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 Celebrating Israel’s Independence Day
 Gila Svirsky, Israel
 April 26, 2001

Last night, many of us celebrated Israel’s Independence Day by attending the "Alternative Torch Lighting" ceremony sponsored by Yesh Gvul, the organization that encourages young Israelis to refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories. This ceremony is a stark contrast to the torchlighting held at the Mt. Herzl military cemetery not far away. Ours is also held in Jerusalem, in the garden named for Emil Gruenzweig, an Israeli killed in 1983 during a Peace Now demonstration by a grenade thrown by another Israeli who disagreed with Emil’s views.

Those selected each year to light a torch represent a range of Israeli activists for peace and justice. Here is the list of those honored, followed by the words of Salim Jubran:

Salim Jubran—Palestinian-Israeli poet and writer (text below).
Anat Biletzki—Philosophy professor at Tel-Aviv University, active in "HaCampus Lo Shotek"—the campus will not remain silent.
Neta Golan—Activist in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, often arrested for blocking bulldozers or chaining herself to trees to protect Palestinian rights.
Yoav Hass—Yesh Gvul activist who has been jailed for refusing to do army duty in the occupied territories.
Hulud Badawi—Palestinian-Israeli, head of the Arab Student Union, Haifa University.
Noam Kuzar—19-year old army conscript recently jailed for refusing to serve in the occupied territories.
Chaya Shalom—Founder of CLAF—Community of Feminist Lesbians and active on behalf of gay/les/bi/transsexual rights.
Dalia Kirsten—Director of HaMoked—Center for the Defense of the Individual, providing legal and other aid to Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Reuven Abergil—A founding member of the "Black Panthers" social protest movement of Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews.
Dan Yakir—Veteran legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and long-time advocate for a range of civil and human rights.
Moshe Negbi—Legal commentator and advocate for justice before the law, recently fired for insisting upon journalistic independence in the face of the Newspaper’s self-interest.
Ilan Gilon—Knesset Member from Meretz, active in legislation for the handicapped.

The words of Palestinian-Israeli poet and writer Salim Jubran, prior to lighting the torch:

I, Salim Jubran, son of Hazneh and Yousuf Jubran, and son also of this land, sacred and anguished, hereby light this torch in honor of courage.

The courage to seek out the truth and to fight in its defense, under trying circumstances.
The courage to long for justice and to take action to realize it.
The courage to take a stand like a dam against murky waters, and to refuse to become one of the herd.
The courage to struggle within one’s home and within one’s circles, narrow and wide, to end the violence against children, women, minorities, and foreigners.
The courage to wage unceasing battle against prejudice and racism in all forms.
The courage to struggle for the victory of sanity over populist and nationalist madness.
The courage not to justify, under any circumstances, explicitly or by intimation, the basing of one’s existence upon the ruins of the existence of the other.
The courage to respect that which is different, to accept diversity—not out of formal politeness, not for lack of choice, not by coercion, but out of understanding and love of the beauty and richness inherent in pluralism—human, linguistic, national, religious, cultural, and political.

I light this torch in honor of the many, many human beings in our country, Jews and Arabs, women and men, secular and religious, for whom retreat from doing the right thing is unthinkable, and for whom the sanctity of human life, dignity, and freedom are not concepts in lifeless laws and books, but a worldview and a way of life, a struggle that suffuses their lives.

I light this torch in honor of an Israel that does not conquer, and a Palestine that is not conquered, and for the glory of independence, freedom, prosperity, and the safe existence of both nations, the Jewish-Israeli and the Arab-Palestinian.
April 25, 2001

Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.