The meaning of recognition: I celebrate the U.N. vote that created Israel, so I know how the Palestinians feel

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Growing up in Israel, I was reminded every year that Nov. 29, 1947, was a special date. It was the day on which the U.N. General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, in favor of a plan to create independent Arab and Jewish states in Palestine.

Faded newsreels from that day were often screened on Israeli Independence Day. They showed Israeli Jews listening intently to the radio and counting the votes anxiously. They showed the spontaneous outbursts of cheers and dancing in the streets.

Even as a kid, I deeply understood the meaning of this moment to my family. Both my father and mother were Holocaust survivors, and they had been refugees with no country to claim as their own. The U.N. resolution in 1947 gave my parents a homeland.

As I grew older, I came to recognize that the date that symbolized the end of the displacement of my family and my people also symbolized the beginning of the displacement of the main indigenous people of Palestine, the Palestinians. Now, when asked to explain the situation, I often borrow the words of writer Isaac Deutcher:

A man jumped from a burning house in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person's legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune.

If both behaved rationally, they would not become enemies. The man who escaped from the blazing house, having recovered, would have tried to help and console the other sufferer; and the latter might have realized that he was the victim of circumstances over which neither of them had control.

But look what happens when these people behave irrationally. The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The other, afraid of the crippled man's revenge, insults him, kicks him and beats him up whenever they meet. The kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched and punished. The bitter enmity, so fortuitous at first, hardens and comes to overshadow the whole existence of both men and to poison their minds.

The last decade of the 20th century seemed to signal that both the Israelis and the Palestinians had started to overcome their enmity. In the Oslo accords, the Palestinians seemed to accept Israel's existence and Israelis seemed to accept the Palestinian right to self determination.

The past 10 years, however, have seen a significant escalation in violence, with more than 6,500 Palestinians and 1,080 Israelis killed and many others injured. The only positive signs came from the West Bank, where the "person who has been jumped on," the Palestinians, expressed a willingness to end the cycle of vengeance. Unlike the Hamas radicals who now control Gaza, they rejected violence to achieve their objectives and applied grass-roots, nonviolent protest (as seen in the film "Five Broken Cameras" screened in Pittsburgh last year), as well as diplomatic maneuvers.

The response on the Israeli side, especially over the past four years, has been intransigence. Benjamin Netanyahu's government, despite expressed support of the two-state solution, has acted to prevent such an outcome by systematically increasing Israeli control of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, secretly channeling funds to settlements and approving an Israeli university in the occupied territories, responding to nonviolent resistance with prolonged detentions of activists, denying that the occupation even exists, and dismissing Palestinian peace overtures.

Impressively, despite the intransigence of this Israeli government, as well as pressures from radical factions among Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority remained committed to resolve the conflict without violence. After 20 years of negotiations brought no progress, it asked the United Nations to recognize Palestine as an independent state alongside Israel. The aim was to address Palestinian hopes for freedom and self-determination, and to advance the peace process by providing Israel with the Palestinian recognition that Israel often complains is lacking.

The Palestinians initially sought full U.N. membership, but this was blocked by threats of a U.S. veto in the Security Council. So this year they applied for recognition as a non-member state at the General Assembly. On Nov. 29, the General Assembly accorded Palestine observer state status by an overwhelming majority: 138 in favor to nine against (including Israel and the United States), with 41 abstentions.

It is hard to understand why Israel and the United States chose to oppose the resolution. For the United States, it offered global recognition of stated U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For Israel, it offered global reaffirmation of Israel's right to "live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders."

It is too early to tell what effect, if any, this resolution ultimately will have. As the Palestinians in the West Bank rejoiced, the Israeli government announced that it would build 3,000 more housing units in the occupied territories.

For me, the symbolism of the vote on Palestine is poignant, as it took place on the 65th anniversary of the U.N. declaration of a Jewish and Palestinian state. And I hope it will move forward the cause of a rational solution to the conflict that started when the "man jumping out of a burnt house" landed on "the person standing below."

The 1947 U.N. resolution gave Jews all over the world -- especially the refugees, the dispossessed and the Holocaust survivors like my parents -- self-determination, a sense of belonging and a national future. But it did not give them peace.

Sixty-five years later, another U.N. resolution may open the door for Palestinians -- some living under occupation, some in the diaspora, many victims of dispossession and oppression -- to gain their own freedom and nation.

And, let us hope for both Israelis and Palestinians, a just and equitable peace.


Naftali Kaminski is an Israeli physician/scientist living in Pittsburgh and a contributor to PittMEP -- The Pittsburgh Middle East Peace Blog (


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