"Lech Lecha" vs. "Lech Mi-po"

Note: While some here in Israel are able to focus on "apolitical" topics for their Torah commentaries despite the spate of stabbings and shootings, I find that I cannot.  Perhaps when I return to America soon, I will also return to less emotional topics than our people's safety and survival! 

“Our people have risen up, declared the establishment of [or are fighting to preserve] our independent state, and have attacked the occupiers. Our struggle will continue until our ultimate victory.”     

This kind of statement has been made by innumerable peoples throughout human history.  In American history alone, concerning what is now American territory, the sentiment was expressed by Indians/Native Americans, American Revolutionaries, Texans, Southerners, and Hawaiians.  

How did all of these conflicts end?  I am hard pressed to recall any instance in which negotiations produced a permanent, peaceful, “two-state solution” so long as any party felt that continued fighting was viable.  (Even the British, who signed a treaty ending the Revolution, continued to challenge the fledgling US.  They didn't accept the permanent presence of the new “rebel” country until they were unable to win a subsequent war for reconquest, 1812-1815.  Did North Vietnam accept South Vietnam?  Did “West Germany” and “East German” peacefully co-exist?  Does North Korea accept South Korea?) 

And so, it’s difficult to understand why so many Americans and Europeans earnestly believe that a peaceful, permanent “two-state” resolution to the on-going Palestinian-Israeli conflict is attainable through peaceful negotiation. It's difficult to understand why they believe that “Land for Peace” can work. It's perfectly understandable why they want it to work. I want it to work. Most Israelis want it to work, despite what you may read in the (mostly liberal) Western media.  But, why do Americans and Europeans believe that it can work?  Based upon what evidence and which history, anywhere?    

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, G-d states repeatedly and unequivocally that the land is the eternal inheritance of Abraham’s descendants.  Which ones?  Ishmael being Abraham’s first born, the land would, without more, belong to the Arabs for all time.  But the Torah further specifies that it is Isaac and his descendants, not Ishmael and his, who will inherit the land.  The Koran’s account is, of course, otherwise. 

Many people here in Israel therefore say that the Palestinian (or, more broadly, Arab) – Israeli conflict is "fundamentally" religious rather than political.  I consider it to be both, or more accurately, mixed, since religion and politics are inexorably intertwined.  Especially here, unlike in America and Europe, where there is no politically enshrined (a ironic word in this context!) “Separation of church and state.”   

But whether Israelis and Palestinians base their respective claims to this tiny sliver of land upon politics, religion, historical narratives, archeology, and/or anything else, I see little, if any, historical precedent for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, however much I or anyone might wish it.  

In the 1920s, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Russian-Jewish fighter who became an extremely influential ideologue (and military leader) in Israel’s formation, and who was Menachem Begin’s inspiration, espoused the doctrine of the “Iron Wall.”  It held that the Arabs would never voluntarily accept a Jewish state, just as no other people have ever voluntarily accepted the presence of those whom they considered invaders/occupiers.  Therefore, he said, the only possibility for a peaceful Jewish state is convincing the Arabs through overwhelming force that they can never defeat and expel the Jews.

As I noted above, it took a "second American revolutionary war" to persuade the British that the rebel Americans had successfully erected what Jabotinsky might have called an “Iron Wall,” albeit defensive, and that further efforts to defeat them were pointless.  Only then did the British give up and go home. They could accept that result because they had a home territory to which to return.  The Jewish people, however, do not have another home, and the Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms, Holocaust, and other disasters show what happens to Jews without a country.  

Palestinians, for their part, backed and armed by Israel’s enemies and supported even by many Americans and Europeans, certainly do not believe that they have been defeated by an Israeli “Iron Wall.”  They remain committed to continuing the fight to expel the "occupiers."  Which occupation?  That of any "Palestinian land."  The "Palestinian Liberation Organization" was formed and so named in 1964, years before Israel "occupied" the land it captured after being attacked by the Arabs in 1967. Both before and after, the Arabs have repeatedly rejected Israeli “Land for Peace” offers.  

This week, I read, and posted to my Facebook page, as others did to theirs, a sobering article by Rabbi Daniel Gordis of Shalem University, a liberal arts college in Jerusalem. It relates the case of a highly-educated Arab professor on the college’s faculty, well-liked by her Jewish students.  They had not previously asked her about what Israelis call "HaMatzav," ("the situation," i.e., the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

When they did, they were shocked to hear that she believes that all Israel is Arab land, and that Jews, like all previous “occupiers,” will ultimately be expelled.  Gordis made the sad point that if she, a faculty member at a liberal arts college with mostly Jewish students, feels that way, how can anyone expect Palestinians, generally, to ever accept an Israel, any Israel? 

Nor, as I noted above, am I aware of any historical precedent by which we might expect a permanent, peaceful “two-state” solution to emerge through negotiated “Land for Peace.”  Even if I am overlooking one or more examples, they must have been rare occurrences.  

In this week’s Torah portion, although G-d promised the land to Isaac and his descendants, G-d also promised to make of Ishmael a great and might nation.  (Gen 17:20-21).  Thus was created the conflict that, with the eventual emergence of Islam in the 6th century CE, and its own claim to the land, would pit the Jewish and Arab peoples against each other.

These conflicting claims have been on-going for over a millennium and a half, or even much longer, since Isaac and Ishmael.  Physical attempts by Arabs to "expel the Jews" have been on-going for over a century.  There were terrible riots in the 20s, and a civil war in the late 30's.  Why does anyone now believe that the Arabs will accept genuinely and permanently accept any Jewish state?  

World, American, and Jewish history – as well as “human nature” – tell us that the American and European vision of a negotiated two-state solution is, regrettably, wishful thinking, as well as a very dangerous one for the Jews.  No, we can’t all “get along” in harmony and mutual respect when one side – the Palestinians, and more generally, over 200 million Arabs, cannot and will never accept the presence of the other’s (our) “occupation” in what they consider their land, the entirety of Israel. Would that it were not so. 

For Jews, the first words of this Torah portion, “Lech Lecha” (Go forth -- to Israel) sums up the entire Zionist enterprise.  Arabs would say it should instead read, “Lech Mi-po" (Get out of here).  

It seems that Jabotinsky was right.  We can be disappointed about this, but let us not be depressed.  It is simply how it is for us here.  Let us remember to rejoice that we DO have a Jewish state ... and an army strong enough to erect, if not an Iron Wall, at least an Iron Dome. Baruch Hashem.  

A Shabbat shalom, or if not of shalom, then at least of “sheket,” quiet, from (and in) Sderot, Israel. 

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3