Grasping Yom Ha’atzmaut

By Joanna May Sutton-Klein

A picture of trees in mistAs Yom Ha’atzmaut races towards us this year, I find myself struggling to know how I want to meet it. I think back to the Yom Ha’atzmauts of my childhood, I spent them innocently dancing round in circles to Israeli songs, eating Israeli food and waving Israeli flags. But as I’ve learned that there’s more to the State of Israel than what I was taught at my cheder and youth movement, the unqualified celebration of Yom Ha’atzmauts in the past doesn’t feel quite right.

In fact, for the past few years I’ve purposefully ignored the passing of Yom Ha’atzmaut altogether, having found other moments within the Jewish year to tend to my struggle with the State of Israel and eagerly but solemnly learn more about the whole truth of how it came into existence.

My discomfort and anger at the profound injustices committed by the State of Israel, both today and in the past are too great to set aside, even temporarily, to join in any Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations. However, in this year, the 70th year, I feel called to encounter Yom Ha’atzmaut head on. I will not be celebrating, but instead will mark it by learning about and commemorating the Nakba, an act which is often complicated in the State of Israel.

I will remember the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel between 1947-1949. And I will remember that by the time the War of Independence was over, less than 40% of the original Palestinian population remained. And I will remember that immediately after the war, the State of Israel forbade all Palestinian refugees from returning.

I will not only remember the past, but remind myself of the present. I am reminded that today Palestinian citizens of Israel are banned from living in 68% of towns and villages within Israel’s 1948 borders. And I am reminded that while diaspora Jews enjoy a Right of Return to Israel, Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled 70 years ago are still denied that right.
In marking Yom Ha’atzmaut this year, I will not only create a space for grief but also a space for hope. I know that without justice, there can be no peace. So I will grasp the day we call Yom Ha’atzmaut, and press upon it my hope for justice to fall upon all those who dwell in Israel-Palestine.

For Jews and Palestinians to become truly equal in the land, Palestinians must be afforded the same right of return that is afforded to Jews. So I will embrace Yom Ha’atzmaut as a date to anchor learning, mourning, hoping and struggling around Israel-Palestine. Justice, equality and democracy have always been won through struggle, so the day that we call Yom Ha’atzmaut and Palestinians call the Nakba, is a day where we, as Reform Diaspora Jews, can find our places in that struggle.
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Over April and May I will be helping to organise a handful of Nakba education workshops at synagogues, JSocs, and community centres across the UK – please get in touch if you would be interested in coming along. I would also love to hear from other Jews who share my thoughts on Yom Ha’atzmaut/Nakba day. Please contact me here.