Should Olmert also say “sorry”?

I wrote this with the intention of publishing it as an Op-Ed piece, but I was a bit too late and the media hoohah surrounding the Rudd apology has somewhat abated. Nevertheless, I feel that the piece is still relevant.

Should Olmert also say “sorry”?

Imagine this: Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, stands inside the Knesset, on the second day of its summer session after its Passover recess, and as the overcrowded public gallery watches on, some in tears, some in disbelief, all within view of vigilant security personnel, Olmert begins a speech that, when its wording was released a day earlier, was heavily criticised for supposedly being plagiarised from a famous speech by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. “I move that today,” Olmert begins, “we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, one of the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were the Displaced Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.”

Olmert pauses momentarily, the sweltering summer air is thick and almost unbearable but it has not stopped thousands of people from gathering across the country in public spaces such as Tel-Aviv’s Rabin Square to watch the broadcast live on giant screens set up especially for this occasion. “The time has now come,” Olmert continues, “for the nation to turn a new page in Israel’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow inhabitants.”

For a long time it appeared as though such an apology would not be forthcoming. Many had argued that state formation is a violent enterprise, with horrific and often brutal consequences, and that therefore their results, which are abhorrent to us all, are irreversible and must be lived with. No one would expect, they had argued, that the United States of America give back the enormous amount of land, Texas for example, it had taken from Mexico in the early 19th century.

“We apologise especially for the removal of Arab and Palestinian families from their homes, their communities and their country,” as a few protesters jeer and are swiftly escorted out of the public gallery by security, Olmert resumes his speech. “For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Displaced Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”

Olmert takes a deep breath, then exhales in near exhaustion. He is well aware that his popularity among the citizenry is one of the lowest on record for an Israeli Prime Minister, but perhaps this is his chance to redeem himself. “We the Parliament of Israel, the Knesset, respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future. Our nation, Israel, has reached such a time. That is why the parliament is today here assembled: to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul and, in a true spirit of reconciliation, to open a new chapter in the history of this great region of the world, the Middle East.”

No compensation, no reparations, no finalising of borders, no further disengagements, no change of state policy for now; just acknowledgment, official recognition of past actions, whatever their reasons and motives, a confession, an admission that you too played a part, to whatever degree, and thus share the responsibility for perpetuating this conflict. Just an apology, please.

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