Nakba Day – Black, White and Shades of Grey

It need not be said that ‘Nakba Day’ touches many deep emotions on all sides, Arab and Jewish alike.

It is hugely unfortunate that, without implying any equivalence, the annual statements made by leaders on each side are rooted in a refusal to accept a deeper than surface-level narrative of the hugely complex issues of nationalism and decolonisation – issues that were being played out across almost every continent, and almost every sub-region, during the early and mid-20th century, unfortunately with very bloody consequences – as they applied, and continue to apply, to this Holy Land, and the two peoples that claim indigeneity here.

Jewish thinking takes inspiration from Psalm 85 to contrast two approaches to conflict – on the one hand, there is a balance between kindness and truth, and on the other, between righteousness and peace. The implication seems to be, you can assert only your own truth and only your own righteousness, but it is not likely to be kind, and it is not likely to bring peace. And so it has proven.

How can we – as the Jewish people – balance kindness and truth, righteousness and peace, in our dealings with our Arab brothers, including those here in this Land?

Statement of Israeli leader on the occasion of a future ‘Nakba Day’:

“We celebrate without apology the return of our people, the Jewish People, to our holy and historic Homeland, the Land of our common father, Abraham, after 2,000 years in exile. We celebrate without apology the achievements that have been made to build a country which – while it may not always succeed, and often falls short, sometimes spectacularly so – tries to do what is right by the peoples of this Land, and in particular, by the will of the One G-d that we Jews, together with our Arab Muslim and Christian brothers, worship in common.

We, the Jewish People, every year, for over 2,000 years, have commemorated 3 of our own annual ‘Nakba Days’, plus an annual ‘Nakba’ 3 weeks, culminating in an annual ‘Nakba’ 9 days, in turn culminating in a 4th annual ‘Nakba Day’, in which our pain is so intense we literally emulate, in fact exceed, the same mourning practices we would adopt upon the passing of our closest of relatives.

We also commemorate today, with the deepest anguish, the two great contemporary disasters that befell our people in their pitiful exile – the Holocaust of over 6 million Jewish people in the West, and the expulsions of over 700,000 Jewish people from their homes in the East. 

Therefore we know what it is like to have lost, to have been exiled, to have mourned, and to remember. And we know what it is like, despite all of this, to still have hope.

So while we cannot accept your ‘Nakba Day’ as an appropriate response to our own national homecoming and independence, and while we cannot accept the simplistic and often libelous charges of blame that are laid at our door for the events that took place in those times, we can accept a ‘Nakba Day’ which attests to, remembers, and empathises with the devastating loss felt by the Arabs of this land. We can join in commemorating your loss, while bringing to mind and educating about our own loss, before the One G-d we share in common.

And we can demonstrate our faith and trust in our common One G-d, the One G-d that summoned to Him our common father, Abraham, the One G-d that made promises to both his children, Yitzhak and Yishmael, by committing to a process of reconciliation and healing, just as we believe, as it is stated in Torah, that Yitzhak and Yishmael reconciled before the grave of their father.

And just as Yitzhak and Yishmael reconciled before the grave of their father, so too we can reconcile before the graves of our dead, as well as before the trauma of the living, and enter into a lasting peace. As we note from our scripture:

‘Kindness and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed; truth will sprout from the earth and righteousness will look down from heaven. G-d too will give good, and our Land will give its produce.’ (Psalm 85)

A lasting peace must be at once a peace of kindness, a peace of truth, and a peace of righteousness, the kind of peace that is only possible if it is grounded, not in the interests or thought processes of others, but in the authentic will of the One G-d, as our peoples each sincerely believe it has been communicated respectively to us through Holy Scripture.”  


About the Author
Adam Gross, an Oxford-educated strategist, has over 20 years' experience solving complex problems in the international arena for United Nations agencies, international financial institutions, private sector, NGOs and social enterprises across Europe, Africa and Asia. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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