As I celebrated Israel’s Independence Day last month, I did so warily. Recalling the 25,310 Israeli soldiers and civilians who died for this country during the past 63 years of its existence makes one realize that independence cannot be taken for granted. Independence Day in Israel always falls the day after the country’s Memorial Day to underscore the sacrifices made for the survival of the state.
It is also the day when I recall my childhood visits to my grandmother’s apartment in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. My grandmother’s entire family was killed in the Holocaust — her mother, siblings, nephews and nieces. In her apartment, she had photos of her deceased family covering the walls and the home she left behind. My grandmother, Yonah, or “dove” in English, never forgot her childhood home in the Polish town of Bledov.
But the only home Yonah would come to regard in her lifetime was Israel. It was the only state in the world she believed would protect her from the atrocities that destroyed her family in Europe. It was also the Biblical homeland that her religious Hasidic family dreamed of returning to for centuries.
And yet this story was not exclusive to Jewish people living in Europe. My Israeli friends, whose families come from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Egypt, have shared with me similar accounts of the fates of their families. An estimated 900,000 Jews were forced to flee or were expelled by the Arab and Muslim leadership of the Middle East and North Africa in the 20th century. Half of Israel’s population today is made of North African and Middle Eastern Jews (Mizrahim), who left behind well-established Jewish communities, some which had existed for thousands of years in the Levant.
I returned to Israel after I finished high school because I believed that this country was my future, just as much as it was my past and my present. I was born in Jerusalem and no other city in the world will ever feel as home to me.
But there is an existing narrative that leaves no room for my history or beliefs. It is a narrative that seeks the death and destruction of the Jewish state and manifests itself in many forms. The violent protests of Nakba Day, historical manipulations found in Mahmoud Abbas’s May 17 column about Israel in the New York Times and Hamas’s misleading messages to the media are just a few recent examples.
These events contribute to the perpetuation of two often-repeated lies: that the Arab world wants peace with the Jewish state and that Israel returning to the 1967 borders will magically resolve the conflict.
The Six Day War did not instigate the Arab-Israeli conflict; it was the simply the continuation of the Arab nations’ long-term goal to destroy Israel. Indeed, the 1967 war in the Arab world was called an-Naksah or “The Setback.”
You can only believe what you experience. On Nakba Day this year, a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv involving a truck driver from the town of Kfar Qasem wounded 16 people and killed a 29-year-old Israeli man about to be married. The driver, Isa Islam, plowed through southern Tel Aviv, ramming into vehicles and pedestrians, before crashing into a fence outside an elementary school in the morning. Later in the day, Arab supporters and Palestinian protesters swarmed Israel’s three hostile borders, with hundreds of Syrian protesters storming into northern Israel and staging violent riots that Israeli officials say were orchestrated by Syria and its Iranian-backed Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.
Nakba Day did one thing this year and that was reinforce hate and incitement among the Arab community against Israel and strengthen a narrative that offers no peaceful solution — or at least a solution that would recognize the Jewish people’s national rights to live in Israel. Denying the history of millions of Israeli Jews who believe Israel to be their national homeland will forever remain a disastrous tactic in any attempt to resolve this Mideast conflict.
Anav Silverman is a 2004 graduate of Calais High School. She lives in Jerusalem and works as an educator at Hebrew University’s Secondary School of Education and as a freelance writer.