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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Op-ed: Bittersweet reflections

The Jewish Advocate

May 29, 2008

By David Albert

I suppose the best way to describe my feeling about Israel’s 60th birthday is bittersweet.

I remember experiencing the same feeling 10 years ago on Israel’s 50th birthday. At that time, Hillel at my university held a big birthday celebration on campus while Palestinian students held a counter-protest a few feet away.

I remember walking back and forth between the two groups trying to get a few people to talk to each other and to understand that each narrative had some truth and some blind spots. The Palestinians could only see that Jews were celebrating their suffering; the Jews could only see that Palestinian were decrying the rebirth and achievements of the Jewish state.

The Palestinians could only mourn their own people’s suffering; the Jews could only celebrate what they had achieved. Sadly, there was little room for dialogue and I have spent much of the last 10 years walking back forth between the two opposing camps.

In 1945, the widespread image of the Jew was that of the wretched survivor of the German concentration camps. Thankfully, that image has been replaced; for over 60 years, Israel has been central to rebuilding Jewish identity and dignity.

Israel has provided hope and opportunity to millions of Jews from around the world, including Jews from post World War II-torn Europe, the Middle East, and later, Russia and Ethiopia. In addition, Israel has provided a central focus of pride and identity for American Jews.

Israel has built a modern culture around a language that was barely spoken a century ago. Israel has built the institutions of a relatively stable, albeit flawed, political democracy and an industrialized economy from the ashes of the Shoah. These are no small achievements and I hope they are ones we can take pride in as we reflect on 60 years.

However, the bitter-sweetness remains. Beyond the imperfections of the Israeli political system and the inequities of Israeli economic life, the shadow of the occupation of the West Bank hangs over Israel today. The failure to achieve peace remains a haunting presence. Israel’s role as an occupier remains a destructive and often unacknowledged cancer growing on Israel body politic and Israeli society.

The insecurities and trauma of the Shoah have been passed down through the generations. This inheritance is one of the key factors hindering Israel in making the necessary compromises to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Irrational fears arising from the traumas of our past ensnare us at every turn.

Every bombing and every missile attack echoes with visions of the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Until we make peace with our own demons, I'm not sure we will ever be able to make peace with the Palestinians.

Israel’s 60th birthday is a time for us to remember to celebrate what Israel has achieved, but also to rededicate ourselves to working towards peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.
To me, that can only mean two states for two peoples. Let us sing Happy Birthday with joy for what Israel has achieved, but with a touch of sadness for what it has not, and with a breath of hope for a better, more peaceful, more just, future.

David Albert is the National Treasurer of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, of which he is a founding member.

 

 

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