Do you know how to explain “the situation” in Israel if you had to?
If so, good for you. I mean it. I couldn’t – up until very recently.
Maybe you’re a keen Israel advocate, but I never have been. I mean, I liked Israel, I thought in some vague and Biblically-informed way that we had a right and indeed a halachic obligation to be here. But if you’d asked me about specifics, I would have been mighty short on details.
Which was why I was surprised when a friend sent me a link the other day to a typical article, at the BBC website, with the headline, “Israel postpones vote on new Jerusalem settlement homes.” And she asked for my “take” on the situation.
The surprising part – to me, at least – is that I actually DO have a “take” now. That’s strange because I’m not a “politics” person. Never have been. I avoid news if I can help it at all, and perhaps articles like this, shallow and lazy, are one reason why. But when I sat down to share my views, I realized I needed to share a whole lot more by way of background.
So I started to type, and this is what I got…
The Truth About Israel and the Middle East
I actually thought the situation in the Middle East would all become a whole lot clearer “on the ground,” you know; once we lived in Israel it would all make sense. I laugh now at how naïve that belief was.
Still, at least I do know some things, and I do have a “take,” for what it’s worth.
First of all…
Nobody wants to build where anyone lives, but it's a small country and we're all very close together. As Harper said when he was here, it is surprising (and probably feels very wrong) that Ramallah, capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA) region, is less than half an hour from Jerusalem. So things get a little squishy sometimes.
Second of all…
None of this has anything to do with Arabs who live in the non-disputed borders of Israel, squishy as it is. They are full Israeli citizens and enjoy – on paper and in many cases in reality, though I will admit that the reality isn’t 100% where our dreams are – full rights and privileges of citizenship, including health care and the right to celebrate the end of Ramadan in front of me in line at McDonald’s in our local mall so we have to wander around looking for seats and muttering, “what kind of Jewish country is this…” only because we are so obviously in the minority here in the North.
That’s not what the media mean when they say “Palestinians.” What they mean are the cousins of those Arab Israelis who live under the authority of the PA, formerly known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the terrorist organization.
For a while, they were considered “peace partners” and the world decided that a “two-state” solution was actually going to work out. “Us here, them there.” How simple. The world overlooked the fact that many Jews were already living “there.” (And many Arabs, Muslim and Christian, already living “here.” Most of whom want to keep on living here because they see how their cousins in the PA areas are being treated by their government.)
To show good faith, we kicked many Jews out of “there,” by which in this case I mean Gaza. In 2005, the Israeli police and Israeli army, to show how serious we were about peace, went in and drove out every single Jewish citizen from a part of Israel where Jews have lived since about 1000 BCE, turning the whole thing over to our “peace partners,” Hamas.
That move has not worked out very well. And so many on the other side, the West Bank of the Jordan River, the area Israelis call Yehuda and Shomron, are nervous that they, too, are going to be kicked out of their homes, or at least, not permitted to build new homes.
This is a very real threat. Two weeks ago, the Israeli government was poised to evict residents of a town called Amona. They were on unused land that happened to belong to Palestine. Mostly not, but a little bit yes, so the government said the whole thing had to be bulldozed. Probably because the world was watching and we don’t want them to think we’re mistreating Palestinians.
After a whole lot of protesting, I think they have reached a compromise, and are moving the town a few feet one way or another to make sure everybody gets what’s coming to them.
Another thing I’ve learned…
The media like to use the word “settlements” to describe these places. It sounds temporary. It sounds like something you could push around or knock down pretty easily. Many are cities, or at the very least, towns with homes, schools, shops, clinics, playgrounds, etc. For many, many Israelis, it’s not a “settlement,” it’s just home.
It is interesting that this article calls East Jerusalem an area “the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.” They don’t want East Jerusalem as their capital. They want ALL of Jerusalem. They want ALL of Tel Aviv. They wouldn’t mind Haifa, too. They wouldn’t mind my neighbourhood.
What they want is a continuous Palestinian state from Lebanon to Egypt, and from the sea to Jordan and Syria. They want us gone.
These are not peace partners, and anyone who tells you otherwise – think Canada’s new Prime Minister and his entire cabinet and diplomatic crew – are misinformed. I just met and shook hands with the new ambassador, and she’s lovely and maybe we’re going to be best buds, but she’s also wrong if she thinks things are going to change big-time in this area.
There is a third thing.
The third thing…
The third thing is that a big chunk of the country is illegal. We were attacked in 1967 and won some territory. Whoops. How naughty. We won the Golan, we won the Sinai, I think the country tripled in size after that war.
By the way, the article shows its bias in a hilarious way when it refers to settlements built “since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
Historical fact: Israel was attacked by, um, let’s see, everybody. We have four neighbours: Israel, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. According to Wikipedia, we were attacked by FIVE countries (Iraq joined in for fun) who were supported by EIGHT other Arab states/entities. Their army numbers were literally double what ours were.
Yet somehow, we won. I’m not going to use the word “miracle,” but that’s got to be an awesome feeling.
Here’s what we won (pink).
That’s the history, all of which gets conveniently condensed into “since Israel’s 1967 occupation.” Those 13 countries were just minding their own business when Israel cleared its throat and bullied them into handing over their lunch money, along with what amounts to a sliver of land. Remember – even with all this awesome disputed territory, Israel is still smaller than the Island you live on.
But we did feel kind of guilty nonetheless (see this dvar Torah for a take on our post-1967 guilt). And we did hope for peace nonetheless. Nobody was going through the motions; I really believe that every single Israeli, however skeptical, hoped the Oslo Accords in 1993 were going to be the start of peace.
Hoping for peace, we gave back the Sinai, and now ISIS is there. Hoping for peace, we gave back Gaza, and now Hamas is there. We were driven out of Lebanon, and now Hizballah is there.
We didn’t give back the Golan, which is good, because if we had, the Syrian Civil War would be about 20 minutes away from my front porch. What’s that expression, “It’s not paranoia if they really ARE out to get you”???
It’s not paranoia…
The world insists on believing, as the UN keeps suggesting, that if Israel just gives away a teeny bit more land we’ll have peace. But these days, we’re a little worried that all we’ll get is evicted or killed.
Another thing we didn’t give back is Jerusalem. Instead, we built a glorious modern capital city there and wrote a song about it, “Jerusalem of Gold.” It’s lovely.
According to the world, it’s illegal, because it’s within the 1967 borders, instead of the original 1949 armistice borders.
Neither Canada nor the U.S. (for now) acknowledges Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which is why we have to get our Canadian passports in Tel Aviv. I had to chuckle when the Israeli president greeted the Canadian Governor General a few weeks ago with the words, “Welcome to the capital of the Jewish people.” The Israelis in the room all knew what he was talking about, and I’m sure he did, too.
Our daughter’s seminary was over the 1949 Armistice Line. Illegal.
So is the Western Wall, Rachel’s Tomb, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a city in which the Bible records and all three religious traditions acknowledge that an area of land was purchased outright by Abraham. If an atheist wants to argue with the Jewish right to walk the streets of Hebron, okay, I’ll let him. But a person claiming to follow one of these three “Abrahamic” religions? It’s silly.
Interestingly, not wanting to start a holy war, the Israeli leadership – secular Jews – gave back the Temple Mount after we won it in 1967. We won the whole thing, and then stood there and handed it back so that Muslims could have unfettered access to pray at their third-holiest site while we are not allowed to visit our holiest site and pray… ever.
Oh, there are a few hours a week that it’s open to Jews, but you will be arrested if you’re caught praying or displaying any type of religious symbol. That’s the kind of freedom we have under Muslim rule. That’s the kind of apartheid that the world doesn’t seem to care about.
(In October, UNESCO condemned Israel for erecting an umbrella at the one Jewish entrance to the Temple Mount, maybe so people wouldn’t get sunstroke and die waiting to get in. An umbrella. - source here, page 3, paragraph 19.)
Today, Hebron under the Palestinian Authority is actually the closest thing I’ve personally seen to an apartheid state. For a long time before 1929, it was a mixed city, and then they (Arabs / British) kicked out the Jews. After 1967, they started to come back.
According to Wikipedia, today there are 215,452 Palestinians and 500 Jewish settlers in Hebron. I would say that’s a stretch, and probably mostly children. We spent Shabbos there one week last month, and it is a sad and scary and empty place. The Arab city is a huge and thriving modern metropolis; Israeli Jews are literally not allowed in. The Jewish “city” has had its shops entirely shuttered since the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s – thanks to the “peace process” – and is patrolled by a heavy police presence since Arabs are allowed almost everywhere and occasionally stab people.
This is the life we can look forward to if we give up on the “settlements” – remembering that big chunks of Jerusalem are considered “settlements” in the sense that they are past those 1949 borders. Smaller and smaller areas where we can walk and fewer and fewer places that we are free, until finally, the country is gone, nibbled away altogether.
“Nibbled to death by ducks”…
This article made me laugh by claiming that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said the resolution ‘paves the way’ for the upcoming conference on Middle East peace in France on 15 January.” As if this little bit of good will is all it will take to bring them to the table and stick out their hand in peace, finally.
He will say it until we are nibbled to death. And for some reason, the world keeps believing it. Just a little more land, oooh, so close. Why is Israel so stubborn? Big, bad Israel. Just give a little more and – uh-oh. “Whoops, where’d Israel go?”
There will be plenty of room to stretch out their legs when we’re gone.
A not entirely irrelevant point. I must remind anyone living in North America that they, too, are living in a “settlement” – just one that happens to be a little older than some of the ones here. Here is a map I’ve seen before that reminds folks in Canada of whose land they’re occupying. And from what I’ve read, if you believe all of that is behind us now, it’s because you aren’t a native person.
In any event, let’s say Islam was born in the year 570 CE. Archaeologists believe Jews were in Jerusalem – yes, in the Old City (gasp), violating international law, just like Jesus’ Jewish family did by setting foot in Bethlehem, also currently in PA territory – in the 4th millennium BCE, so about 3500 or so years before Muhammad was even born and 3000 before Jesus.
Whose land is this again?
We are the closest thing to aboriginals that this country has. Sure, we took it from the Perizzites, Jebusites, Hittites, Hivites, Philistines, Amalekites, etc. But none of them are lining up to get back in, 4000 years later.
True, some ancient dudes were here first.
It’s also true that this land has a long and rich Arab history. However, before 1948, many Jews considered themselves to be Arabs, particularly if they lived in an Arab country and spoke Arabic as their first language (makes sense). Some of the greatest “Arab” thinkers of the Middle Ages were Jews, including Maimonides (Spanish / Egyptian / Moroccan), who wrote many of his famous Jewish treatises in Arabic.
Linguistically, most Jews living in Israel prior to 1948 were deeply reluctant to give up the Arabic they’d grown up speaking for modern Hebrew, a language created by a crazy white guy from Belarus. And judging from my immediate neighbours in every direction, they never did give up on the Arab love of hummus, Middle-Eastern music, and hookah-smoking.
I was once on a tour of the old port area of Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. Someone pointed to an Arab and asked the guide, “Are those Palestinians?” The guide deftly explained, as I might have, that they are Arab-Israeli citizens, and also Palestinians. Many families live on both sides of the line, some in Tel Aviv, and some in Ramallah or wherever.
Once, everybody here was Arab. Once, we all referred to ourselves as “Palestinians,” because that’s what the country was called.
Arabic-speaking Palestinian Jews of Jerusalem ca. 1895
The word Palestinian had nothing to do with religion. It still doesn’t – some people living under the PA today are Christian, though I don’t have statistics. None are Jewish, however.
Jews are no longer allowed to be Palestinians anymore, the world believes, because of the political connotations of the word. The oppressedness it implies. The occupation (see above).
This is history. And while rewriting history isn’t nice, I don’t think writers like this are doing it deliberately.
Even as a small-time journalist, I have experienced the rush to get an article into print or online while it’s still timely. You type up the new facts, throw in a couple of quotes, and then Google for background. Find a couple of mainstream articles that corroborate one another, and boom, you’ve got depth.
Like I said, I used to think all of this would make more sense to me… and I suppose it does, in one way. I can read an article like this and pinpoint the lies, half-truths, and shallow research very, very quickly.
So there’s that.
But what I don’t have yet is the idea that any of this makes any sort of sense. I look at the world; heck, as a Canadian, I look at my own leaders, Trudeau et al., and I wonder why they don’t get any of it. Why they don’t call terror what it is, and enemies what they are, and let us live our lives and defend ourselves if we must.
Sometimes, clarity means putting on your glasses only to realize you wish you could take them off again sometimes because the world is kinder, or at least, fuzzier around the edges, without them.
Sometimes, this little country feels very much like an island and I feel very much alone here.
Sometimes, when people ask me a simple question about the country I live in, there is no simple answer. So I write and write and write and write until my heart is breaking but all the truth I have in my hands is there on the page. And I just hope someone will read it and nod and say, “Now I understand.”
Because then, maybe they can explain it to me.