the Jewish majority display tolerance and openness toward the minority.
Clearly the conflict makes this difficult and the Jewish-Arab rift will not disappear soon. But proposals like the “Nakba Law,” beyond violating basic democratic values, will only push the Arab community to greater extremism and separatism.
The Knesset should be ashamed of passing the law at first reading. The Kadima and Labor factions should be denounced for not opposing it. But it’s not too late to block the harmful law in the next readings, before it stains Israel’s body of law.