In March 2011, the Israeli Knesset passed a law called the “Naqba Law” that would punish public institutions for any reference to the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948 as “Naqba” (meaning “catastrophe”). The Knesset law enables Israel to deny state funding to institutions that question the country’s existence as a Jewish state. The debate that led to the vote was heated and angry.

Right-wing Israeli lawmakers who introduced the law insisted that it was meant to defend Israel against delegitimization efforts within Israel and internationally by Israel’s enemies. Israeli liberals argued that the measure is inherently undemocratic because it restricts free speech, even though this particular speech challenges the existence of the Jewish State of Israel itself.

How should we Jews in the Diaspora regard this law? What does it mean for Israel’s democracy and Jewish character?

Though the law has been on the books already for more than a year, the issue came up on Israeli Independence Day when Palestinian Arabs took to the streets to demonstrate what they believe is a basic injustice to their rights and national identity. The law will likely be recalled, as well, on the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War (this coming Tuesday, June 5) when Israel took the West Bank and Golan Heights in a war of self-defense imposed upon it by its Arab neighbors.

In the interests of a future peace agreement (should it ever come about) an accurate understanding of the true history of what happened in 1948 is important for Israelis and the Palestinians to understand beyond the myths perpetuated in each of their narratives.

In this blog and the next, as best as I can, I will offer a reconstruction of some of that history. Much has been written about it by Israeli historians on both the left and the right, as well as by scholars internationally. I have sought to glean only a few essential truths of that history.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was the most important and positive event in 2000 years of Jewish history because it meant the return of the Jewish people to our ancient national homeland and a return to history itself. There the flowering of the Jewish national spirit could occur, and indeed it has over the course of these past 64 years.

However, as extraordinarily inspirational as the establishment of Israel has been for the Jewish people it has been just as extraordinarily negative for the Palestinians, who call that event the “Catastrophe” (Naqba).

Despite the Palestinians within the Green Line (the armistice line established in 1949) living as full citizens in the only democracy in the Middle East, and despite their having greater freedom and more rights and opportunities in education, law, government, politics, medicine, religion, and the arts than in any other Arab or Islamic nation, Israel’s Independence represents for Palestinians what they regard as a great loss to their national identity and heritage, the loss of control over their ancestral homeland, their being prevented from returning to their homes from which they fled and were driven out, and the ability  to establish their own state.

The Israeli narrative is, of course, much different. Theodor Herzl promised that the Jews would settle a barren wasteland devoid of people and build a new society and a state of their own. Indeed, the Zionist pioneers came and made the desert bloom. In doing so they confronted many obstacles, the most cruel being the ongoing terrorism and war.

Despite the violence against it Israel’s successive governments reached out to Israel’s Arab neighbors to make peace and asked that all the nations of the Middle East join to create a new prosperous, creative and cooperative region.

Two different worlds and two different perspectives! Each narrative is built upon fact and myth. However, peace will depend on mutual clarity about the objective truths of history, what happened, where injustice really lies, and the measure of accountability each side must take for its role in the perpetuation of the conflict. Confronting the truth of our mutual history, however, is so very difficult because that history carries much pain and loss, resentment, distrust, fear, and hatred.

We and the Palestinians are enmeshed in a very bad “marriage.” As in any bad marriage the only reasonable result is first separation and then divorce. With a successful divorce must come compromise, a division of property, and a sharing of the “children” (i.e. those things that both sides cherish). Divorce is always difficult and far too often there is very bad blood between the former partners, but if each partner wishes to live out a better life for itself and its progeny, it is necessary.

Following Shabbat I will offer a short list of “Claims/Myths” and the facts that abide within those claims and myths.

Shabbat Shalom.

To be continued…