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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Defining yourself

Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations, combined with the Palestinian Arab "Nakba" commemorations, are a good opportunity to notice a fundamental difference between Zionists and Palestinian Arab nationalists.

Zionists define themselves completely independently of any other players. Zionism is the national revival movement for the Jewish people in the land of their forefathers. Nothing to do with Europeans or Arabs or anything else - it is a completely positive, self-sustaining definition. One may argue that Zionists treated Arabs unfairly but the Arabs were not an inherent factor in the definition of Zionism; Zionism as a term is independent of other factors. Arabs who tried to destroy that dream weren't considered a threat to Zionism - they were considered irrelevant to the concept. If they accepted Israel, fine, if not, too bad for them.

Palestinian Arab nationalism, on the other hand, defines itself purely in relationship to others, and the definition is negative. And this 60th anniversary of Israel shows these differences in sharp relief.

Today, Yom Ha'atzmanut is being celebrated, but it is not the anniversary. The anniversary is on the fifth of the Hebrew month of Iyar, which is on Saturday. Since that is the Jewish Sabbath, the date was moved up to today to enable everyone to celebrate properly.

Nakba events were originally slated to occur on May 15th, "Nakba Day," but the very idea that Israel was celebrating today irritates Palestinian Arabs so much that they needed to declare today a day of mourning:
A national day of mourning will be held across the Palestinian territories on Thursday to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba.

Palestinian and black flags will be raised on roof tops of buildings, a partial public strike will be conducted between 12-1 am on Thursday in addition to demonstrations in cities across the West Bank.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the National Committee for Commemorating the Nakba called for all Palestinians to participate in the action in protest at " the celebrations by the state of occupation [Israel] at its establishment on the remains of Palestinian cities and villages by expressing the clinging of the Palestinians of their 'Right of Return' which is a legitimate right."
Today isn't the Hebrew or Gregorian or Muslim calendar anniversary, but since Israel celebrates today, Palestinian Arabs need to start their commemorations today as well. Their history and self-view is fully defined by what Israel does, not by what their supposed goals are.

If the Nakba is meant to mark the anniversary of the Palestinian Arab flight from their homes, it could occur on any day of the year, as there were no particular major population shifts on May 15th. They could choose the date of the surrender of Haifa or the date that Israel signed a cease fire with Jordan - ensuring that they would not be able to build a state. Yet they choose to mark it specifically when Israel does, and when Israel moves the date - so do they.

Similarly, look at this Nakba poster:

The shape of "Palestine" (portrayed as a keyhole) betrays the fact that Palestinian Arab nationalism is wholly dependent on external factors. Historic Palestine looks nothing like this picture; and while it would be hard to draw as the borders were never set in stone, everyone would agree that the Negev is not a part of it and that significant parts of what are now Jordan would be included in it. The fact that Palestinian Arabs have abandoned any pretense of trying to reconstitute "historic" Palestine and are only interested in the areas that Israel happens to control, with national borders created by the British and French, shows that Palestinian Arab nationalism is not at all about building a state, but about destroying one.

Of course, their history of accepting Jordanian sovereignty and citizenship in 1949 also shows that an independent nation was not their goal of the so-called "nationalists."

It has been nearly 15 years since Oslo. During most of that time, much of the West Bank has been under Arab autonomy. The PA has access to the same tools that embryonic Israel had access to in 1948. Before the intifada, there was a viable economy there; before 2003 there were no checkpoints.

Now look at how much progress they made with the autonomy they have, and compare it with what Israel accomplished in the 10-15 years after gaining its own autonomy. (We are not even beginning to talk about Gaza, the poster child for Palestinian Arab anti-nationalism.)

A real, independent national movement would take any opportunity and autonomy they could to build their institutions - their schools, hospitals, infrastructure; to build trade with other states, to gain jobs and security for their people. A sham national movement whose real purpose is destructive would do none of those things.

It is obvious which one fits the recent history of Palestinian Arab nationalism.