Breaking Taboos: Confronting the Ghosts of 1948

Every conflict between Israel and its neighbors including the recent fighting in Gaza stems from an enduring tragedy.  It is a tragedy few supporters of Israel want to discuss:  the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 ended one diaspora and created another.  Ever since, Jews and Palestinians have asserted ownership of the same territory known as Israel. Jewish claims refer back to the ancient world. Palestinian claims derive from more recent centuries. There is, of course, historical truth to support both positions.

We want to be clear about where we stand.  Israel has the right to exist and the right to enjoy peaceful and secure borders.  It is intolerable for any Israeli citizen to live with the threat of rocket attack and/or invasion by tunnel. These are not subject to negotiation. Never again should the Jewish people be defenseless and/or without a homeland.

But there will never be a durable peace without recognizing how the creation of Israel established a Palestinian diaspora. This is an important challenge confronting every Israeli citizen.  Honore de Balzac said that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Regardless of how you feel about his statement, we believe the creation of every nation involves many great crimes, crimes including appropriation of wealth and/or land, a usurpation of political power and the murder of those in opposition, invariably signifying the death of many innocent people. Israel is no exception.

In 1948, atrocities were committed on both sides. And land owned and occupied by Arabs for many decades and/or centuries was taken over by Jews. Eight hundred thousand Arabs went into exile. The Jewish people who lived in exile for millennia should understand the plight of any people living in a diaspora, especially those sent into exile by the creation of Israel. For an older generation of Israelis and Jews living around the world, we believe unvoiced guilt makes it difficult to discuss the Palestinian exile. For younger generations and recent immigrants to Israel, the historical record of 1948 appears to be ancient history and irrelevant.  As a result, it is remarkably difficult to mention this inconvenient truth of history  without being accused of being anti-Israel or, worse yet, anti-Jewish.

But acknowledging the historical record does not make one anti-Israel any more than admitting the injustice done to Native Americans makes one anti-America. It is important to understand what happened in 1948 because the Jewish people must accept there are legitimate grievances on the other side. The historical injustice effected by Israel’s creation should compel every Israeli to conclude that nothing short of a two state solution will ever end hostilities between Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately, the political momentum in Israel has shifted away from embracing the need for two states. And any serious discussion of the origin of the Palestinian exile has become virtually taboo in Israeli political life.

There are also fundamental challenges confronting Palestinians. Someone once quipped that forgiveness means giving up hope for a better past. Yet individuals and nations often fight one another to address previous injuries. But to do so perpetually is ultimately self-destructive. Can all Palestinians finally embrace Israel’s right to exist and to enjoy peaceful and secure borders? Can they accept that the reality of 1948 will not be overturned? Can they accept there will be no right of return that would demographically endanger the Jewish state?

Both sides must finally transform their respective national conversations about painful and difficult issues if an enduring peace agreement is to be negotiated. This will involve confronting and breaking political taboos. However, the entrenched positions of hardliners on both sides militate against this, prompting the ghosts of 1948 to haunt Israel and Palestine well into the 21st century.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

2 thoughts on “Breaking Taboos: Confronting the Ghosts of 1948”

  1. I congratulate you on your position. It is a position of peace. However the amount of grief, fear and distrust between Israel and Palestine is so difficult to overcome, that I doubt a real and durable solution is possible. But certainly, international acceptance of the right to live for both countries will help. Israel is the stronger part and so it must be the first to do something to create trust.

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