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Middle East

Israel's Independence Day is 'Nakba' for Palestinians

The same day Israel celebrates its 68th anniversary, the Palestinians commemorate Nakba, or 'the catastrophe.' A day of festivity for one people was the disaster of the other, which sparked the exodus of thousands.

As Israelis commemorate their country's 68th Independence Day, or Yom Ha'atzmaut, on Thursday, many citizens were taking to the streets to watch fireworks, have barbecues and celebrate, despite an eight month-long

wave of violence

that has killed 28 Israelis and more than 200 Palestinians.

However, the very same day of Israeli festivities is known to the Palestinians as

the Nakba,

or 'day of catastrophe,' when Israel was established as a state on a land which was previously occupied, at least partially, by Palestinians.

Although estimations vary, the general assumption is that roughly 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed or left their territories during the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, which Israelis generally refer to as the War of Independence, settling in other Arab countries like Jordan, or occupying different territories such as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The celebrations of the Israelis are hardly ever entwined with the Palestinians' grief. This year, as in previous years, a two-day lockdown has been imposed on the West Bank with Israeli soldiers are on high alert, fearing that

more clashes

could lead to more casualties.

On May 15, Palestinians will head to the streets to protest Israel's ongoing military presence in West Bank settlements and what they see as an occupation that has brought disaster on their people.

"I am studying about this day since I was a small child," says Alaa Daraghme, a 24-year-old Palestinian student from Ramallah. "My grandma still tells me about the streets of Haifa, her home town [today a mixed Israeli-Arab city in the north of Israel] and how she wishes one day she could take me there," he says.

Acknowledging two narratives

For Israelis, the independence celebrations come a day after

a traditional memorial day

for the country's fallen soldiers, when it commemorates more than 23,000 Jewish, Druze and other soldiers who died in the line of duty since 1860.

"Independence Day is still important to me, although I'm sure it has changed a lot throughout the years," says Noa Greenberg, a psychology student from Tel Aviv. "My grandparents from both sides were Holocaust survivors, and when I look at my grandma who is still alive, I suddenly feel the importance of this state, despite all the problems."

Last year, several Israeli cinemas refused to screen films and documentaries about the Nakba, a move that generated harsh criticism from both directors and activists.

"I think such films should be screened," says Greenberg, "because if we are sure about our narrative, why shouldn't we let others present theirs? It is very possible that neither side is lying - it's just as simple as that - our celebration was their disaster, and admitting that shouldn't be scary for us," she explains.

Ausschwitz-Birkenau Erinnerungsmarsch

'Our celebration was their disaster, and admitting that shouldn't be scary for us'

However, many in Israel disagree, saying that Israeli institutions, official bodies, or state-funded media should not be alluding to Independence Day as a catastrophe. "I have no control over what Palestinians are celebrating in Nablus, Ramallah or Gaza," says Ron, a member of the students association in one of Israel's biggest universities, who wished to remain anonymous.

"But I do think that activities which straightforwardly dismiss Israel or its existence are not something that Israelis should fund - and I don't know any country that would be willing to do that," he says.

"To me the Nakba is an everyday occurrence," Alaa shares. "I feel like I'm in a prison. I can't walk around freely, I always have to be careful, and I cannot even go and visit the places where my grandparents were born. You don't have to go as far, I'm even afraid to go out of Ramallah because of the settlers waiting along the roads," he says.

'Rural Arabs paid a price'

The

younger generation from both sides

was not alive to see Israel being established, but it seems as if this event still carries high significance for both peoples.

"I don't think we should apologize for living here", Ron says. "The fact that today we are alive and well in our own country is almost a miracle. I don't want to fall to the clichés of using

the Holocaust

as a bargaining chip, but yes, that didn't happen such a long time ago, and who knows what could have happened without us building a country here."

In recent years, many Arab students who are studying in Israeli universities, as well as left-wing Israeli activists, have been outspoken about their desire to commemorate the Nakba, but were largely dismissed.

Israel Palästinenser steigen auf die Mauer zwischen Abu Dis und Jerusalem

'Activities which straightforwardly dismiss Israel or its existence are not something Israelis should fund'

Last year, riots broke out when a group of Israeli and Arab students demonstrated at the University of Tel Aviv, demanding the university allow them to commemorate the Nakba alongside the Israeli celebrations. Two students were arrested and later released.

Back then, Arab-Israeli politician Ayman Odeh said that "[one] can debate about the important issues that occurred in 1948 and 1949, but it's humanly impossible to argue that rural Arabs didn't pay the heaviest price."

"Their villages were destroyed, they were expelled from their homeland and the new state would not let them come back. It is called the Nakba, the people's disaster, and we wish to acknowledge that injustice."

Daraghme says he himself has never learned about the number of fallen soldiers from the Israeli side, or about the Israeli narrative, "but I also don't want to go back to Jaffa and Haifa, like many people think about us. I wish that one day we could all live in one state," he says.

"I wish so too," Ron agrees.

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