Open Zion

04.16.13

Independence Day Without Palestinian Independence

Every spring brings a whipsaw of emotion to the American-Israeli peace-advocate Jew living in self-imposed exile (me, in this case, but I’m guessing I’m not alone).

Every year, I launch my Passover cleaning with a combined loathing of cleaning, a general-all-purpose laziness, and an overwhelming longing for home—and anger at the Israeli policies that inspired my Jerusalemite husband and me to choose the Diaspora over home, for the sake of our children. This invariably crests on the day of the Seder, as I get weepy over boxes of matzah and the recipes of beloved Tel Aviv friends, and then it passes, more or less, as the trial of the cleaning fades, and my little family revels in our little Pesach traditions. I engage with the Divine, I feel a special joy. A week later it’s back to the everyday—and every year I think that the roller coaster is behind me.

Then another week passes, and suddenly it’s Holocaust Day. Almost without noticing, I sink into a kind of numb horror, a boundless grief, listening to Israeli radio and reading the memories of the millions lost, weeping off and on all day it seems, slowly emerging as the sun sets and our yahrzeit candle burns low. Again, I long to be with my people, and internally rage at the reasons that I find myself a stranger in a strange land. And again I think it’s passed.

And then a week later it’s the eve of Israeli Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, which is, in turn, the lead-in to Israeli Independence Day, Yom HaAtzmaut. And as much as I don’t know how to process the emotions of Passover and Holocaust Day, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut bring with them an entirely different degree of difficulty.

I refuse to disallow my people our right to our pain, or to our joy. Children, husbands, sisters, mothers killed in war and in terrorist actions are losses as enormous as they are incomprehensible, and all over the world, people celebrate their national days. When (please God) a free and independent Palestine is finally established, the Palestinians, too, will celebrate—and I know that among the heroes celebrated will be people responsible for great suffering among Israelis. This is the way of peoples. Heroes are very rarely shared.

And that is, I suppose, the source of the maelstrom of emotion that overcomes me every year, as Yom HaZikaron begins and my candle is lit. I refuse to disallow the Palestinians the right to their pain or their narrative, either. I cannot simply mourn and celebrate with my people—indeed, on a personal level, I cannot celebrate at all.

I’ve said it many times before, and my fear is that I’ll never get to not say it on this day, but: our joy comes at the expense of someone else’s bottomless pain, and we have yet to acknowledge, much less deal with, that fact. Our anthem sticks in my throat, our stories of heroism echo with all they fail to reveal. I can’t be happy.

I remember the last Independence Day we spent in Israel, in 1998. All around us, Israel was giddily celebrating its 50th anniversary, but my husband and I gathered on our balcony with friends born and raised in Tel Aviv, baking potatoes in this odd potato-baking device (a wedding gift) that produced tapuchei adama that tasted as if they’d just emerged from a kumsitz, and we complained.

We complained and complained and complained, with real, palpable pain and longing for a country in which we could believe. The four of us could hear the fireworks, but couldn’t bring ourselves to watch.

When Palestine really exists, on maps and in all offices of the U.N., when Israel has made a just peace with its neighbors and attempted to address the tremendous, nearly incalculable damage it has caused the Palestinian people over the years—then I will be able to genuinely celebrate.

Until then, I will continue to mournfully hang two flags from my front porch, no doubt to the sheer befuddlement of my American neighbors—two flags on Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzmaut (which follow the Hebrew calendar) and two flags on May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the U.N. declaration of the partition of Palestine as Yawm al-Nakba, Day of the Catastrophe. I will deny the experiences of neither people—so every year, both flags fly.

It’s not much, but it feels honest. And some days that can be its own achievement.