Today, Israel celebrates its independence. All day long, Israelis go off on day trips, hang out with friends, or have barbecues. Having grown up in Germany in the 70s and 80s, at a time when national symbols were frowned upon and regarded with deep suspicion because of their association with the Nazis, I have a hard time with any expressions of nationalism. I squirm when I hear national anthems, and I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the torches during the first Memorial Day ceremony I attended in Israel. My years in Israel numbed some of this unease but it returned full force after 9/11 when I was living in New York and the entire city was suddenly swathed in American flags. It was a bit easier because these were not my symbols but I remain unsure as to the meaning of this display of nationalism on cars, shop windows, streets, t-shirts and bodies.
In the case of Israel’s Independence Day, I am also always reminded of the flipside of this day, called the Naqba or Catastrophe by Arab Israelis. Without entering into the heated debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what does it mean to celebrate the establishment of the state of Israel in the face of the factual displacement of another people? Many states, not least the US, have included a healthy dose of denial into their national narratives but I hope that those voices within Israel that achknowledge the more unsavory moments of its past will become more widely heard. Seeing one’s past more sharply is not a bad way to look at a future.