Posted by: azizabusarah | April 19, 2010

Happy Independence Day wishes from a Palestinian

By: Aziz Abu Sarah

Published at Jerusalem Post
19/04/2010 04:55

Although Palestinian and Israeli narratives are different, our vision for the future can be one.  It might be hard to believe that a Palestinian would wish an Israeli Jew a happy Independence Day, but I am only following in the footsteps of another Palestinian I know, Ibrahim from Hebron.

Three years ago, I was cohosting a bilingual (Arabic and Hebrew) radio show at Radio All for Peace in Jerusalem with my Israeli cohost, Sharon Misheiker. Our weekly show happened to air on Israeli Independence Day, and on that day we invited Ibrahim, a peace activist, to talk about the land that had been confiscated from him for the building of the separation barrier.

I remember that Ibrahim spoke with compelling passion and heartbreaking emotions about the loss of his farmland, which had been a main source of income. Before ending the conversation, we asked him how he felt about Independence Day, and we received a surprising answer.

With his characteristic candor, Ibrahim told us that he had already called his Israeli friends and wished them a happy Independence Day.

Sharon and I were shocked.

Ibrahim told us that he received the same response from all his Israeli friends: silence, shock and disbelief. They didn’t know what to say. They were caught by surprise. They had never heard a Palestinian wishing them a happy Independence Day.

Some of his left-wing friends asked how he could do so, when the holiday was celebrating the same event that was causing much of his suffering. He could have used that chance to recount history according to the Palestinian narrative: He could have said something about the Deir Yasin massacre, or the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were left homeless after 1948 war. But he didn’t. Instead, Ibrahim simply said happy Independence Day, and in doing so took the first step toward building a different kind of relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

WHY WAS this step important? Part of the Israeli narrative describes a long history of suffering which hit the highest point with the Holocaust and the fear that Arabs would drive the Jews into the sea.

For years, Israelis have heard that Palestinians would never accept Israel’s existence and would always work to destroy it. Many Israelis don’t believe that Palestinians accept the reality that we are stuck here together. They doubt that Palestinians also dream of a peaceful tomorrow, where freedom prevails and safety is realized. This narrative of pain and fear has captured the minds of Jews, even though Israel has developed one of the strongest militaries in the world.

When Ibrahim uttered the words “happy Independence Day,” he challenged that narrative of fear and doubt, and assured his Israeli friends that he knows they are here to stay, and accepts that. He wanted to let them know that he is not waiting for a chance to strike back. In essence, Ibrahim was digging a grave for the narrative of fear and replacing it with a narrative of hope.

For all of us, the past is painful and our narratives are very real to us. For the Palestinians, our pain of the Nakba is still fresh. The lost olive groves, orange groves, vineyards and homes which are part of the Palestinian identity and heritage, the stories, poetry and songs of Palestinian life in what became Israel will always be there.

These are collective memories that will always be carved in the heart of every Palestinian. But memories, pain and longing do not have to lead to revenge and destruction: They can also be motivation for a new tomorrow. When Ibrahim’s friends asked him how they should respond to his wishes, Ibrahim had a simple answer. He asked them to wish that next
year both Israelis and Palestinians can celebrate Independence Day
together, with the creation of a Palestinian state next to the Israeli
one .

Although Palestinian and Israeli narratives are different, our vision for the future can be one. We can all unite and work toward the overdue dream of a viable Palestinian state before it is too late. It is time for our people to not let the past rob us of our future, but rather let it motivate us toward actions of hope.

The writer is the director of Middle East projects at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University and a winner of the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Common Ground Journalism. His blog can be found at This article was first Published at Jerusalem Post



  1. Dear Aziz,
    Thank you for your wishes for a happy independence day. Although I have many Palestinian friends, you are the only one who is perhaps able to offer them from the heart. I appreciate it, and indeed wish that by next year I will be able to wish you happy independence day as well.

    in peace,
    Yvette Nahmia-Messinas
    author of They All Sound Like Love Songs, Women Healing Israeli-Palestinian Relations

  2. Powerful bridge that should not be broken. Well said.

  3. Dear Aziz,

    Thank you so much for a remarkable post.
    I join the hope and wish that by next year, I will be able to wish you happy independence day as well.

  4. Thank you for being so gracious and so committed to the creation of a world that so many of us hope for.
    Perhaps it’s only people like you and others who have experienced unbearable and unnecessary loss who can see beyond the rhetoric. I hope soon to be able to wish you and your family good wishes for your Independence Day.

    • Merle,
      Thank you, I hope that people don’t have to go through what I went through to come to the same conclusion. It is a heavy price and we have already overpaid.

  5. Aziz:

    It takes great courage to come out of the group mentality of hatred and denial and wish Israelis a Happy independence Day. I am hoping that other Palestinians share your feelings of Peace and Love and that your leadership will be able to accept reasonable offers for coexistence. I believe the majority of Israelis will accept a peaceful Palestinian state as long as the solution is
    permanent and guarantees both sides security.

  6. aziz, thank you!
    we have met and had several discussions on the fate of our peoples. it is always inspiring to read your articles. we met in the parents circle for bereaves israeli and palestinian families. our common fate brought us together inspite of all the turmoil around. i still dream of a peaceful coexistence – as you do too!
    tamara rabinowitz

    • Thank you Tamara, It was always inspiring to work with you. We are bound by our pain being part of the bereaved families, but that is not the only thing that bring us together. We are also bound by hope.

      by the way, I am actually back home (Jerusalem) until the end of June, so I am sure I will see you sometime soon.

  7. Well-said Aziz,
    I too live in a country turn-apart by religion and tribalism.
    Hatred and Love are both hard choices to make. Love appears to be more costly many times. I just pray we all learn to abandon cheap courses and embrace that which ultimately leads to true peace and brotherhood. I toast to Love!
    Keep up the good work Aziz.

  8. Dear Aziz, although I am not both of Palestinian or Israeli, and sometimes I don’t like the Israel government, but somehow I just hope someday these people, Israel and Palestine will be really come to the peaceful era. Understanding each other with current condition is best for all of us I think. Because we are all human being which fulfilled with love. Nice article Aziz. 🙂

  9. […] Sebagai bonus, ada sebuah blog yang cukup menarik untuk dilihat. Sebuah blog dari Aziz Abu Sarah seorang aktivis perdamaian dari Palestina. Sebuah judul yang cukup provokatif namun menarik untuk diamati. Artikel tersebut bisa anda baca di sini. […]

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