In preparation for Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Israeli Independence day, I had several thoughts:
In general, I don’t celebrate the making of any State. To millions of people, nationalism is essentially terrorism made “legitimate” by the boot of white power jamming its heel onto the necks of the marginalized and oppressed.
As the daughter of an Israeli and an American Jew, I have benefitted from this power dynamic. It has taken me years to unlearn the feeling of entitlement associated with being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. But I can remember the tragedies that my family faced back in Europe without also feeling a sense of pride for what I see as one of the deepest collective disappointments of the modern period, also known as the creation of the Israeli nation-state.
However, as a pragmatist, I have come to understand that the hierarchy of the nation-state is extremely effective in many of its goals. We, as a society, might not be ready to see the demise of this system (this point is one I am not fully prepared to support and willing to abandon frequently). As such, I don’t think that it’s useful to work toward the abolition of the nation-state, but instead to work to make it obsolete.
I am envisioning a world where Independence Days are forgotten. Instead we’ll remember communal achievements like the day that that someone decided to put za’atar in schnitzel, or the day that Habiluim‘s first album was released, or the day by which we hope to see water distributed more equally.
And in particular, I don’t celebrate the making of the Israeli nation-state. I hate that Zionism has been totally co-opted by capitalist forces, rendering invisible the radical socialist and even anarchist roots of the Zionist movement. I hate that the achievements of Theodore Herzl and David Ben-Gurion overshadow those of Ahad Ha’am, Nachman Syrkin, or AD Gordon.
I also hate that we focus only on the triumph of Israel’s birth, and don’t take the time to discuss the immense inequalities woven into the internal fabric of Israeli society, like the mistreatment of African refugees, and the overwhelming amount of sexism in the IDF. Yom Ha’atzmaut is not a moment for a critical examination of Israeli society, when that’s exactly what it most desperately needs.
Finally, it’s a monumental mistake, on behalf of the Israeli government and society, to completely ignore the suffering caused by the birth of Israel. In fact, it would be a boon to integrate a collective moment of mourning for the Palestinian lives that were lost, and families that were displaced.
Schools could initiate projects of social reform, like sending relief packages to families in Gaza or organizing picnics with students from the occupied territories of the West Bank. Local communities could organize lobbying groups to ask the government to stop constructing settlements.
Human beings are phenomenal creatures! We are capable of holding multiple emotions at once. Remembering the pain of the Palestinian people would not need, in any way, to diminish the pride one might feel when remembering the birth of Israel. In fact, doing so would be a powerful display of one of my favorite aspects of Jewish history and culture: the embracing of contradiction.
Shani Chabansky is a freelance journalist living in the Bay Area, California. She recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz, where she was the Editor-in-chief of Leviathan Jewish Journal, a quarterly, student-run Jewish interest publication. Her work has appeared in New Voices Magazine and Tikkun Daily.