This page is heard best with
Arab Israeli Relations - January 1, 1993
On the 23rd of June, Israels citizens chose a new parliament in national elections. In Israel they called the results "mahapah" - the turnover. A new government came to power as a result of the change in the Israeli political equilibrium. The new ruling coalition , presided over by Yitzhak Rabin, was determined to accelerate the negotiations with the Palestinians, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The government was hopeful that substantive issues could be addressed in the renewed bilateral peace talks, particularly in the realm of self-rule for the Palestinians (which would bring an end to strife in the territories), and an interim agreement with Syria that would lead to peace treaties with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon -- and possibly even with Saudi-Arabia. It would also herald an end to the Arab economic boycott, and would usher a new age of prosperity for Israelis and Arabs alike. For the first time since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979, it seemed like a window of opportunity has been opened for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Immediately after it came to power, the new government took steps to show its good faith and accelerate the pace of the negotiations:
1. It implemented a change in policy vis-a-vis the "settlements" in Judea, Samariya and Gaza. It will allow no new settlements to be established. It canceled plans and stopped construction of over 10,000 housing units in various stages completion.
2. It began a concerted effort at warming-up relations with Egypt, Israels one Arab neighbor with whom it has signed a peace treaty. Rabin traveled to Cairo for a summit with president Moubarak within hours of taking the oath of office.
3. The new government made overtures to improve relations with the Palestinians. It did not prosecute those Palestinian leaders who met, publicly and on T.V., and against Israeli law, with PLO chief Arafat in Jordan on their way back from the talks in Washington; it negotiated a resolution of the crisis at the An-Najar University, and it released 600 detainees from the Ketsiot prison.
4. The Rabin government began a process of fence-mending with the administration of the United States of America. We all recall the crisis over loan guarantees, settlements, and issues of the peace-talks that made the Bush administration/Shamir government relations the worst in the history of our two nations. Rabin, who is well liked in Washington -- where he is still remembered from his days as ambassador -- was able to smooth-over the rough terrain left by the previous PM and create good will and a desire on the part of the administration to pressure the other side to make concessions for a change.
5. Beyond everything else, Rabin and his new government were able to create a new climate in the press -- both local and international -- that in turn changed the image of "little Israel" around the world. In a public meeting, on September 3, Rabin stated, "We have to sever ourselves from the illusion of the greater Israel and to remember that the strength of a people is not measured by the territories it possesses, but by its ability to take care of its social systems, economic systems and security systems."
Yet, when these changes in Israels policy are compared with security conditions in Israel proper and in the territories, one is left wandering if the change has been worth it, or if it has been for the best. In the six months since the Rabin government came to power, there have been more than fifty incidents of Israelis killed or seriously wounded by Arab terrorists. When I was there in November, I witnessed personally the sense of danger: one does not travel alone in "Arab" territories, even in East Jerusalem. People are afraid to stand and wait for a bus, lest a zealot brandish a knife or a gun . The culprits have been called in the press "Palestinians" -- but, in fact, they are a very small minority within the Palestinian Arab population. They are members of the more radical factions of the P.L.O. -- or, more often nowadays, members of Hamas.
What is "Hamas?" The word is Arabic, and means enthusiasm or ardor. It is also, as a matter of fact, an acronym for "the Islamic Resistance Movement." Hamas was founded in Gaza in December of 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin. It is a fundamentalist Moslem terror organization in the Iranian Khomeny fashion with underground cells in Egypt and Jordan as well as the Gaza strip. Its policy is reflected in a quote from the Koran it used in one of its leaflets: "And there are those who fight Allah and his emissaries, and spread corruption over the land. Therefore, their end will be to be killed or crucified, or their hands and legs will be amputated, or they will be driven away from the land." Hamas preaches that "Palestine" is holy Moslem territory that cannot be ruled by infidels. This fundamentalist Islamic philosophy leaves very little room for international arbitration or territorial compromise. Indeed, its philosophy has made Hamas a movement hated and suspected by the P.L.O. and the governments of Egypt and Jordan almost as much as by Israel.
Hamas, the PLO, and Hizbullah -- an organization similar to Hamas which is operating in Lebanon with support from Iran and Syria -- make Rabin look bad in his moderate pro-peace stance. Thus, some ten days ago, after the killing of five Israelis in one week, one a cold-blooded murder of a kidnapped border police sergeant-major, Rabin chose to punish the terrorist organizations by expelling 415 activists to Lebanon. They were members of Hamas and "Islamic Jihad" (another fundamentalist Moslem terrorist group). However, the Lebanese refused to allow the deportees to enter its territory, and the men have been left in "limbo" in a no-mans-land between Lebanon and Israel, with little protection from the inclement weather and no supplies coming in to keep the men fed and cared for. The U.N. Security Council condemned Israels action in expelling the men. No one condemned the murderers or the organizations and governments that trained, maintained and supported them. No one has condemned the Arab world, with Lebanon at its head (for the moment) -- or its ally and protector Syria, for allowing the men to remain in the no-mans-land exposed to the elements.
The Palestinian leadership insists that the men must be returned, and that Israel must remove its forces "from all occupied territories" before there can be even a beginning of dialogue to resolve security issues and determine what kind of peace Israel will have. The world, with help from the "peace camp" in Israel providing the chorus, suggest that Israel should compromise and bend. However, the history of Arab "trustworthiness" does not recommend this path. Last year's Gulf war, which began when one Arab nation attacked another in what amounted to a blitz-krieg of annihilation, is only the last chapter in a story of back-biting, treachery and double-cross that has made the term "Byzantine" a synonym for intrigue and betrayal.
Furthermore, no one looks at the incident and relates it to other ethnic and religious strife and conflict that is currently taking place in other trouble spots in the world. Moslems are massacred in Yugoslavia -- and nary a voice is raised. A mosque is destroyed in India -- and only Pakistan, with its own ulterior motive, speaks out against the heinous crime. Or maybe it is because of the fact that these men are Palestinians? But what of the million Palestinians displaced, expelled, and robbed of all they owned - who were removed from Kuwait? Where is justice? Is the world showing a bias against the six pointed star?!!! You tell me! Rabin, in an obvious rage over the death of border policeman, warned the champions of Arab "under-dogs" that "...with their pretensions to defend civil rights, had better devote some of its efforts to the rights of terror victims..." There is no question that Rabin, the war-worn retired general, who wishes to avert another conflagration, is also well aware that there is only so much room to maneuver and compromise, and that it is impossible to achieve an understanding with closed and unreasonable minds.
Israel & the P.L.O. Oslo Pact -- Peace or Illusion
When Abraham returned from battle with the kings who defeated Sodom and removed his nephew Lot, he had a meeting with God, a revelation, in which God said to him, Al tira avraham anokhi magen lekha, Fear not, Abraham for I am your shield..." Here was this prototype Jew immediately after his first great victory in war against a combined force much greater than his -- and God consoles his with the words "fear not!" Why? Would it not have been better to say those words to him before the battle was joined. Then, he had every reason to be afraid. Victorious, he had every reason to be confident. And yet... And yet God speaks to him as he did, which informs us, of course, that Abraham WAS afraid.
When Israel defeated the armies of three Arab nations in six days, in June of 1967, and the guns fell silent on the seventh day, a great feeling of wonderment and fear overcame the Israelis. They had accomplished a feat that was unequaled in the annals of military history, and they feared that the world would wish to redress the matter, would demand Israel to reverse itself. For a short time that June and July the Israelis were willing to do anything -- there was a sense of "pardon me for winning" in their hearts and in their minds -- and they wished to exploit the chance to bring about a new political reality in their area of the world. Strange at it may seem, they, victorious in battle, sued for peace.
However, success can go to ones head, and power is a strong mind-altering drug, and soon the Israelis got used to being the superpower in the Middle East. Because their victory was matched by a total unwillingness on the part of the Arabs to come to the negotiations table, Israel found itself master of all the land it captured, overseer of all the Palestinian Arabs it had in its recently acquired territory -- it was, suddenly, what looked like an imperial, colonial power in the old, nineteenth century, pattern. Never mind that it was totally unprepared for the task, that it was actually too small a nation to have an "empire" -- even one the size of a postage stamp. The biggest problem that the Israelis faced was the fact that they did not have the disposition to be imperial.
The Jews were no Romans, nor British, and they did not know how to manage an occupied territory with a strong hand and without a conscience. They tried to change the character of the people under their control, remold them in their image. They brought to the territory new concepts: education, democracy, human rights. And then, they were surprised when the people they rules invited them to leave, asking for their inalienable right to govern themselves. Because Israel had no choice, since those who wished to rule the territory were sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, they remained physically in control of the land -- but their hearts were not in it. The Arabs mounted a campaign of violence and murder that made it necessary for Jewish boys, the conscripts of a nation of poets and social reformers, of gentle souls and pacifists, to yield night sticks and guns against the new warriors of Palestinian rights: children, boys from kindergarten to grade schools, and girls of all ages. Israel was ready to capitulate. A nation that stood stoically in siege and battle against invaders from all sides, could not stand by and watch and brutalization of its own youth. In the last elections, Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime-minister as the man most likely to bring about precisely the kind of accommodation with Arabs in the territories that we have seen come to a head just a week ago.
Now, lets get down to the nitty gritty of the issues. I do not believe that there should be a Palestinian nation in the area that Israel took in 1967. I believe that the historical fact is that there is a Palestinian state already, the one called Jordan, in the territory that was removed from the future Jewish homeland of the League of Nations mandate in 1922. I wish to remind one and all that there never was a Palestinian nation in antiquity, not ever, and certainly not in the modern era. Therefore I do not feel that the Jewish state that came into being in 1948 was somehow responsible for the sorrow of the ones called Palestinian refugees. These unfortunates were the creation of the Arab nations that did not wish to come to term with Israel, and it is their responsibility to care for them and resolve their problem in the best possible way without causing harm to the state of Israel.
Furthermore, I do not believe that there is consensus in the Arab world, or even in the Palestinian community, for a leadership that is strong enough and stable enough, that is capable of making and keeping international agreements. Above all else, I do not believe that this leadership can make an agreement with the Jewish state and expect this agreement to hold. This is not the case of Saadat of Egypt coming to Jerusalem -- Saadat was a strong leader of a unified nation that had a clearly defined agenda. The Palestinians have been an amorphous entity, existing more in their own imaginations than anywhere else, manifesting themselves only in the most destructive manner, in terrorism, in the tearing down of the very fabric of social order within and without their habitations. Arafat is a shadowy figure about whom many myths abound but few facts can be established. Perhaps the only thing we know about Arafat is that he is not, and never was, in control. He shares his power with other shadows, with known and unknown power brokers of international lawlessness such as Abu-Nidal, George Habbash, Moamar Khaddafy -- and a succession of imams and sheiks who preach violence and sedition from the sanctuary of mosques, sending their followers and adherents to die in a grotesque sacrifice to the gods in bigotry and perpetual hatred.
So Yitzhak Rabin came to Washington and participated in a ceremony that he neither wished nor expected to be a part of: he was gambling on the chance that if you give the most despicable enemy something to lose -- he will reflect twice before risking his new-won advantage. I do not envy him, and he has my admiration for his intestinal fortitude. He knew what he was about, and he took even the most personally distasteful steps to achieve his goal. As for the future -- only the passage of time will tell if Rabin was the architect of peace or the foolish prime-minister who waved a piece of meaningless paper in the airport breeze proclaiming "peace in our times." For the sake of the people Israel, for the sake of my own three young grandsons who are growing up in Israel, together with all the other little boys who may end up to be the next crop of cannon fodder -- I hope Rabin turns out to be a winner.
Lekh Lekha 1996 -- Treaty Violations
This week we read in the Torah the portion of Lekh Lekha. I could teach a hundred lessons on the text -- in fact, over the years I have -- but today I would rather speak to you of the Promised Land and the chance for peace.
Abraham was told to go to the Land of Canaan -- and he lived there in peace with the inhabitant of the land as long as they were willing to live in peace. I was born in that land and would have liked to live in peace there -- but peace eludes the land. Some people would like us to believe that it is the new government of Israel that stops the peace process -- but the following list delineates 10 of the most egregious PLO violations of the Oslo Accords. The list is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive; rather, its focus is on infractions Israel deems most serious. This list was compiled by the government of Israel.
1. OPENING FIRE ON ISRAELI FORCES - In September 1996, Palestinian policemen opened fire on Israeli soldiers and civilians during the disturbances in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, resulting in the deaths of
15 Israelis. The Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership actively instigated the rioting and took no steps to halt the armed attacks by PA police against Israeli forces. This was the most grievous violation of the Oslo accords to date by the Palestinians. As Joel Singer, legal advisor to Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres and one of the chief architects of the Oslo accords, put it, "The Palestinian policemen committed a very, very serious violation of one of the basic principles in the agreement with Israel. Nothing can justify such behavior." (Near East Report, October 21, 1996). The accords require that the Palestinian police act to prevent violence and cooperate with Israeli security forces (see, for example, Annex I, Article II). The conceptual foundation of the Oslo Accords is the rejection of violence and force as tools in the conduct of bilateral relations. By initiating violence against Israelis, the PA has violated a cornerstone of the agreement.
2. FAILURE TO CONFISCATE ILLEGAL ARMS AND DISARM AND DISBAND MILITIAS - The PA is obligated to disarm and disband all militias operating in the autonomous areas and to confiscate all unlicensed weapons (Article XIV; and Annex I, Articles II (1) and XI). Nevertheless, five militias - Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, the DFLP and Fatah - continue to remain armed, and the PA has refused to disarm them. The PA has failed to undertake a systematic crackdown on illegal weapons, and has confiscated just a few hundred of the tens of thousand of weapons circulating in the autonomous areas. The PAs violation of these provisions of the accord have allowed terror groups to remain active and well-armed and to carry out deadly attacks against Israelis.
3. FAILURE TO EXTRADITE SUSPECTED TERRORISTS TO ISRAEL - The PA is required to turn over for trial all suspects whose extradition is requested by Israel (Annex IV, Article II(7)), yet they have not extradited any of the 19 terror suspects whom Israel has sought for crimes such as murder and attempted murder. By failing to turn over wanted suspects to Israel, the PA has allowed terrorists to go unpunished, thereby encouraging others to carry out attacks in the knowledge that they will not have to answer for their actions.
4. INCITEMENT TO VIOLENCE AGAINST ISRAEL - The PA leadership is obligated to refrain from incitement to violence, as part of their
commitment to foster mutual understanding and to combat terrorism (Article XXII). Nonetheless, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat has repeatedly called for jihad (holy war) against Israel, praised prominent terrorists such as Yihya Ayyash "the Engineer" and encouraged acts of violence against Israelis. On October 21, 1996, Arafat met with a delegation of Hebron Arab notables, and in response to their complaints about the presence of Jewish settlers in the city, he rebuked them, saying. "What, have you run out of stones in Hebron?" (Voice of Israel, October 22, 1996). Previously , on August 6, 1996, Arafat called Israel a "demon" and urged Arabs to use "all means" at their disposal to fight
Israel (The New York Times, August 7, 1996). Speaking before Palestinian forces in Gaza on September 24, 1996, Arafat said, "They will fight for Allah, and they will kill and be killed...Palestine is our land and Jerusalem is our capital" (Maariv, October 4, 1996). Incitement by Arafat and other senior PA officials encourages violence and undermines attempts to foster peace and mutual understanding.
5. FAILURE TO CHANGE THE PLO COVENANT - The PLO was obligated to amend the clauses in the Palestinian National Covenant which called for the destruction of Israel no later than May 7, 1996 (Article XXXII(9)). On April 24, 1996, the PLOs Palestinian National
Council (PNC) met and approved such an amendment in principle, yet
"the vote did not actually change the covenant but gave authority to a PNC legal committee to do so or to draw up a completely new charter within six months, " (The Jerusalem Post, April 25, 1996). Six months have passed, and no such changes have been made, nor has the PLO specified which particular articles will be changed, how they will be changed or when the changes will go into effect. By leaving the Covenant intact, the PLO sends a clear message that is has not renounced violence nor accepted Israels right to exist.
6. OPENING PA OFFICES IN JERUSALEM - The PA is required to locate all of its offices and ministries exclusively in areas under its jurisdiction (Article I(7)). Nevertheless, the PA has violated this provision by maintaining offices such as the Orient House in Jerusalem. The PA Ministry of Religious Affairs and the PA Office of the Mufti are both located in Jerusalem, and several other PA office operate in other sections of the city. In addition, Palestinian policemen operate in Jerusalem, in contravention of the agreements. They have been involved in activities such as kidnapping, torturing, and killing human-rights activists, journalists and suspected collaborators with Israel and punishing
perpetrators of "moral crimes."
7. RECRUITING TERRORISTS TO SERVE IN THE PALESTINIAN POLICE - The PA is required to summit a list of all potential police recruits to Israel for approval (Annex I, Article IV(4)) to forestall the possibility that members of terrorist groups will join the PA security services. The PA has consistently failed to provide comprehensive listings of potential recruits to Israel and has proceeded to recruit policemen without prior Israeli consent. In several instances, the PA has drafted wanted terrorists to serve in the security forces. Abd al-Majid Doudin, who helped plan the suicide bombing in Jerusalem on August 21, 1995, was convicted and sentenced by a PA court to 12 years imprisonment, but was subsequently freed and hired by the Palestinian police in Jericho. Similarly, Rajah and Amr Abu-Sita, who murdered Uri Megidish on March 8, 1993 and whose extradition was requested by Israel, were
drafted to serve in the PA police in Gaza, (Yediot Ahronot, June 24, 1994). Such steps by the PA endanger the prospects for cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces and pose a security threat by providing terrorists with access to weapons and intelligence information.
8. EXCEEDING THE LIMIT ON THE NUMBER OF PALESTINIAN POLICE - Under the Gaza-Jericho accord of May 1994, the PA was permitted to deploy a total of 9,000 policemen (Annex I, Article III(3)), but in actuality the number of Palestinian policemen was nearly 20,000.
Under Oslo 2, the PA my deploy up to 24,000 policemen in Areas A and B, including Gaza, (Annex I, Article IV(3)), yet they have exceeded this figure by at least 10,0000. Reports in late September 1996 suggest that the PA security forces may exceed 50,000 men.
9. ABUSE OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW - The PA is obligated to conduct its affairs "with due regard to internationally-accepted norms and principles of human rights and the rule of law" (Article XIX). As various international human rights groups, such as Amnesty and Middle East Watch have pointed out, the PA security forces have systematically utilized arbitrary arrests, detention and torture. Human rights activists, such as Bassam Eid, have been abducted by PA security agents, and freedom of the press has been virtually eliminated, with no criticism of the regime tolerated in the Palestinian media.
10. CONDUCT OF FOREIGN RELATIONS - The agreements explicitly forbid the PA from conducting foreign relations, allowing instead the PLO to conduct relations on the PAs behalf for a limited set of purposes, such as concluding economic and cultural agreements (Article IX). Nevertheless, the PA has violated this provision and engaged repeatedly in diplomacy on the bilateral, multilateral (i.e. Arab League) and international (i.e. United Nations) levels.
Abraham came to Canaan "to be a blessing" -- or so the text tells us. His ways were the ways of peace, and he lived in peace with his neighbors. His descendants are now living in the land -- and they wish to know peace. "Lekh lekha" means go for yourself -- let us hope that the Palestinians will now, for themselves as well as for us, will "go for it."
Israel and World Jewry at Israels Fiftieth Year
Jerusalem - what Jew, what human being has not heard of it? It is the Precinct of God in everyone's soul. From the moment one sees that magical wall surrounding the Old City, one is hooked. It has been 'the capital' in our heart for 3,000 years. It is the place were the world was born -- the umbilical of earth; it was the place where devotion and selfless love were manifested in the two brothers who, in secret, took their produce to help each other; it was the place where God tested Abraham by placing his son Isaac upon the altar, and then staying his hand at the last minute, to show His compassion; it is the Home town of all the Jews, the Eternal Capital City, where King David ruled. This is the place to which the Jews from around the world traveled as pilgrims from antiquity, to meet and pray three times a year on Sukkot, Pesakh and Shavuot, congregating to our Holy Temple on Mount Moriah, where Gods holy Name dwelt. It is the domain which God accepted from us, and gave to us, His chosen people -- 3,000 years ago -- to cherish, to keep, to adore in word and deed. For the Jews it is the Holiest place in the whole universe. Jews from around the world face Jerusalem, reciting its name many times every day. Every Passover we sing 'Next year in Jerusalem.' Our great poets spoke of Jerusalem: The sweet singer of Israel who said, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, In the city of our God, His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King. God, in her palaces, Has made Himself known as a stronghold." [Psalms 48:1-3] The great Sephardic poet, Yehuda Halevy, bemoaned, "My heart is in the East. And I am in the very end of the west." And the poetess of renascent Israel, Naomi Shemer, wrote on the eve of the citys reunification in 1967, "Mountain air as clear as wine, and the scent of pines, is carried by the winds of dusk, along with the sound of chiming bells. Jerusalem of Gold, of copper and of light for all your songs I serve as a lyre."
So, knowing all this, tell me: What is happening to us? What is wrong with the Jewish people -- in Israel and in the world -- after so many centuries of the pain and longing for our homeland crowned by our City of Sovereignty, after millennia of hankering, craving and pining to be back we are suddenly considering the possibility of sharing this birthplace with our sworn enemy? We have worked so hard, and our people have suffered such degradation, humiliation and martyrdom to let it all slip through our fingers?! The place we call the greatest venue on earth, the real meaning of Zion, might soon be lost to us!
Only a few short years ago, no Jew would have even considered the thought that Jerusalem would not be the capital city of the Jewish state. Sure, the U.N. wanted to internationalize it; of course, the Vatican wanted to be made a trustee for it; no doubt, every Arab chieftain schemed to be made its ruler. But, if somebody would come up to a Jew and suggest that Jerusalem was to become the capital of a Palestinian Arabs state -- the Jew would have laughed in the face of the one who proposed this scenario and called that person mad, simply plain crazy.
Things have changed, in seems, since the so-called peace process started, things have gone bad for the Jews, and some of us don't even know or recognize or acknowledge it. Right from the start of the "Oslo" process the Israelis were expected to give and give and give, under the guise of "land for peace." And if they didn't give with a wide enough smile on their faces they were internationally condemned for having an attitude. Judea and Samaria, the so called West Bank, were part of Biblical and Mandatory Eretz Yisrael, occupied illegally by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 -- and liberated by the Israel Defense Force in a heroic battle forced upon us by the combined armed might of seven Arab nations. The Arabs, however, called the area the occupied territories, and so did the pro-Arab media, and then the Jews themselves started to believe that these territories do not belong to them, and some of them ended up helping the Arabs further their aims by advocating a policy of withdrawal from these territories. Didn't they realize the damage they did and continue to do to our nation? Have they not learned the lesson of history -- that you cannot make peace with an intractable enemy? Do they really believe that by closing their eyes to the nature of our enemy -- they will change his disposition. We recognized a terrorist organization as the representative of a Palestinian people who wish to rule themselves, and we made 'interim' arrangements with this terrorist organization sworn to our extinction. What were we thinking? We gave them Jericho and Gaza, and got terror and death in exchange. We opened our borders and released more terrorists from jail -- and didnt even get our six MIAs in return! We gave them Nablus and Ramallah and Bethlehem, and got riots over an opening of a tunnel that served Arab interests in the Old city. We asked for reciprocity and got perfidy. The Palestinian Authority functions in Jerusalem against the expressed letter of the Oslo Agreement! Foreign dignitaries from the European community, from France and Ireland and Great Britain and other nations came to Jerusalem and paid their respects at Orient house the official unofficial P.A. government house and Israel was chastised by the world for building a new neighborhood at Har Nof and for moving Jewish families into homes purchased legally at Har Khoma!
Israels fiftieth anniversary is a good time to take stock -- and indeed, hundreds of foreign journalists from around the world came to do just that. Unfortunately, the international press reviews of this special milestone anniversary seem to miss the spiritual, meta-historic significance of Israel's achievement. The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and others have conducted thoroughly researched and expertly documented surveys of contemporary Israel. These features tend to calculate a balance sheet of Israels successes and failures - in defense, economy, democracy and peacemaking - and pose poignant questions about it's identity and society in the future. After nearly two thousand years, the 50-year-old Third Jewish Commonwealth of Israel is now an entrenched fact of contemporary history, backed up by some six million citizens, the most powerful and successful army in the Middle East, alleged nuclear arms, a vibrant democracy and an active and evolving world Jewry that supports it both financially and politically.
Yet, the establishment, survival and advancement of Israel is more than a political or secular event in Jewish, or indeed in global, consciousness. Israel stands as a vindication of the spirit -- the devotion of man and the intent of God; as a validation of the tenaciousness of faith and its healing powers; as proof of humanity's (or at least the Jews) power to overcome.
History knows no parallel to the prophecies of the Bible, which foretold of exile, of the break-up of a people into a thousand pieces spread across the world -- yet of a dispersed people who were destined not to assimilate, but to return to their source. This is the saga of a metaphysical and intangible union spanning centuries between a people, their God, and a land, defying all odds, disproving all pundits. This is the celebration of a nation who, at the moment of ultimate nadir, of devastating Holocaust, rose phoenix-like from the ashes, armed with little more than conviction and a historical consciousness that promised renewal, to stake a claim to their ancestry. This, indeed, is Redemption, with a capital "r," a manifestation of Providential consolation. Theodore Herzl, the prophet of Zionism and its founder, said, "If you will it, it is no dream." The Jews of Eretz Yisrael, a scant six hundred thousand, on November 29, 1947, when the U.N. voted for partition, said by their action in accepting the challenge to become a state, "We do will it and we shall insist that it must not be a dream." Six months later, grieving for more than 1,200 of their finest young men and women who were forced to become soldiers by neighbors who spurned the hand of peace, and whose lives were lost to insure that the state shall not be a mere fantasy, the Jews of the land heard the Declaration of Independence being read by Ben-Gurion. Except, of course, for those who were in the trenches, fighting to their lives and for the survival of the state that they did not even realize was being midwifed in the Tel-Aviv Museum. The success of the Zionist endeavor owes nothing to Naziism and to Hitler. Israel came into being in spite of the holocaust not because of it!
Israels image has been tarnished, unfortunately, by bad press and millions of dollars spend by the Arabs on building a better impression in this country. Its need for billions in military and economic aid is quite often questioned in Congress these days. However, to most Americans, Israel remains a worthy recipient of political and economic support, and to almost half it is a "special place," rather than just another country, the latest nationwide New York Times poll shows.
While the State Department and the administration did not always get along with the government of Israel, the American publics attitudes toward Israel have dipped and risen over its 50 years with the roll of events, but never by much. This month, 57 percent of 1,395 people polled across the country said they had a generally favorable opinion of Israel. In spite of the Arabs attempt to gain respectability for the cause of Palestine and Arab ownership of the land of "Palestine," for the first time in the 20 years that various pollsters have asked Americans which side in the Mideast conflict they favored, a strong majority of 58 percent said they sympathized with Israel over the Palestinians -- although a plurality have always done so. Yet, the majority of the American Jewish community does not support the government of Israel under its current leadership, preferring to stand by and see the U.S. administration try to bully Israel into making more concessions to the Palestinians.
Israel and world Jewry are split into many fragments. Some see themselves as spiritual Jews but national of many lands -- British, French, Americans; some see themselves as nationals of a Jewish state that ought to be like all other nations, separating state and church, creating a dispassionate constitution that sees no difference between Jew, Christian, Moslem, or what-not. Many identify themselves by the land of their recent origin, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, North African, Iranian, etc. Some, in Israel, believe in a land given by God and permitted to Jews by Divine Fiat while others wish to live in the land by the grace of those who previously threatened our existence. Some believe that only God can redeem the Jews from their exile, and therefore oppose the Zionist project and the state that it brought into being -- and yet they want to play a role in the politics of Israel in order to receive public monies and release from military service. Some decry the injustice of a world that has always lived by the sword but that refuses to allow Israel the fruit of its victory in wars that it was made to fight for self preservation. In the balance of all these fragments, and many that I did not mention, is the continued existence of the state, and of world Jewry. For we cannot go back to the pre-state condition. We live, everywhere in the world, as Jews on the verge of the twenty first century -- post holocaust, post the creation of the state. Make no mistake about this fact, and learn in time to live in a symbiotic relationship. Let us hope that we survive the whirlwind. Heres to the next fifty years!