Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Right of Return of the Jews

By Bradley Burston

To my Palestinian friends, on the anniversary of the Nakba of the Jews:

Let us take this opportunity to talk about the Right of Return. Yours and also ours.

It is only fitting that it was this week - the week of the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, the anniversary of the expulsions of Jews from the Holy Land into exile - that Israel's Education Ministry announced that it had approved a controversial textbook for Israeli Arab third-graders. The book teaches that some Palestinian Arabs were driven from their homes and became refugees in 1948, and that some Arab villages in the new state of Israel were destroyed during and after the war.

There are many among us Jews who think it obscene, masochistic, defeatist, that on this anniversary of a succession of calamities that befell the Jews, the textbook also notes that Arabs use the word Nakba, or catastrophe, to describe the 1948 war.

They should think again.

It is only right and just that the Jews begin to acknowledge the pain and the dismemberment and the loss which Palestinians feel over the war that gave birth to Israel and in the course of which thousands and thousands of Palestinians lost their homes, some because they fled, hoping soon to return, others because they were forced from them.

Just as we should begin to expect that you, the Palestinians, begin to acknowledge the open wounds of the Jews.

There is no topic which causes our peoples more discomfort. The wounds run so deep, that we tend to see only our own pain, our own people's catastrophe.

When Jews listen to Palestinians describe their loss of home and loss of lives, we too often roll our eyes and dismiss their grief as exaggerated, predicated on myth, tailored to political motives, false.

Our Palestinian friends, meanwhile, have grown inured, even contemptuous of, our agony over the Holocaust and our mourning of the victims of terrorism and war.

It is time, on this, our Nakba Day, to ask you to think again as well.

Three generations after your Nakba, you hold out hope that the rusting keys you treasure will someday hang again in the homes you keep in your hearts.

It may not be reasonable, but it is necessary, to accept that 130 generations after our Nakba at the hands of Babylon, and 100 generations after our Nakba at the hands of Rome, we still hold a key of our own.

Those of you who cannot bring yourselves to acknowledge the pain of the Jews, those of you who console yourselves by deciding that today's Jews are not the descendants of ancient Israel, those of you who take comfort in rejecting the notion that Jews have valid claims to this land, should know this:

This is our home. Exactly as it is yours. Your Noble Sanctuary is our Har-Habayit, the Mountain of our Home, the very center of Judaism for 3,000 years. It is that very compound that is our home, not that vestige below it, that souvenir, that Wailing Wall, that mere retaining buttress, that you watch us visit as you stand above us.

Our home is that home, and you are occupying it. You are occupying the most sacred ground we have.

Secular, religious, exiled to six continents, we have carried the rusted key to that Home wherever we have gone. If you can't see it, it's because we carry it in our bones, our memory, our hearts, the darkness in our souls.

Belittle this at your peril. Deny this to your detriment. This is what you need to know about the Right of Return, ours as well as yours, and about holy men, ours as well as yours:

There is no knowable justice in this world. Not for you, and not for us. Keep the right of return where it belongs. It is a part of you. But it is not a part of this world.

Our right of return is no more realizable than yours. It is a right to nothing more than memory. Our right of return is the legacy of a Home which no longer exists in a kindom which no longer exists, yours the legacy of a home which no longer exists in a village which no longer exists.

This one God of ours does not offer the Jews and the Palestinians justice. This one God of offers our two peoples life, if we choose to find a way to swallow our right to return to all that was once ours, and act, for once, as adults.

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