Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Al Nakba Day

Today, May 15, is the day in which Palestinians remember al-Nakba ("the catastrophe"), the events surrounding the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes and lands by the paramilitary forces of the Zionist Yishuv, the subsequent war between the newly declared state of Israel and surrounding Arab countries, and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem which continues to this day.

As an American of Ukrainian descent, I approach the remembrance of this event in several ways. The year 2007 represents the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, and the founding of the colony of Virginia. Amid all the articles, celebrations, and visits by the Queen, I recognize that my own country, indeed, my own newly adopted state, was founded on the lands and destroyed villages and homes of indigenous peoples, whose diverse cultures and societies were disregarded and crushed by European colonists.

My father's family were themselves refugees, forced to flee their homes by war. My grandparents were able to make a great life for themselves, their children, and for me, here in the U.S., but my grandmother always spoke of her homeland with a longing and an aching that never went away. I can only imagine how much more painful it would have been for her had she regularly been confronted with people insisting that the Ukrainians never existed, or that the events which caused her and her family to flee never took place, or, most ludicrously, that the Ostapenkos and a few hundred thousand of their neighbors had simply picked up and fled of their own accord. This is the sort of deeply offensive propaganda, the attempted erasing of an entire people and society from history, with which the Palestinians have had to contend since 1948.

By recognizing the tragic events of al-Nakba, and accepting the Palestinian narrative of dispossession, a narrative which has largely been vindicated by a majority of historians, both within Israel and without, my intention is not to delegitimize the state of Israel, nor to justify acts of terrorist violence against its citizens, any more than recognizing the destruction of Native American societies delegitimizes the existence of the United States. I'm very much aware that there are many who use anti-Zionism and a false solidarity with the Palestinians as cover for their anti-semitism, and I reject this, as I reject all forms of bigotry, including that which denies the existence and national aspirations of the Palestinian people.

The fact remains, unfortunately, that the government of the state of Israel is still very much in the process of dismembering Palestine, with the virtually unquestioning support of my own government. In addition to the obvious, ongoing nightmare that this has been for the Palestinians, it has had disastrous consequences both for Israel and for the U.S. It's long past time that my government used appropriate measures to stop it, and to facilitate a just resolution to the conflict.