TEL AVIV - If there is one minister in the government of Israel who does not sing the national anthem, then perhaps the national anthem should be re-examined.
"Hatikvah" -- "The Hope" -- was established as the anthem of the Zionist movement and the Jewish people by a resolution of the 18th Zionist Congress, in 1933. It gave apt expression to the aspiration of the Jews to be a free people in their land, Zion. Upon the establishment of the state, it became the national anthem. During the state's first years, when Israel's existence was fragile and not at all secure, "Hatikvah" was still relevant to Israeli aspirations. Today, even if Sderot is still under attack, and only last summer there was a war here, it is clear that the aspirations of the Jews have been realized in a very impressive way. Despite all the difficulties and threats, the State of Israel is one of the great success stories of the 20th century.
The fulfilment of a dream is not a reason to replace an anthem, but "Hatikvah" has an obvious practical disadvantage: It addresses only Jews. "For as long as deep within the heart a Jewish soul is yearning..." -- so begins "Hatikvah". How can an Arab citizen identify with such an anthem?
The act of singing the national anthem is an expression of solidarity with other citizens and with the state. This is an opportunity that is denied the Arabs of Israel, who make up one fifth of the population, and it is clear that the losers are both the state and its Jewish citizens.
The State of Israel came into existence despite the Arabs' objections, but many years have gone by since then, and the partnership between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel has become a fact, notwithstanding the difficulties, and even if equality has not yet been attained. Israel's Arab citizens reject the despicable plan of Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman to transfer Israeli Arab cities and towns to the territory destined for the Palestinian state. When they compare the progress made by Israel, and by themselves as part of it, during the state's nearly 60 years, to what has happened during the same period in the Arab and Palestinian expanse, their position is complimentary to Israel.
But when we think about the relations between Jews and Arabs during the next 60 years, it is clear there is still a great deal of work to be done, and if by its 60th Independence Day Israel were to adopt a new national anthem, it will have taken an important symbolic step for the future of relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
On its 60th birthday, it would be desirable if the Arab citizens of Israel were not alienated from the state's day of celebration. Hasn't the time come to recognize that the establishment of Israel is not just the story of the Jewish people, of Zionism, of the heroism of the Israel Defence Forces and of bereavement? That it is also the story of the reflection of Zionism and the heroism of IDF soldiers in the lives of the Arabs: the Nakba -- the Palestinian "Catastrophe", as the Arabs call the events of 1948 -- the loss, the families that were split up, the disruption of lives, the property that was taken away, the life under military government and other elements of the history shared by Jews and Arabs, which are presented on Independence Day, and not only on that day, in an entirely one-sided way.
One of the March issues of the British weekly magazine The Economist dealt with the difficulties various countries experience in facing alternate, sometimes critical, versions of their history. What is happening in this area in South Africa, says the weekly, is a positive example of the creation of a new "national story", one that is not bound by the rigid ideologies of one side or another.
The Jewish settlers in Hebron must be given credit for their initiative to rehabilitate the Avraham Avinu synagogue and establish memorial sites for the history of the Jews of that town and their slaughter by Arabs in 1929. Under normal conditions, the Palestinian state, had it been established, should properly have encouraged such projects, allotted resources to them and afforded them a place in Palestinian public discourse and in textbooks. We readily accept, in fact almost take for granted, projects to rehabilitate Jewish sites and memorials for Jewish communities that were destroyed in Europe.
It is not always easy, it is sometimes very difficult indeed, but nevertheless, Israel, too, can behave in this manner with respect to the history of the Arabs here. It will be to its credit and benefit if it marks a building that in the past was an Arab institution or a street that in the past bore an Arab name (and perhaps restore the Arab name to at least part of the street, certainly in places where Arabs live today). It is possible to mark a place where there used to be an Arab settlement, whether it was abandoned or whether a Jewish community has arisen in its stead. And it is also possible to mention acts of harshness by Jews toward Arabs.
We must be confident of our right to live here -- a right that is not conditioned on the Arabs' agreement, but which is also not conditioned on ignoring their history. In this way we will express the fact that the Arabs in Israel are also children of this land, as well as the equality of their rights alongside those of the Jews, with respect to the history of each of the peoples.
If Israel's 60th Independence Day, a year from now, is the first on which the story of the Arabs in this country is part of the official content and receives a public stage, it would be an important step in the direction of the creation of a common denominator for Jews and Arabs in Israel. A way to give this concrete expression would be if, for example, on Independence Day, the prime minister of Israel were to inaugurate the resettlement of the Arab villages of Biram and Ikrit by Israeli Arabs. There is no basis to the sense of threat in Israel from the rehabilitation of such Arab sites or from their resettlement by Arab citizens of Israel. The right of return of Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel has nothing to do with this.
If Israel were to behave toward the Arabs the way it expects other countries, in which Jewish property remains, to behave toward the Jews, then it would see to it that the government Custodian General of Absentee Property would truly act like a trustee for the owners of such property, and would set in motion a process of returning property to Arab citizens of Israel whenever possible, or of compensating the owners of such property, when returning it is not possible.
Israel's 60th Independence Day is a suitable time and a realistic target date for steps that will lead to strengthening the solidarity between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and a government that advances the steps described here would be making a significant contribution to this.
* Amos Schocken is the third generation of his family to be publisher of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Haaretz, 19 April 2007, www.haaretz.com
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
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