In a government motion passed unanimously, Kevin Rudd said, "We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. For the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."
Hearing this, I felt proud. Acknowledging the cultural genocide that we now know as the Stolen Generations is an incredibly important symbol. In his Laws of Teshuva, Rambam states that the first step to complete reconciliation must be acknowledging that you have done something wrong. Aboriginal children were removed from their parents from 1869-1969. For finally taking this first step in admitting the consequences of this policy, I feel proud of the Australian government.
But I also feel shame. That Aboriginal life expectancy is 17 years shorter than that of the of the average Australian; that indigenous unemployment is three times the rate of the country as a whole; that crime and alcoholism are more prevalent in indigenous communities.
This leads me to reflect on the country where I am living now. What would reconciliation look like in Israel? To whom would the government apologize?
To the Yemenite children whose children were removed from their parents when they arrived in the 1950's? To the Palestinians who lost their homes and homeland in 1948 and 1967? To the many Israelis who have not yet known a year without violence? To the young IDF soldiers who spend the best years of their youth at isolated checkpoints? To the families of Gush Katif who lost their homes and livelihoods for no apparent gain? To the Bedouins whose villages are still not recognized? To the many Holocaust survivors who live below the poverty line? To the parents who lost their sons in the last Lebanon war? To the people of the southern Negev who have been living between their homes and bomb shelters for the past seven years? To the people of Gaza who are bearing the brunt of a cruel collective punishment? Or to today's Ethiopian immigrants who are suffering from same absorption mistakes of the past in terms of social discrimination and peripheralisation?
How would a reconciled Israel look? How would the process begin? The Australian opposition leader Brendon Nelson responded to today's motion with this,
But in saying we are sorry - and deeply so - we remind ourselves that each generation lives in ignorance of the long term consequences of its decisions and actions. Even when motivated by inherent humanity and decency to reach out to the dispossessed in extreme adversity, our actions can have unintended outcomes.
The very short but incredibly tumultuous history of the State of Israel is filled with so many decisions that were motivated by inherent humanity, but have ended in suffering. When I look at this country's history, I feel both pride and shame. Perhaps, on this historic day, the Jewish State can take a eucalyptus leaf out Australia's book and begin the process of reconciling its past because maybe that is the best thing she can do for her future. I can't think of a better gift that Israel could give herself on this, her 60th birthday year.