May 2008

It has been a week of adulation from world leaders, ostentatious displays of military prowess, and street parties. Heads of state have rubbed shoulders with celebrities to pay homage to the Jewish state on its 60th birthday, while a million Israelis reportedly headed off to the country’s forests to enjoy the national pastime: a barbecue.

 But this year’s Independence Day festivities have concealed as much as they have revealed. The images of joy and celebration seen by the world have failed to acknowledge the reality of a deeply divided Israel, shared by two peoples with conflicting memories and claims to the land.

Israelis may have noted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s unusually dejected demeanour when he gave a televised address to the nation last week on the eve of Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebrations. Most, however, had no way of knowing why Olmert was so downcast. An Israeli judge had slapped a sweeping order to prevent the Israeli media from repeating reports published in American newspapers that Olmert was becoming rapidly ensnared in a corruption scandal.

Amin Mohamed Ali (Abu Arab), 73, is a refugee from the village of Saffuriya, three miles northwest of Nazareth. The village, home to 5,000 Palestinians, was one of the largest in the Galilee and among the first to be bombed from the air, according to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. Most of its refugees ended up in Lebanon, but some fled to nearby Nazareth, where they established a neighbourhood, Safafra, named after their village.