They call today the saddest day in the Jewish calendar

DAN-CHYI CHUA
Jul 20, 2010
*Special to asia!

The irony of the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians is how much they have in common, especially in how both their histories are marked by tragedy and loss.

It is 11 at night. The streets outside in the centre of Jerusalem are silent.

It is not the lateness of the hour that makes it quiet. It is the date.

From sundown today, the day of mourning began. Tisha Ba'av, as it is known here, will carry on till sundown tomorrow. For 25 hours, observant Jews will fast. Shops will be closed. It is a day of collective sorrow, when Jews remember the tragedies that befell them as a people.

And there are many to recollect, not simply the Holocaust that killed six million Jews. No, the mourning of this day runs further back, to the destruction of the first Jewish temple built to God by King Solomon 3,000 years ago, and then the second one, devastated by the Romans 600 years later. Tisha Ba'av also recalls the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, when the Catholic Church sought to annihilate the indigenous Jews in the kingdom and its colonies.

Tisha Ba'av is for the bad things that happened to the Jewish people, simply because they were Jews.

 

Jerusalem's Western Wal Tisha Ba'av

Thousands of religious Jews gather at Jerusalem's Western Wall, the last remnant of the two-thousand-year-old Second Jewish Temple, at Tisha Ba'av.

 

Any racial or religious persecution is one too many, and even if all the suffering in the world is distributed out among all the races, the Jews have borne far beyond what is their fair share.

Those that champion the Palestinian cause may not read thus far, because Jewish suffering is sometimes an uncomfortable topic with many in this camp. They feel far more at ease decrying the modern Jewish state of Israel for its occupation of Palestinian lands.

So often, those on each side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict adhere to out a zero-sum game of injustice: more for you means less for me, and vice versa. If someone says that Israelis are oppressing the Palestinians, the quick retort would be the terrorism inflicted upon Israel.

Who's the victim? Who is the perpetrator? Who is suffering greater injustice?

This reasoning goes on, and it is the vile rationale that lies behind

Holocaust denial: a rejection of the enemy's suffering because you feel the sympathy it incites will diminish the sympathy others have for yours.

There is no denying that Palestinians, whether in Gaza, the West Bank or East Jerusalem, are living under Israeli occupation of their homeland.  Even if this is rejected by Israel, it remains a fact enshrined by religion, history and various United Nations resolutions. (Pick any one.) And while we are at it, let's not forget the thousands of Palestinians still languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon, whose hopes of returning to their villages that are now part of the sovereign state of Israel remain distant dreams.

If this sense of longing for home among these Palestinians can be understood by anyone, it would be the Jewish people. For two thousand years, as the Jewish diaspora chanted, “'Le-shanah ha-ba-a b'Yerushalayim!” every Passover, they yearned for a return to Jerusalem, the city from which they remained exile from, till Israel finally regained control of the whole city in 1967.

The irony of the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians is how much they have in common, especially in how both their histories are marked by tragedy and loss. For the Jews, this day of Tisha Ba'av is meant to remind them of that. For the Palestinians, they mourn the day Israel was created on the ashes of their villages  as the nakba, or the catastrophe.

Impassionately, history has decreed that both sides hold legitimate claims that the other side cannot deny. The Jews called this home, and so did the Palestinians. What differentiates them now is Power, casting one as oppressor and the other as oppressed. (And dare we say this: that if the tables were turned, the players would not be in exactly the opposite roles?)

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories have meant to a large extent that peace between them remains elusive. Over time and through fruitless peace talks, the distrust and disdain that divide them have not only run deep, but are constantly fuelled by extremists on both sides.

Yet, as Palestinian politician, academic and philosopher Sari Nusseibeh has often been quoted,  “The Palestinian Arabs and the Jews are natural allies, not adversaries.”

Allies, if not by choice, then at least by circumstance. Israelis and Palestinians have more of a common ground than the sliver of land they fight over. Because of their respective past which they mourn over, they have bound themselves inevitably to a future together.

The only question is what that future looks like. Will it be one of coexistence or more of how it has  been so far, with one side left yearning for its homeland at the expense of the other?

If it is the latter, then it would truly be something for both sides to mourn over, as they desecrate the very land and the city of Jerusalem they both and millions the world over hold sacred and dear.

 

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi