BACKING AWAY FROM ISRAEL
During her conflict with Hamas over the shelling of Israelis from Gaza, Israel made what, as a Jew, I found an astonishing calculation. Israel could have entered Gaza to locate and either kill or bring to justice those firing rockets and missiles into Israel, along with their superiors and advisors. That strategy would have undoubtedly cost the Israeli army many casualties. By bombing and shelling launch sites and Hamas operatives, Israel was well aware that “collateral damage” would mean killing innocent women and children. The Israeli alibi was that they warned civilians of impending attacks. The efficacy of those warnings was easily foreseen as minimal because Israel knew, and had complained of, the customary use by Hamas of civilians as shields and virtual hostages. Without minimizing the utter barbarity of Hamas using ordinary people as shields in warfare, it seems to me that gauging the lives of Israeli combatants as more valuable than the lives of Arab women and children lies well beyond the parameters of anything I ever learned about Judaism.
Reference to Biblical Israel is unavoidable because Jewish West Bank “settlers” claim what amounts to a Divine right to Judea and Samaria, as they call them. It is true that in the Old Testament, the Hebrews are admonished to destroy entire neighboring populations. Indeed, the only eras when a Jewish nation (or nations) flourished were those in which the Jews were said to have been the fiercest warriors in the region. The generic underpinning for Israel slaughtering adjacent tribes was the precept that because those tribes did not worship the one, true God, they constituted a perpetual threat to Israel, either directly as belligerent enemies or more subtly as potential seducers of Jews toward false gods.
All of these events transpired centuries before the establishment of the religion of Islam. Islam entails a belief in monotheism, and Jewish scholars have pointed out that since Christianity is based upon a Holy Trinity, among other differences, Judaism and Islam are more closely aligned than Judaism and Christianity. While Moslems usually dominated, the history of the Moorish-Jewish civilization in Spain and North Africa that ended in 1492 represented an era of peaceful co-existence, even symbiosis, between members of each faith. Moreover, Arabs trace their descent from Abraham, just as do the Jews. Hence, the wanton murder of Arabs is a form of fratricide “that hath the primal eldest curse upon’t: a brother’s murder.” [Claudius in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” referring to the story of Cain and Abel].
Probably due to Israel’s attempt to isolate itself with the United States in an attack on Iran, without the leaders of Israel ever adverting to the potential financial and human and diplomatic costs to the United States of such a preemptive war, some Americans are becoming increasingly attracted to the option of putting greater daylight between our two countries. Such a separation is more easily conceived where Israel complains constantly that many other countries question or challenge Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish State, yet successive Israeli governments have stubbornly refused to define “Israel.” Israel has been cackling about their need for defensible borders, since at least 1967. What borders would Israel prefer? We don’t know. Israel has no written Constitution. Anyone can understand a historical Jewish longing for a homeland where Jews can be free from persecution. Anyone can understand the sociological identification by Jews and others of Jews as a distinct ethnic group. What the Israelis have thus far failed to persuade the world is the need for what is particularly a Jewish State. Calculating that a loss of innocent Arab life, including women and children, is preferable to incurring military casualties is hardly likely to strike the objective observer as evidence of Jewish moral superiority to, for example, a federated Arab-Israeli nation.
When Israel was founded, in 1948, and until the aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel took the position that by reason of the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate and the United Nations partition of Palestine, Jordan was the Palestinian State. Eighty percent of the citizens of Jordan are Palestinian Arabs, effectively ruled, by British design, by a Hashemite dynasty that represents the other twenty percent of her people. After the 1967 war, the late King Hussein ceded the conquered West Bank to an Arab entity to become the Palestinian State, thus relieving tremendous pressure on the late King to abdicate in favor of a Jordanian Arab Republic. Israel then was pressured by the United States, especially in the person of President Jimmy Carter, to accede to a two-state solution “in principle.” At the time, Israel might well have considered a nascent Palestinian State part of a reasonable price for peace with Egypt.
However, the conduct of Israel during the intervening years, until today, proves by clear and convincing evidence that there has never been a true meeting of the minds on the goal of a two-state solution. By causing Jews to increase their presence on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, Israel has defied every sitting President from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, as well as resolutions of the United Nations. Israel has also purposely frustrated the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza and East Jerusalem and on the West Bank. The fact that Israel did suspend settlement building for nine months, a while ago, prompts the old sophism that because you do the right thing for a while, you need not continue to do it.
It would seem to me unwise strategically for the United States to part company with Israel by doing or saying anything abrupt. We need to accomplish such a separation in two stages. The United States has always asserted the notion that a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be achieved by imposing terms on the parties. Eschewing an “imposed solution,” the United States has insisted that a just and lasting peace must be achieved through negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is the position from which we need to begin backing away. By refusing to define itself; by refusing to commit to borders that are clear and certain, and by adding to its population of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel has attempted to make de facto annexation a fait accompli and has thus forfeited a right to avoid an imposed solution. Once Israel demurs to such an approach by the world community, the United States will have ample opportunity to begin treating with Israel not on the basis of friendship, but one step down diplomatically, a stage called “cordiality.”
Since I have now several times insisted that Israel explain its legitimacy as a Jewish State, in terms that clarify the need for such a polity as specifically Jewish, I suppose I should give them a clue as to what I mean. Therefore, I quote from the grand Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonedes (1135-1204), who yearned for a Messianic era, referencing the Mishneh Torah:
“…not so that Israel may rule the world and subjugate other nations or that it may be called to high honors by other nations or that it may give itself over to excessive pleasure or immoderate joy; but so that it may be free of any constraint and devote itself undisturbed to studying the doctrine of G-d and knowledge and partake of everlasting bliss. For, in that time of salvation, no one shall feel hunger, there shall be neither war nor envy nor fighting, goodness will flow toward everyone, sensual delights will appear worthless, all people will strive only toward the true, pure knowledge of G-d. Israel as bearer of the teaching of G-d shall become perfect in wisdom and knowledge. So far as possible for men, it shall grasp and carry out the will of the highest being, as is written, the earth shall be full of the knowledge of G-d, as the sea is full of water.”
Harvard Hollenberg is a writer and an appellate attorney in New York City.
© Copyright Harvard Hollenberg 2012. All rights reserved.