Saturday, April 17, 2010

A country full of flags

"The whole country is full of flags / the people are dancing, wave after wave / the people are happy, the children are cheerful / today is Israel's great holiday". So did I and my classmates learn to sing in the kindergarten in Tel Aviv.

At the northern entrance to Holon, the city where I now live, you can see a half-ruined Arab house, one of the few remnants left of the Palestinian village Tel a-Rish. A village which ceased to exist in May 1948, which is (not by coincidence) also the exact time in which the State of Israel came into being. Earlier today I happened to pass there and saw this old building almost completely covered with a huge Bank Hapoalim advertising ad, featuring a nice little dwarf and a bank clerk neatly dressed in suit and tie, each holding one end of a long string of little Blue-and-White flags, and above them emblazoned the huge words "This year, we all fly The Flag!" (and, of course, the Bank Hapoalim logo). .

"The string of flags symbolizes our love for the country. Blue-and-White is the most moving expression of the Jewish people's independence in their homeland." So said the Chair of the bank's board Yair Saroussi, who had taken care to order ‭no less than 1.2 million flags - to be given free with the daily newspapers. He ordered them in China, where flags can be manufactured much cheaper than in the homeland of the Jewish people.

And not only the Blue-and-White flags will be on the streets to mark the sixty-second anniversary of the State of Israel's independence. The Stars and Stripes will also be seen there in profusion. Political correspondents may continue to report on a massive power struggle between Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States, but this does not seem to bother the ordinary citizens. They stream to their neighborhood store, to purchase the flag of Uncle Sam at a bargain price.

And, yes, on the evening of the day after tomorrow, it will again be a great spectacle, the streets crowded until deep into the night. From loudspeakers songs will be blaring, kids will fondly hit each other's heads with plastic hammers and splash each other's faces with white foam. Occasionally, there will be dancing in the dance plazas carefully prepared for the purpose by the municipal authorities. And it would not in the least compare or recreate the spontaneous enthusiasm of that night-long dancing in 1947, when the members of an oppressed people, who had just undergone a most terrible annihilation, heard that the International Community decided to grant them their own state. (Somebody else was also supposed to get their own state at the very same time, but few people in Israel choose to remember that…)

A lot of water has flown since then, and much blood was shed. The 62-year-old Israel is a strong state possessing the most powerful army in the region, with a great abundance of tanks and artillery and missile boats and fighter planes and nuclear bombs (whose existence it insists on denying). For 43 years of Israel's existence - more than two-thirds – Israel is an occupying state, maintaining a brutal military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The young Israelis who will this year wander the streets, looking for something which most of them could not name, were born into this reality and never knew any other.

Jeeps and bulldozers also celebrate. A few days before the 62nd anniversary of Israel's creation, its armed forces - accompanied by huge D9 bulldozers – raided Palestinian cities and villages throughout the West Bank, systematically destroying Palestinian homes. Eight military jeeps arrived at Hares Village south of Nablus, to safeguard the bulldozers demolishing the house of Maher Sultan - a two-story house whose construction was completed shortly before, and which was to be a home for himself, his wife and their five children. After the demolition of the Sultan house, soldiers & bulldozers went on to destroy two shops on the outskirts of the village.

At the same time, a large military force invaded the town of Al Khader west of Bethlehem, to demolish the house of Ali Mussa, where nine people were living, including a one year old baby. And at Beit Sahour was flattened a factory covering 1,000 square meters. Netanyahu likes to boast of having made "economic peace" and cultivating the prosperity of the Palestinian economy. Tell that to the people at Beit Sahour.

"A people which oppresses another people is not free itself" wrote Karl Marx, 150 years ago. At the time he specifically referred to British rule in Ireland and oppression of its residents. When it was written, many of the English were confident that their rule in Ireland will never end.