Marking Israel's 60th
anniversary has engendered much debate within Palestinian society about
the Nakba ("catastrophe") and its celebration on May 15. Truth be told,
the real catastrophe did not occur in 1948; it happened much earlier
and it continues today under the leadership of Hamas. That is, the
inability of the Palestinian national movement to create the political
and social institutional infrastructure necessary for the foundation of
And although, Palestinians like to see themselves as the
victims of the Zionist movement's triumphant creation of a Jewish
state, they should actually turn inward and look at the history of
their own leaders who failed them.
This ongoing debate always raises the issue of the territorial
bond between the land and the people and who rightfully owns the land.
For Israelis, though largely secular, their country remains a
land deeply defined by religion, which also has political implications.
The absence of a real separation of church and state in Israel is
concomitant with the constant entanglement of religious and political
issues rooted in the land itself. These roots fuel the ongoing
Israeli-Palestinian violence over territorial ownership. For the
"physical" territory is also the tie between religious identification
in Judaism and the land itself.
And this tie to the land is unique to Judaism, as Adam Garfinkle explains:
"The religious identification of Jews in Israel is linked to the
memory of the First and Second Commonwealths; it is history with a
sacred dimension, and it is integral to the theological interpretation
of Jewish history. As important, virtually all Jews know that Israel is
the place that is most integral to Jews, and that Jerusalem is the
place that is most integral to Israel. One can be a Jew anywhere, but
there are some commandments that can be performed only in Israel. There
is a sharp and indissoluble theological distinction between the land of
Israel and everywhere else."
Furthermore, Hillel Cohen in his new important book titled, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration With Zionism, 1917-1948, studies the relationships and ties between the Zionists and the Arab community in the pre-state era.
The merit of Cohen's book lies in its thorough recounting of the
history of Arab-Zionist cooperation and collaboration, period by
period, region by region, family by family. One of the most important
interactions Cohen highlights, which is key to the debate surrounding
the ownership of the land, is the purchase of those lands from the
Arabs, dating back to the 1880s. These legal acquisitions are
important, as they dispel the ongoing myth used by Palestinians
propagandists that the "Jews stole the land" from them.
Historically, by the end of 1947, the Zionist institutions and
individual Jews had acquired close to 7 percent of Palestine's land,
which at the time was approximately 10,000 square miles. The legality
of these transactions was done specifically to ensure that they could
not be accused of taking the land by force.
History does not offer any guarantees for success, and the
story of the Jewish yishuv (community) could have gone in a different
direction. Had the Zionists failed, they could have cited the British
Mandate authorities, who betrayed their charge to help form a Jewish
national home; the Arab opposition; and the trauma of the Holocaust as
excuses for why the modern state of Israel could not be established
under such arduous circumstances. But despite all these hardships, the
Zionist movement managed to overcome and establish a national
authority, as well as an organizational and institutional foundation
that led to the creation of the state.
In contrast to the Zionist story, the Palestinian story prefers
to blame everyone around them but themselves -- since it is easier to
blame someone else than actually do the work that is desperately needed
to move beyond a self-inflected catastrophe.