05/16/2016, 18.53
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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For Palestinian leader, from the Nakba or catastrophe to a chance to build a future with Israel

Palestinians yesterday commemorated their expulsion as a result of the founding of Israel. For Prof Sabella, the anniversary is a "reminder" of "evil and mistakes" that can only be healed through justice. With Israel’s right in power, Israel’s democracy is in danger. Unity between Gaza and Ramallah and new elections are needed.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The Nakba is a "reminder" and a memorial to “evil and errors" committed against "the Palestinian people", although some "in Israel and in the West" want to "deny" this historical fact, Prof Bernard Sabella told AsiaNews.

A Catholic, Prof Sabella is a Fatah representative in Jerusalem and executive secretary of the Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East Council of Churches. Speaking about the anniversary, he said that the event was not marked "to return to the homes of the past. My parents had a house and were driven out. Yet, I am not asking to go back. Times have changed, wounds cannot be erased, but the time has come to heal them and bring justice."

Tens of thousands of Palestinians yesterday commemorated Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) Day to mark the exodus of 760,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948 at the founding of Israel. Since then, the exiles and their descendants have increased to 5.5 million.

Sirens wailed for 68 seconds Sunday in the West Bank to mark the passing of 68 years since the event. In Ramallah and Bethlehem cars and pedestrians stopped. Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and shouted slogans.

For Prof Sabella, the desire to mark Nakba "does not mean that we do not want to recognise Israel, but it is a call for justice." What is scaring, the Catholic leader noted "is the right-wing drift in Israel and its government, which is marginalising [if not attacking] all those elements in [Israeli] civil society, individuals and movements, who are fighting for social and other rights. If such [right-wing] rhetoric wins, the very essence of the country is in danger.”

In recent years, Israel has struck strategic alliances with several Arab nations against Iran. The climate has "changed" and Israeli leaders can no longer claim that their nation is surrounded by "hostile forces."

Recently, critical voices have emerged within Israel. In an editorial article in French daily Le Monde, Israeli writer Shmuel Meyer argues that "Israel must evacuate all the Palestinian territories in order to regain its soul."

He warns that Israeli "democracy is in danger", as did Nadav Bigelman of Breaking the Silence (BtS). A few days ago, he told AsiaNews that Israel’s "democratic values ​​are under attack."

For Meyer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "a spineless demagogue" who only wants to stay in power, and is able to do so because the left has no identity and is in crisis.

The only solution is for Israel "to withdraw unilaterally from all the occupied territories,” telling the settlers that they can choose to be “Israelis abroad, Palestinian Jews, or Martians”.

In the meantime, another major anniversary is coming up. Next year, 5 June will mark 50 years since the Six Day War, which began the occupation of the territories.

Among Palestinians, the sense of humiliation, frustration, and anger is growing. Attempts by Fatah leaders to pressure the Mideast Quartet (United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia) to make 2017 the year of Palestinian independence is making little headway.

In Prof Sabella’s view, "There are two essential things that Palestinians must face. One is unity between Gaza and Ramallah" to reach true "reconciliation between the two sides" at a time when, increasingly, people in the Strip are dissatisfied with Hamas rule. The other is elections. "Parliamentary and presidential elections are necessary" in Palestine; they have not been held "since 2006".

The Palestinian parliament has been "set aside" and this complicates the democratic process. “Palestinians are tired of that.” Elections are necessary despite opposition from leaders in Gaza.

Finally, a "common vision" with Israel is needed. The two must deal with each other to build together "the future, ensuring that they can live side by side in harmony, putting aside the conflict. What is needed is a middle ground, bridge-building, as Pope Francis said.”

“This is a difficult challenge that we must meet. It will not happen tomorrow, but we have to keep trying."

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