Rabbi Mordecai Finley
The Violence in Israel - The Heart of the Matter
The tragic upsurge in violence in Israel sometimes causes people who do not really understand what is happening to say things like “they’re both crazy.” Here is the first thing we have to realize: both sides are sane.
These words are for those who would like to know more, the basics. Obviously, I have a bias. I am Jewish, a Zionist (I support Israel’s right to exist), the husband of an Israeli and the father of two children (and two grandchildren) who live in Israel. I am also, however, trained in ethics. A person train in ethics tries to understand what is at the heart of a moral issue. At the heart of the issue here is Zionism: the right of Israel to exist.
The Jews were exiled by the Romans from the land of Judea (which the Romans later called Palestine) in the years between about 70 and 135 CE (AD). An essential part of the Jewish religion, though, has emphasized the eventual return to Zion – a word that refers to a hill in the Jerusalem area, and also Jerusalem itself, and also to the land of Israel and then the State of Israel. Jews began to return finally during the time of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, from about the 1880’s to the early 1900’s. They bought land from landowners with the permission of the Turkish government. England took over the region that was called Palestine in 1917, after having defeated the Turks in the First World War. There was great Jewish immigration with the approval of England. Arab Palestinians largely resented the influx of Jews.
I think that this is the core issue – the influx of Jews, and resentment of Arab Palestinians (Jews who lived in Palestine at the time were also called Palestinians). The Arab/Muslim world, in general, does not think that Jews had the right to emigrate from the countries they were living in to live in Palestine. The Jews who moved to what they called Zion, of course, felt they had the every right to do so (especially after the Holocaust and after Arab countries expelled Jews once Israel was established). The governments of Turkey and England, who ruled the land, extended that right. In 1947, the newly formed United Nations affirmed that right when it partitioned the land called Palestine into two sections, Jewish Palestine (which came to be called Israel) and Arab Palestine.
The Arabs, of course, felt that the UN had no right to grant the part of the land where Jews were living to the Jews. Once the British pulled out and the State of Israel was established on May 14th, 1948, local Palestinian militias, as well as several Arab states (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia) declared war on Israel and invaded. Volunteers came in from across the Arab world to destroy the newly formed Jewish state. From the Arab/Muslim perspective, the Jews had no right to be there, and the State of Israel had no right to exist. They were going to destroy it. The UN proclaimed State of Israel was never recognized.
Israel won its War of Independence of 1948 in the sense that Israel was not destroyed. The cease-fire lines agreed on in January 1949 were never, however, considered international borders by the Arabs. For the Arabs, the war continued. It never ended. The Jews had no right to be there and the State of Israel has no right to exist. Interestingly and tragically, in the area of Palestine that remained under Arab control no Palestinian state was established. Jordan took over the West Bank and Egypt took over the Gaza strip. The golden opportunity to proclaim a Palestinian state was missed. Arab Palestine remained under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation until the Six Days War in 1967.
Back to the issue at hand: Even in nations that have peace treaties with Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan, a large percentage of the population does not believe that Israel should exist. Peace treaties are seen as temporary. Israel must be destroyed.
For those confused by the issue, the simple truth expressed here is essential. Whatever is grabbing the headlines, whatever the recent issue is, it comes down to this: does the State of Israel have the right to exist? If not, then, from the point of Hamas, for example, every Israeli Jew may/must be killed, if not every Jew. You can see this commitment to Israel’s destruction all over the Internet, including You Tube.
Even if a final border between Jewish Palestine (Israel) and Arab Palestine is worked out, and even if the problem of dividing up Jerusalem is solved, it will be considered by most of the Arab/Muslim world to be a defeat. Any treaty signed would be largely begrudged. For many Muslims/Arabs, signing any peace treaty with Israel under any circumstances will be considered the height of perfidy and treachery.
How does one decide who is right and who is wrong? Whether Jews have the right to be there, or whether the Arabs/Muslims have the right to destroy Israel cannot be decided by any objective criterion that I know of.
If you believe that Israel has the right to exist, then questions about the borders, the area of the Arab Palestinian state, the settlements, Jerusalem, the security of Israel, come next. If you do not believe that Israel has the right to exist and that the Jews there must leave or be killed, then nothing Israel does will be right.
Both sides are sane. The Palestinian Authority wants the State of Israel, as a Jewish state, gone. Short of that, they want Jerusalem and as large a Palestinian State as they can get. The recent upsurge in violence is war – a war for Jerusalem and a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority (just short of a state government), as well as Hamas (which rules the area of Palestine called the Gaza strip), is encouraging Palestinians to attack Israelis. This is the way a country without an army wages war: encourage civilians to attack. I imagine that the goal of all of this is to force Israel back to the bargaining table, and make Israel willing to give up the old city of Jerusalem, to pull back to the armistice lines of 1949, lines that will become the borders of a Palestinian state. Israel must also accept into its nation several million Palestinians descended from those who left what is now Israel 70 years ago.
These are not crazy demands: there are entirely sane from the viewpoint of many Palestinians and many if not most in the Arab/Muslim world.
Israel will not accede to these demands. Israel will not give up Jerusalem, will not move back to the virtually indefensible January 1949 armistice lines, and will not accept several million Palestinians into the state of Israel. I don’t think Israelis, right now, are much in favor of Palestinian state all. Israelis are sane, too, from their perspective.
Israelis look at the one place where Palestinians have self-rule, the Gaza strip, as the example of what will happen if/when a Palestinian state is established. It will be become a state devoted to hatred of Israel and hatred of Jews. A Palestinian state on the West and in Jerusalem might be taken over by Hamas or Islamic State. Then what?
Israelis are sane. They want to live and they want to have their country. They are in no hurry to see a Palestinian state established, a state that would likely be devoted to destroying Israel – rightly so, according to some large number of Arabs/Muslims.
Arabs attacking Jewish Israelis is sane, in terms of their end plan. They want to force Israel to move back to indefensible borders, take over east Jerusalem, and have millions of Palestinians move into the state of Israel. They have gone to war to achieve those ends. Murdering Israelis is how they are conducting this war.
Of course, Israelis defending themselves is sane, from their perspective, as well as their wanting to limit the size and power of any Palestinian state.
The situation is tragic.
My opinion: Israel will eventually tamp down this violence, and/or the Arab Palestinians will eventually accept temporary defeat. The aftermath will be a lot worse for Arab Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Things will get worse no matter what.
Between now and then, as Arabs attack and Israelis defend, a lot of people will die, to no purpose, other than the one being preached from many mosques in the region: the simple goal of killing as many Jews as possible, because hatred of Jews, and as a way, futile, to get Israel to buckle.