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By Michele Chabin
c. 2008 Religion News Service

JERUSALEM — When Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary starting Wednesday (May 7) night, the event will touch people of different faiths in very different ways.
Jews and Christian Zionists around the world will mark the milestone with celebratory prayer services in synagogues and churches — just one day after mourning the 22,000 Israeli soldiers who have died in service of their country.
Many Muslims — as well as some Christians and Jews — who are critical of Israel’s policies have organized events marking the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the term Arabs use to describe the establishment of Israel. Members of other Israeli Arab minorities such as Druze and Bedouins, who are loyal to the state and serve in its armed forces, may attend their Jewish friends’ barbeques, all the while quietly remembering their families’ wartime experiences.
Such a dissonance is natural, said Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s department for Interreligious Affairs, because Israel’s creation was the realization of a dream for some, and the end of a dream for others.
In Judaism, Rosen explains, “people, faith and land are inextricably intertwined.” Throughout 2,000 years of exile, “the Jewish people maintained fidelity to the land of Israel, and for the majority of Jews and many Christians, a Jewish state was and remains a prophetic fulfillment.”
For them, Israel’s existence “testifies to God’s faithfulness to his promise.” Arabs and Muslims, meanwhile, almost universally view Israel’s establishment “entirely through the perspective of Palestinians who were tragically displaced during the conflict surrounding the establishment of the state.”
Bishop Munib Younan, who heads the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, said that while Israel’s creation provided a permanent safe haven for Jews, the ensuing war caused irreparable damage to Palestinian society.
When the United Nations voted in 1947 to divide Palestine into two separate Arab and Jewish states (Israeli independence followed in May 1948), the region’s Arabs rejected the plan. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Christians and Muslims either fled or were forced out of their homes while Israel fought off invading Arab armies.
Simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees flooded into the fledgling state, either because they had survived the Holocaust or because they had been forced out of their homes in Arab countries.
Israel’s 60th anniversary is particularly emotional, Younan said, because it evokes this refugee experience in both Arabs and Jews. It is time “for the Palestinians to understand the deep trauma of the Holocaust in the heart of the Jewish people, and time for Israeli Jews to understand the deep trauma of the occupation in the heart of the Palestinians.”
Younan, a refugee whose family once lived in Beersheva, in what is now southern Israel, would like this anniversary year “to be a time of truth and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis. Israelis read history through their own eyes, and we (Palestinians) have our own perspective.” For Younan, justice will mean the end of what he calls “Israel’s occupation” and the establishment of two states “co-existing, side-by-side in peace.”
Until that day comes, Younan wants Israel to allow free movement between the Palestinian territories and holy sites in Israel, halting the army’s “sometimes humiliating” treatment of clergy and parishioners.
“When people are imprisoned in an area, it creates extremism,” Younan asserted. “When all Christians and Muslims can go to their holy sites and pray there, it will create the atmosphere for reconciliation.”
An Israeli government spokesperson said Israel “does everything possible to permit access to holy places, but that the safety of its citizens must be its first consideration.”
If 60 years of bloodshed have taught the region’s people anything, Younan said, it is that “we have to learn how we can share this country.
We can no longer enter the vicious cycle of blame.”
Sheikh Abdulaziz Bukhari of the Nakshabandia Sufi order of Islam, who heads the Uzbek Cultural Center in Jerusalem, agrees that mutual forgiveness is only way to achieve peace.
“Our creator must have a reason why he brought us together. I don’t think he brought us together in this holy land to kill each other,” he said. “He brought us together to learn more about him through forgiving and respecting each other for the sake of our longing for the love of God.”
Bukhari, who was born the same year Israel was established, said the 60th anniversary “is like two sides of the same coin.”
“On the one hand, I am happy that after the Nazis killed 6 million innocent Jewish children, women and men, my home country where my family has lived since … 1616 provided shelter and asylum for a nation of wonderful people without a land. Islam, the religion of peace, has always protected the rights of the persecuted ones.”
Yet at the same time, Bukhari said he is “saddened” that “many of my fellow community members feel they are suffering under occupation and find they are not equally treated by law and justice, and that their lives are of less importance than that of a Jew.”
Without downplaying Palestinian suffering, Michael Oren, an Israeli Jewish historian and senior fellow at the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center, insists that “the Palestinian catastrophe was almost entirely self-inflicted. Sixty years ago the Palestinians were offered an independent state and they rejected it with violence.”
What the world needs to recognize, Oren said, “is that Israel has a right to exist. The Jewish people are a nation and every nation has a right to live out its national destiny. Israel is the only country in the world where Jews as Jews can and must take responsibility for their successes and their failure and live in authentic Hebrew culture.”
Sixty years after its tumultuous birth, “Israel remains the greatest privilege and greatest challenge to confront the Jewish people in 2,000 years.”
“Quite simply,” he said, “it’s the greatest story of modern times.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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