My April 27 post featured a dialogue with my Israeli friend David Melman. Here’s his latest response, below. (Now we’ve officially begun a series!)
I’ll post a response to his response shortly.
Although we do have some agreement in regards to dire need to improve the desperate humanitarian condition in Gaza, it appears that we indeed have some very large gaps in our understanding of the fundamental issues.
Historically, as you stated, it is easy to understand the position of the Palestinian community and why they opposed Jewish settlement and the Zionist goal of establishing a sovereign national Jewish homeland. (I would add that some parts of the Palestinian leadership went beyond this basic opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state, as demonstrated by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, who was anti-Semitic and aligned with Nazi Germany.)
While you clearly empathize with the motivating factors for Palestinian/Arab resistance to a sovereign national Jewish homeland, it is less clear that you identify with:
1) The basic right of the Jewish people to a national homeland in Israel that is on par with the Palestinian right for statehood
2) The extremely desperate situation that existed for the Jewish people and the Yishuv during this period, given the need to provide a home for the tens of thousands of holocaust survivors from Europe.
Although the 1947 UN partition plan was problematic from the Yishuv perspective due to its lack of territorial continuity, nonetheless the Yishuv rejoiced and accepted the plan as the best course to lead to the establishment of a Jewish state. The Arab/Palestinian side flatly rejected it. After the UN partition plan was approved, violence ensued, initiated by both sides. Although some outright atrocities were committed by Jews such as Deir Yassin, it is important to note that these acts were condemned by the mainstream Jewish leadership. After Ben Gurion declared the independence of the state of Israel on May 14 1948, the armies of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria invaded Israel.
Was the post partition-plan violence and subsequent War of Independence a war of survival for the Jewish state as I claimed, or could it have been avoided as you questioned? Given the extreme Palestinian/Arab opposition to a Jewish state, short of abandoning the immediate goal of creating a Jewish state, I don’t see how it could have been avoided.
But I’m not an historian, and I’m sure you have “facts” to counter my “facts”. But Brant, what really disturbs me is that I sense you are questioning whether the creation of a Jewish state in a territory with an indigenous Palestinian population is justified, given that inevitably, conflict would ensue.
My response is a resounding “yes”. We, the Jewish people, also have a historic, religious, and cultural attachment to the land and right to our national homeland. Israel has absorbed Jews seeking to return to their homeland from the ashes of Europe, from Arab countries, Ethiopia, the FSU, America, etc. This is why Lori and I have chosen to make Aliyah, and why we send our children to serve in the army to defend our right to live here.
I recommend reading Saul Singer’s “Stop Palestinian denial of Jewish peoplehood” (http://www.bitterlemons.org/issue/isr2.php). I agree with his contention that a fundamental obstacle to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today “is not just the glorification of terrorism on the Palestinian side, it is the denial of Jewish peoplehood, of Jewish history and of any legitimate Jewish connection to any part of Israel.”
Now this does not mean I support disproportionate force in Gaza causing unnecessary suffering, discrimination against Israeli Palestinians, Jewish settlement in the territories, etc. We need to constantly work toward an accommodation with the Palestinians which I hope will someday lead toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living peacefully by our side. As I wrote in my previous letter, there is a consensus in Israel for a 2-state solution. But this dream must be shared by both sides, to become a reality.
There is no basic right of any people to a piece of real estate. A state is about taking and holding territory by the successful use of violence. Perhaps a few Inuit or Patagonian Amerindians are exceptions to this — there may not be many people who have ever wanted to wrest these territories away. Otherwise, states last as long as the slingshots/arrows/swords/ordinance/rockets hold out (and people to use them, of course). Many, many peoples/nations in the world are not in charge of states. Many of them have associations with lands that go back as far as memory goes. Do they have a right to take up arms and retake control? What of people who have lived there in the interim? If an Arapaho knocks on my door and says it’s time for her to come back and me to go, do I have to? What if a majority of U. N. members say I have to go? Do I have to? The old/newcomers will always have an old national myth to be invoked — are some of these legitimate and others not? On what basis?
The points you are making are totally irrelevant today. The Balfour Declaration was issued, lots of Jews immigrated to the country, the UN said a Jewish state could be established, and one was. What is the point you are trying to make? Do you think it can be retroactively be negated? Do you think the Jews of Israel will do this even if you think it is “right”?
Mr. Melman speaks to conditions at the time the state was formed, so I did. He also spoke to the ‘right’ of Jews in Israel/Palestine to a state that is the equal of the Palestinians rights. I think it is more on the mark to speak of Jews’ power to have a state, which is considerable right now, hence, Jews have a state. I don’t think Palestinians have any more or less right to a state than Jews; plainly, they do not, on their own, have power to create and maintain a state right now.
I think Jews will have a state longer, and a better state, if some of the power that maintains the State of Israel is used to create and maintain a State of Palestine, as well as more distributive justice for Israeli Arabs. In other words, I believe the Jewish majority in Israel/Palestine, the majority of who are now as native as many Palestinians, i.e., born there, should use power more wisely.
Would it be useful if Palestinians behaved more wisely? Well, sure, there’s never a wisdom surplus. But they have little power to back whatever wisdom they come up with. For there to be peace, they will need to deal with losing, at least for now. Those with more power can make that easier or harder on those with less. We have much Jewish wisdom on how to help others save face, and we need to use it, exactly because the power balance is in our favor right now.
I cannot wait for the Rabbi’s reply. This is a fascinating discussion.
Is the creation of a Jewish state in a territory with an indigenous Palestinian population is justified, given that inevitably, conflict would ensue?
My answer is yes. But in answering yes I believe that Israel, as a Jewish state, now has an obligation to do everything in its power to help the Palestinian population, to ease its poverty, homelessness, and powerlessness with real solutions that choose sympathy even over safety. Until we choose a path of real sympathy, doing everything in our power as we would for sisters and brothers, we will not have peace. It’s as though you think Israel was earned with the blood of the Holocaust. The right of Israel is earned through our historic actions to be kind. In the former, everyone becomes our enemy. With the latter, everyone becomes our sisters and brothers in understanding the misery in being powerless.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You remind us of the best of our Jewish values.