It is War

Israel_Declaration_of_IndependenceIsrael is a strong Jewish Democracy filled with promise for her people and for the world. She must continue to strive to remain so. However, Israel is engaged in a two-pronged war that challenges this. One front is BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction). The other front is manifested by the wave of individual stabbing assaults taking place in the streets. These fronts are critical but they are not the places where the war will be won.

BDS is a clever maneuver in the public space to demonize Israel in the world of public opinion. Although BDS appears to be struggling to gain acceptance by national governments, it is resonating with the young on the college campus and other groups who want to support those they believe are the downtrodden and persecuted. It is part of the war for the hearts and minds of the public at large and it has become a force to be reckoned with.

The second front is on the streets of Israel. There is a de facto guerilla war underway. Individuals are arming themselves with any weapon they can: knives, guns and cars, attacking wherever and whenever, creating fear on the streets. This too is a shrewd campaign to inflict maximum damage with limited resources. Each knife-wielding individual creates a bit of terror. And every one, whether caught and imprisoned or killed, is a soldier sacrificed for the cause.

Two sets of actions are required, one tactical and one strategic. The first is to combat the immediate crises effectively arguing against BDS and containing the violence. These undertakings are necessary to promote the safety and welfare of the people of Israel. However these are tactical in nature; stopping the violence with better patrols, containing the violence by encouraging vigilance and raising the profile of law enforcement to preempt the violence. Unfortunately there is an insidious component to the tactical responses to the fear and terror.

In its efforts to protect itself, Israel ironically becomes complicit in the war to undermine itself. Israel undermines its promise of a democratic state by curtailing rights to citizens and non-citizens, it promotes a culture of animosity, seeing the other side as strictly an enemy who does not want peace, the Knesset considers punishing MKs without any consideration of “due process,” internal debate is squelched and not encouraged. The democratic and Jewish underpinnings of the state are compromised. Reacting this way to the situation actually plays into the hands of the adversary. Beyond tactics there is an urgent need to engage strategically, stepping back to consider the root causes of these offensives and how to grapple with the source of the discontent.  This is the critically important second set of actions.

Strategically, Israel needs to take the actions that only a strong powerful nation can and take the risks to build a society within the Palestinian people that gives hope. A future of prosperity and peace is far better than the hopeless squalor and disenfranchisement now suffered by most Palestinians. In Gaza, economic development such as the proposed port is a concept to be seriously considered. A decision on the West Bank is required. Whether it is the pullback of the Israelis to permit a Palestinian state, or the annexation of the West Bank into Israel, the State of Israel can no longer pretend the status quo, with its continued expansion of settlements, is viable. Which of the two choices is the subject for intense and deliberate debate. But after 50 years, Israel cannot pretend this situation is temporary or the disenfranchised people living in the land will simply become satisfied with it.

The risks of maintaining the status quo are arguably even greater than the risks of taking bold actions toward resolution of the conflict. Israel is strong. Its people are energetic and innovative with a deep love and commitment to their land.   With this solid foundation, Israel can build and move forward. It is an incredibly hard needle to thread, but it can be done. Watching Israel help Syrian war victims demonstrates Israel’s ability to do just that. Israel is at war and the threats are quite real. But Israel can still forge the way toward peace.

One thought on “It is War

  1. Barbara Grancell-Frank

    David, the official line of America’s Reform leadership, which you so eloquently espouse, is the reason the Reform Jewish community may no longer be my spiritual home. There are two ‘root causes” of the Palestinian refugee problem, and Israel played only a marginal role in the genesis of both.
    In 1948 and again, in 1967, multiple Arab armies invaded and threatened to obliterate Israel. These are threats which, in an ever-changing world, have remained constant since Israel’s birth. Arab armies urged Israel’s Arabs to flee without suitcases because, as the parents of one Arab Israeli journalist were told, “You’ll be back in two hours.” The rest is history, a tragic one for the majority of Palestinians, who have been betrayed at every turn by their own leaders and other “Muslim brothers.”
    Arab countries never embraced Palestinian refugees, as did Israel when Jews were expelled from the Arab nations of their birth. (The Jewish refugees were lucky to escape with their lives — although not their wealth.) What the Arabs DID do was consign Palestinians to dismal refugee camps, overseen by UNRWA. This infamous UN organization did nothing to promote the long-term welfare of its charges. Rather, and in accordance with the wishes of the Arab League, its real mission was to make sure the Palestinians lived in abject misery and hopelessness so they could be used as weapons (literally and politically) against the Jews. Of course, UNRWA’s other payoff was to continue to exist, with all the monetary and other perks its employees continue to enjoy to this day. UNRWA has succeeded in both of these missions, beyond the wildest dreams of those who formulated its objectives.
    You hypothesize that the best strategies for preserving Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity lie in submitting to Arab demands for a port in Gaza (which Hamas would certainly utilize for its own lethal ends) and in returning land (that Jews fought and died for in a legal war of self-defense). Fortunately, you have no power to implement policies that would only hasten Israel’s demise as a nation state. The ugly truth, as a disinterested and pragmatic view of recent history confirms, is that Palestinians hate Jews and will never recognize their right to a homeland in the middle east — or anywhere else.
    Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have failed time and again for two reasons. First, Palestinians expect the Israelis to accede to their demands 100%. Anything less is unacceptable to the Palestinian rank-and-file. Second, no Palestinian leader has EVER been granted a mandate by Palestinians to negotiate a genuine peace.
    There remains only one solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict that has a chance of working. Israelis and Palestinians must be separated. (Building a bigger wall is a good place to start, but separation should not be limited to the physical.) Jews and Arabs are different peoples with different values, values that inform vastly different cultures and societies. Jewish values focus on joy and life. Arab values glorify martyrdom and death.
    Palestinians and Israelis also have different destinies. They will only be able to achieve those destinies, for better or worse, if they pursue them independently. I very much doubt, because radical Islam is now in the ascendance in the Arab world (a circumstance which has nothing to do with Israel), that the results of separation will prove to be equal — or happy — for the Palestinians.


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