Yes, it does indeed seem that the crux of our disagreement comes down to the historical issues surrounding the establishment of a Jewish state. Although I’m not a historian either, I am becoming increasingly sensitive to the ways in which we relate to our own history and how these perspectives impact on our reality today.
So yes, we do have very different views of the history of Israel’s founding – and as you put it, I am tempted to “counter your facts with my facts,” but I’ll refrain for now, only to say that those of us who have been raised on the Zionist narrative of events would do well to open our minds and our hearts to the reality of the Palestinian narrative as well. Otherwise I just don’t see how we will ever find a measure of justice for Palestinians – or peace for Jews.
On the most fundamental disagreement between us, you wrote:
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.
Believe me, I’m disturbed by this as well. It has been a deeply painful experience to question the idea of Israel that has been so central to my Jewish identity for so long. But this is what it’s come to: I’ve reached the point in which I can’t help but question.
To be clear, I don’t disagree that the Jewish people have maintained a centuries-old attachment to this land – and I don’t disagree at all that we Jews should have a right to live in this land that we’ve long considered to be our ancient homeland. But I don’t believe that all this necessarily gives the Jewish people the “right” to have political sovereign control over it.
In this regard, I disagree strongly with Saul Singer when he writes about the Jewish people’s “legitimate claim to sovereignty.” What gives any people a “right” to sovereignty in a land? Let’s face it, when it come to these kinds of political claims, history has shown that might makes “right.” While I don’t think anyone can legitimately deny the Jewish claim to Israel as its ancestral homeland, it simply doesn’t follow that this religious/cultural connection ipso facto gives us the right of sovereign political control over it.
So yes, I am questioning whether by attaching 19th century European ethno-nationalism to Judaism, the Zionist movement was setting itself up for inevitable conflict. That’s invariably what nationalism does. You point out that there was “extreme Palestinian/Arab opposition to a Jewish state” and I certainly agree. But do we ever stop to consider why this might have been so?
Arab nations in general and Palestinians in particular had endured colonial control over the lands in which they lived for centuries. Following WW I, Britain and France extended the promise of decolonization to Arab nations – while at the very same time, the Zionist movement was increasing its own colonization of Palestine. How could Palestinian Arabs regard this with anything but alarm – especially since political Zionism was predicated upon the buildup of a Jewish majority in Palestine?
I see I’m slipping back into historical argumentation. So I’ll just end with this: where does all this leave us today? As I now see it, our insistence upon the “Jewish right” to Palestine will only prolong this 60-plus year old conflict. For me the important question is not “does Israel have the right to exist?” (or even, really, “does a Palestinian state have the right to exist?”) I believe the real question is “how can we find a way to extend civil rights, human rights, equality, and security for all inhabitants of Israel/Palestine?”
Like you, I hope against hope that this question can be sufficiently addressed through the peace process, culminating in a true and viable two-state solution. But I admit to growing cynicism on this front – and I truly fear the choice we will face should the peace process fail. For even if we disagree on the root causes of this conflict, I think we both agree that it would be beyond painful if it came to the point where are are forced to choose between an Jewish apartheid state ruled by a Jewish minority over a Palestinian majority or one secular democratic state of all its citizens.
So you see, David, these are the things that keep me up nights. But despite the painful issues involved, I’ve really appreciated this conversation. Please know that I’ve considered it, as they say in Pirke Avot, a “machloket l’shem shamayim” – a “debate for the sake of heaven.” I can only hope that it might, in some small way, inspire similar dialogues throughout our community.