Not all Arabs want to spoil the party

By Ben Lynfield, April 11, 2008
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While Leaders of Israel’s Arab minority were gearing up for a battle to assert their history and grievances as a competing narrative to the state-organised celebrations of Israel’s 60th anniversary of independence, one mosque took a different line.

In the small northern village of Taibe, residents painted their mosque in the blue and white colours of the Israeli flag in what they said was a gesture of coexistence.

This was, however, an exception to the rule. Abed Anabtawi, spokesman for the Higher Follow Up Committee of the Arab Citizens of Israel explained the position of the majority: “We do not term it a boycott, but we are calling for non-participation and a presentation of a different side of the truth.

“We expect that most Arabs will not participate in the [state’s] activities and that many will join the activities we are organising to mark the anniversary of the nakba,” he said, using an Arab word meaning catastrophe and referring to the expulsion or flight of more than 600,000 Palestinians during Israel’s 1947-49 War of Independence.

As Jewish Israelis celebrate on May 8 in the company of US President George W Bush, Arab citizens will be holding “marches of return” to destroyed or abandoned villages, Mr Anabtawi said. The main one is in Saffuriya, known in Hebrew as Tzippori, which was conquered by Jewish forces in 1948 and whose lands were distributed to three kibbutzim in 1949. “It must be understood that when Israel marks its 60th anniversary, we mark the other side of the coin,” he said. Arab leaders are also organising a conference titled “The Right of Return and a Just Peace” with the participation of members of the European Parliament on May 15. Many Israeli Jews consider the right of return a euphemism for destroying the state’s Jewish character through an influx of Arab refugees.

Ilan Marciano, a spokesman for the state celebrations, said there had been an effort to include leaders from the Higher Follow Up Committee in preparations for events but it was “politely refused”.

Mr Marciano took issue with boycotters of the celebrations, or those arguing that the 98 million shekel (£14 million) cost is too high. “Independence is not something to be taken for granted in our region.”

He understood the “complexity” of the situation of Arab citizens, but doubted “the position of the leadership serves the desire for co-existence”.

One of the main events being organised by the state is “an ascent to Jerusalem through the battles of 1948” by 45,000 youths, culminating in a large ceremony at the Western Wall.

A Jewish-Arab youth co-existence meeting is being planned and there are hopes to hold an event in the Arab town of Shafa Amr.

Yesh Gvul (There is a limit), a group supporting conscientious objectors to army service, will maintain its 11-year tradition of holding an alternative independence ceremony with honours to those deemed to have made a contribution to peace and social justice. Yoav Haas, a Yesh Gvul activist, took issue with the military heritage activities. “If you make a ceremony aimed at saying how much we are right and how much our enemies want to destroy us, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will lead only to our destroying them and their destroying us.”

    Last updated: 1:02pm, April 10 2008