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As I celebrated Israel’s Independence Day last week, I did so warily. Recalling the night before, the 25,310 Israeli soldiers and civilians who died for this country during the past 63 years of its existence, makes one realize that independence cannot be taken for granted. Independence Day in Israel always falls the day after the country’s Memorial Day to underscore the sacrifices made for the survival of this state.
It is also the day when I recall my childhood visits to my grandmother’s apartment in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. My grandmother’s entire family was killed in the Holocaust — her mother, siblings, nephews and nieces. In her apartment, she had photos of her deceased family covering the walls and the home she left behind. My grandmother, Yonah, or “dove” in English, never forgot her childhood home in the Polish town of Bledov.
But the only home Yonah would come to regard in her lifetime was Israel. It was the only state in the world she believed that would protect her from the atrocities that destroyed her family in Europe. It was also the Biblical homeland that her religious Hasidic family dreamed of returning to for centuries.
And yet this story was not only exclusive to Jewish people living in Europe. My Israeli friends whose families come from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Egypt, have shared with me similar accounts of the fates of their families. An estimated 900,000 Jews were forced to flee or were expelled by the Arab and Muslim leadership of the Middle East and North Africa in the 20th century. Their homes and properties were never to be seen again. Half of Israel’s population today is made of North African and Middle Eastern Jews (Mizrahim), who left behind well-established Jewish communities, some which had existed for thousands of years in the Levant.
I returned to Israel after I finished high school because I believed that this country was my future, just as much as it was my past and my present. I was born in Jerusalem and no other city in the world will ever feel as home to me as this city. Following the footsteps of my grandfather’s family, who made their home in this city in the late 1800s, has always been my dream. It’s one that I’m still proudly fulfilling today.
But there is a narrative out there that leaves no room for my history or beliefs. It is a narrative that seeks the death and destruction of the Jewish State and manifests itself in many forms. The violent protests of Nakba Day, historical manipulations found in Mahmoud Abbas’s Monday op-ed piece about Israel in The New York Times and Hamas’s misleading messages to the media, are just a few recent examples.
These events contribute to the perpetuation of two often repeated lies: that the Arab world wants peace with the Jewish State and that Israel returning to the 1967 borders will magically resolve the conflict.
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