The Netherlands has its own way of commemorating the Second World War and celebrating the country’s liberation from five years of occupation. Unlike most countries, the Netherlands sets aside two days to mark these events. The first is a day of solemn commemoration; the second a day of public rejoicing with the young at the center of attention. After a day of looking back at the past, the nation turns its hopes to the future.
The Liberation Day events center on a different theme each year. Civil rights was an important theme at the beginning of the 1990s. In the second half of the decade, emphasis was placed on the precept that freedom cannot be taken for granted: it must be cherished and guarded with vigilance. All those involved in the festivals – organizers and performers alike – highlight these themes, while Amnesty International, War Child and similar organizations carry out special projects for the public.
Over the past few years, Liberation Day has become a day on which the Dutch people unites to reflect on freedom and democracy. In marking the country’s liberation from oppression more than half a century ago, it celebrates the freedoms it enjoys today.
For me, being a Dutch-Palestinian, this day is filled with mixed feelings. More than any other day during the year, I am aware what freedom means. Watching the news from Palestine, tells me the definition of oppression, occupation and discrimination. I can only dream of celebrating Palestine’s freedom. I can only imagine, the amount of mourning and commemorating.
This week, dozens more Palestinian families have been made homeless with the ruthless demolition of their homes. The most severe bulldozing was performed by Israeli occupation forces at dawn on Wednesday 2 May 2001, when their bulldozers entered Al Sha’er and Brazil, and demolished nine residential houses. Israeli occupation forces also continued shelling residential areas with artillery, tanks and heavy ammunition. Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces have maintained the tight siege over Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps all over the Palestinian territories in spite of the Israeli government’s claims that it has been eased. In the past week, Israeli forces intensified additional various arbitrary measures.
The “National Committee 4 and 5 May” which organizes Holland’s Liberation Day set freedom and responsibility as this year’s theme. Freedom is an individual responsibility. Second, the government is responsible to protect certain vulnerable groups and finally, whether Holland is internationally prepared to take its responsibility towards the fate of other people living under occupation and oppression.
On 7, 8 and 9 May Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen will visit Israel, Egypt, Palestine and Jordan. Hopefully, he will think of Holland’s “Liberation Day” and its celebrating of freedom and democracy. I hope, today, the Foreign Minister will take a chance to pause and reflect on Dutch values and ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights.