While some celebrate 60 years of Israel’s statehood, many Seattle Jews join a broad local coalition in mourning 60 years since the Nakba – Arabic for Catastrophe – of 1948, asking, “Is our nation-state worth the displacement of another people?”
On Wednesday May 7th, 2008, a dozen members of the Seattle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace stood with many local community members in protest outside the celebratory Israel@60 event at Benaroya Hall. The protest was organized by the Seattle Nakba Coalition, of which the Seattle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace is a member organization. Other member groups include Seattle Palestinian, Arab-American and Palestine solidarity organizations.
Five JVP members attended the Israel@60 event as ticket-holders, in an additional effort to present an often-silenced perspective. They distributed hundreds of leaflets to other attendees, questioning the dominant narrative of Israel’s independence. “What happened to 418 Palestinian villages that existed in 1947? How is this different from the ethnic cleansing that has long been practiced upon us?” These were met with widely varying responses, including deep appreciation. “We need more students doing this,” one attendee said.
After the performance, the ticket-holders unfurled banners inside the hall, reading “Shame on Us for Making Refugees” and “Seattle Jews for a Free Palestine”. They were quickly surrounded by police and escorted off the premises, singing Lo Yisa Goy – nations shall learn war no more.
While Israel provided a home for Jewish refugees after the Holocaust, some from our own families, the terrible fact is that over 700,000 Palestinians were made into refugees to make room for the future state of Israel. Sixty years and several generations later, that number has swelled to an estimated seven million. Many live in 58 registered refugee camps dispersed throughout the Middle East, still denied their rights under international law.
That is why the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, to Palestinians. Today the Palestinian Nakba continues. Inside of the 1948 borders of Israel, Palestinian citizens are denied legal rights received by Jews. Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem are denied access to land, water, health care, and other basic resources. Palestinians throughout historic Palestine experience international isolation, economic devastation aided by the erection of a 730-kilometer wall, and continued closures and invasions including the current horrific siege of Gaza.
And that is why many of us are refusing to celebrate: as long as Palestinians are still fighting for their fundamental human rights, we cannot rejoice.
Any peaceful future depends on recognizing both the Palestinian and the Israeli narrative. And yet, just as the names of over 400 pre-1948 Palestinian towns and cities have been deliberately erased from maps, the history of the Palestinian Nakba itself has been all but erased from Jewish consciousness
As Jews, we are members of a community that has repeatedly suffered exile and ethnic cleansing. We refuse to remain silent while this oppression is perpetuated upon another people in our name. To this end, we will continue to work within Jewish community and also in solidarity with Palestinian community, as we seek a self-determination for Jews that does not depend on the displacement and oppression of another people.