Monday, July 22, 2002

Perspectives on Zionism

The current war being fought in Israel is causing deep soul-searching in every corner of the political spectrum. The fact that 54 years after the establishment of their state, the Jews are still fighting tooth and nail for their national survival is bringing many to ask if Zionism can really be considered a success.

By every physical standard, Zionism is an unparalleled success. Over the last hundred years the land of Israel has increased its capacity to support a population from a few hundred thousand to 5.3 million Jews and almost as many Arabs. Israeli universities churn out scientific achievements at a rate far greater than most other western nations. The Israeli military is a modern and fearsome fighting machine with the demonstrated ability to repeatedly vanquish a vastly numerically superior enemy. So why is there an increasing sense of despair on the streets of Tel Aviv these days?

Despite their differences, the one thing that the early Zionists had in common with each other was that they were secular. This lack of belief in a higher power convinced them that it was up to them to solve the problems facing the Jewish world by their own power. The secular Zionists interpreted the anti-Semitism which culminated in the Holocaust as proof that life in the Diaspora is untenable. Therefore, the clearest solution to the anti-Semitism and torture that the Jews of Europe were facing was to set up a state of their own. They could then stand tall and face their European neighbors as equals. The state would have a strong military to prevent raging Cossacks and boot-clicking Nazis from wiping them out. After becoming free of the chains of Europe, the Jews would be able to speak their own language, Hebrew, and pursue their own national destiny as a people.

If judged by these goals, secular Zionism is an abject failure. Israel’s right to exist is routinely denied by the Arabs, and even the Europeans frequently question it. Israelis are being booted out of European universities, Israeli sports teams are no longer welcome in Europe, and European nations frequently tax or boycott Israeli products. Israel is the Jew of the nations. For all of its tanks and planes and hydrogen bombs, Israel is still unable (or unwilling) to use its military to defend its citizens. Today’s descendants of the Nazis and Cossacks are funding terrorist attacks by siphoning European Union funds to the Palestinian Authority. “Israeli Culture” today seems to be more American culture translated into Hebrew. The cultural characteristics of America from Coca Cola to Viagra to road rage are popping up all over the Israel. The Israeli state, which was supposed to be a refuge, is probably the least secure place for a Jew to live in the world.

But by religious standards, Israel is an unparalleled success. Traditionally religious Judaism (orthodoxy) views history as moving in a specific direction. The end goal of history is to reach a state of world peace with all of the Jewish people living in the land of Israel and living their lives by the Torah. The State of Israel is viewed by most as an important step on that path. The traditional Jew does not see the end of anti-Semitism as a realistic goal. G-d uses anti-Semitism to correct the course of the Jewish people when they go too far astray. Because the world has not arrived at the final messianic age, then obviously the Jewish people do not yet merit it, and therefore Anti-Semitism must be expected. Since Orthodox Jews believe that G-d created the Universe and everything in it, then no amount of military might or financial prowess is going to make these troubles go away. Only more careful religious observance and strengthening of the bonds between Jewish brethren can mitigate anti-Semitism.

When the Secular Jew looks at America, the ultimate golden Diaspora, he sees all of the physical and financial security Jews enjoy here. He finds a tolerant atmosphere and Jews reaching unparalleled prosperity and levels of acceptance. The original goals of secular Zionism; security, equality, and cultural freedom, can be more easily attained here in America.
But to the Orthodox Jew, life in America, however sweet, is transitory. The fact that Jews have become Federal Reserve Chairmen and movie producers and Vice Presidential candidates does not change the fact that history has a goal for us, and it is not going to be fulfilled here. The accomplishments of Diaspora Jewry are impermanent, and some day we will be called upon to fold our tents, pack our bags, and catch the next flight to Jerusalem. The only indelible edifice that there will be to our ever having existed will be the effect we have on the souls of the people who live around us. This explains the planeloads of secular Israelis who are leaving Israel for America, and the planeloads of American Orthodox Jews who pass them in the air on their way to Israel.

Sunday, March 10, 2002

All-Out War

Sunday, March 10, 2002 6:51 AM

As I pack my bags, store away my silverware and dishes, scrub down the kitchen, repaint my room, and repair some of the damages I did to my apartment, it strikes me how much things have changed over the last twenty months I’ve spent in Israel. They say that one month in Israel is like one year in chul (outside of Israel,) so I’ve watched the equivalent of two decades race by.
Israel, and the entire world, are very different places than they were in August, 2000. When I arrived, Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon, Clinton, Barak, and Arafat claimed to be inches away from hammering out some sort of arrangement, the economy was racing ahead, and there was a very brief taste of peace. Of course by this time I, and the majority of my friends in Israel, had a deep sense of foreboding. I remember, during this time of peace and tranquility, my friend Gil pulling me aside and telling me that, "There’s going to be a war soon, a big one, and not just with the Palestinians but with all the Arabs." Why? "When I was here ten years ago, I used to go to the Arab shuk. We Jews went about our business and they went about theirs. Today when I go, I’ve got Arabs following me around, threatening me, sizing me up, staring me down. They aren’t going to settle for just giving me the evil eye much longer." When discussing declaring Israeli citizenship with friends, and considering the mandatory two-year army stint, everybody told me, "Wait until after the next war."
In the West, every war is supposed to be the last. Wasn’t World War I the "War to end all wars?" War is seen as an occasional, necessary evil which must be avoided if possible and finished quickly and painlessly if not. In Israel, war is a lifestyle. Nobody in America really thinks ahead to the next war because there aren’t supposed to be any more. In Israel, the "Next War" is an inevitability. "In The Next War, there’s going to be a lot of anti-population warfare," Itzig tells me. When Zehava is trying to remember the word "Can" in English, she asks, "How do you say it? The thing you buy lots of whenever there’s a war?" Each war is seen as just one more battle in Israel’s endless struggle for survival.
Today, Israel is at war, and is in imminent danger of falling into a much larger conflict. In my last two weeks in Israel, the conflict began burning out of control. At the beginning of the Peace Process, upon a terrorist murder, the government would cut off ties with the Palestinian Authority with the understanding that they might never be restored. By the time Barak was negotiating away all of Yesha in March of 2001, the government would cut off ties for two hours after each attack, and the Palestinian negotiators would scream that Israel was "wasting time!" Attacks which killed ten or more people, attacks which happened once every year or two before the Peace Process, are now happening every single day, one after the next after the next. On Friday night, a bomb blast killed ten in Jerusalem, on Monday, a sniper killed ten more people, on Monday night, two terrorists with machine guns entered a restaurant in Tel Aviv and started mowing people down, killing three. Israelis go about their business, go to work, eat three square meals a day, and constantly hear about the scores of Israelis being murdered daily. This leads to a feeling of despair and impotence, which breeds rage. People are walking around, shaking with anger.
In response, Israel is moving in hitting back with less and less restraint. On Monday, a tank shell meant for a Hamas leader ripped through his car and killed his wife and children instead. Is there a difference between the two? According to western values, there is, but according to eastern values, there is not. Western civilization recognizes the concept of "intent." We recognize that there is a difference between mugging and murdering an elderly woman and accidentally hitting someone with a car. In the first case, it’s called murder, in the second, unintentional manslaughter. When Israel tries to hit a Palestinian terrorist warlord and misses, Westerners view this as unfortunate but unavoidable civilian casualties, Arabs view it as being identical to terrorism.
It is widely argued that the Palestinians have to use terrorism because they "have no other way." This is, indeed, an accurate statement. The Palestinians have no army which can fight Israel, "no tanks, no air force, no helicopters!" as Saib Erekat and Yassir love to bark out over and over. However, it must be said that they have no real means of pursuing their goals because their goals are unjust. Hitler had no way of legally exterminating the Jewish people, so he had to violate the Geneva convention to do so, Sadaam Hussein had no way of legally taking over Kuwait, so he did it illegally. Likewise, the annihilation of Israel is not a just cause, as Israel is a legitimate, democratic, and recognized country, and therefore there simply is no way for the Palestinians to achieve their goals legally.
In order for there to be a peace process, the Palestinians first had to be humanized. The image of the Arab in Israel had always been that of a savage with a knife clenched in his teeth, stalking his next victim. Gradually, Israelis came to see the real suffering of the Palestinians, self-inflicted though it may be, as a source of great frustration which had to be redressed if there were ever to be peace. Israelis began to see a distinction between "radicals" and the average Arab who just wanted peace and a little plot of land. This was essentially a projection of Israeli society onto Palestinian society. It was a model which was easy for most Israelis to understand because they viewed right wingers as their own "radicals" who were getting in the way of the average Israeli who also just wanted peace and a little plot of land.
In watching the situation unfold, however, this "humanization" has reversed. Israelis see suicide bombers blowing the heads off of infants, sadistically mutilating and torturing children, wiping out whole families, and intentionally killing non-combatants, grandmothers and grandfathers. Then, they turn on the television and see Palestinian women and children passing out sweets on the streets of Gaza and reveling the heroic slaughter of innocents. Are these those same average Arabs who wanted peace and a plot of land? They see Palestinian rallies, orgies of wild, animalistic violence, screaming, and shooting in the air. They see the Palestinian worship of death and killing, both of the suicide bombers and of Israeli babies and grandparents. Israelis see things in Arab society which are totally unimaginable in Israeli society. Israelis are coming to realize that they do not have so much in common with the average Palestinian as they once thought.
Jerusalem Post radio gave an interview about a year ago with a Jewish man who worked in Talpiot, a Jerusalem suburb. He had hired several Arab workers, and the whole business got along quite well. He decided, as a special gift, to give his best worker a bonus and a free cellular phone out of appreciation. He handed the gifts to the Arab man, walked inside, and heard a huge explosion. It turned out the Arab had taken the gifts and then turned right around and tried to plant a bomb in his boss’s car when it accidentally detonated. Last week, an Israeli in Efrat noticed a man from a neighboring Arab village walking through town. The Arab man had very friendly relations with many residents in the town, and was on a first-name basis with some. When he walked straight past many of his friends and acquaintances without saying hello, they called security. It turned out he had a bomb strapped to him, which was defused after security shot him dead. Last week in Jerusalem, an Arab walked into the office of his business partner, a close friend of three years, and shot him dead. Not because of a quarrel between them, just plain old terrorism. Who are the average Arabs who wand peace? How do you know that the Arab who you thought was your friend isn’t about to kill you?
"They aren’t humans," is an expression which I hear more and more on the Israeli street. "I refuse to believe that a real human being is capable of doing such things. They are animals." This dehumanization is very dangerous, especially for the Palestinians. Before a war, the enemy has to be dehumanized. In world World War I, the Germans became Huns, and in later wars, the Japanese became Japs, the Germans were Krauts, the Viet Cong were Gooks, and the Iraqis were Ragheads and Camel Jockeys.

The Palestinian Intifadah has formed a little bubble of anger in the Israeli mind. Every attack makes the bubble just a little bit bigger, each murder makes the anger rise just a little bit higher. With the latest series of gruesome attacks, the bubble is in danger of popping. Walking around on the street, you can now see the anger breaking through the surface. It breaks through when two people having a conversation start screaming at each other over nothing. You can see it in the way that people in their cars are on the horn in a split second, the way parents are overly anxious about their children. Everybody is living on the front lines, whether they like it or not. People are walking around shaking with rage and fear.

This is not a good state of mind in which to make balanced judgments, but people no longer want balanced judgment. As one cousin eloquently put it, "They keep saying that we’re about to blow up, so let’s blow the *&-* up already! How many people have to die?" The inaction of the government can be just as frustrating as the terror itself. It’s one thing to be killed by your enemies, it’s another when the government doesn’t seem to care. When former Prime Minister Netanyahu gave away Hebron to the Palestinian Authority, the Jewish community asked what would happen if the Palestinians started firing on their exposed section of the city. "We’ll send in tanks," said Netanyahu. Today, the Arabs are picking off the Hebron Jews like flies, but there are no tanks. During the first days of the violence, Barak threatened to abrogate the Oslo Agreements if the violence did not stop in two days. Two days later, he backed down. When Hizbullah kidnapped three soldiers, Barak threatened to bomb Beirut if they were not returned in 48 hours. 48 hours later, nothing happened. When Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi was assassinated, Sharon announced, "What was will no longer be." But what was, small-scale strikes targeting individual terrorists while talking to other terrorists, and blowing up empty buildings, still is. Sharon threatened to bring the conflict to a "whole new level" if the Palestinians fired Kassam-2 rockets on Israel’s population centers, but now that they are indeed firing their missiles nothing seems to have changed. The government keeps saying that it isn’t at war one minute, and that the Palestinians have, "Declared war on us," the next.

Even more frustrating than the government’s inaction is the fact that the Intifadah has not brought real national unity. Yes, there is a national unity government including Labor, but the only people within the Labor party who are supportive of remaining in the government are those with cabinet ministries. Meanwhile, those in the Labor party who were not awarded ministries are constantly doing everything within their power to undermine the government. At the same time, a group of about two hundred fifty Israeli reserve soldiers, many of them officers, are refusing to serve in the settlements. While this movement has not snowballed into any sort of mass popular movement, and about 10,000 soldiers have signed a counter-petition decrying the move, it is still yet another visible split. One group of citizens who live in "Pre-1967" Israel have now declared that those citizens living in the post-1967 territories are no longer deserving of government protection and are challenging the sovereignty of the Israeli government. Can one imagine a group of soldiers who live in Jerusalem refusing to defend Tel Aviv because they don’t agree with the political ideology of the people living there?
Among the religious, there is also a feeling of despair. It is clear from the bible that attacks on the nation are signs of spiritual weakness and disunity. When the religious stray from "the path," G-d uses Israel’s enemies as tools to force the people to come together and become more religious. It’s known as the "No atheists in a foxhole" phenomenon. Yet there has not yet been any great awakening. As one friend put it, "I still say my morning prayers, I eat breakfast, I go to work, I come home, and I go to sleep. I keep hearing that these people are being killed, but I don’t know what to do about it. I honestly want to be woken up but I don’t know how to do it myself and I don’t know where to turn. We need a great leader."
If there’s one quote I’ve heard from both the right and left, the secular and religious, "We need a leader."
As I try to think out possible scenarios for where this is headed, they all lead in the same direction. It’s like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels I used to read as a kid, where you turn from page to page, and at the bottom of every page is a new decision. "You come to a cave. If you want to go into the cave, turn to page 87. If you don’t want to go into the cave, turn to page 16." Except in this case, while the decisions are different, the story has the same ending no matter what decisions are made: all-out war. It feels like being lost in a dark tunnel, and the only light you can see is the oncoming train.
If Israel follows the new campaign of the left and goes for a full withdrawal to the Green Line, terrorism will become much more horrible. There is no case in history between two warring parties in which one party retreated and the other party then decided to magnanimously stop attacking, and the Arabs aren’t about to set any new precedents. A full retreat will be a total validation of terrorism as a means of achieving political ends. It will be a pure, unadulterated Palestinian victory, and when you have a victory, you keep going. Arafat has repeatedly, clearly, unabashedly declared in Arabic that he is pushing for the complete destruction of the state of Israel. If he is winning, why would he stop?
A full withdrawal will also cause a huge rift within Israeli society. Either the Israeli government will destroy the West Bank and Gaza settlements, a rash act which will possibly result in a civil war, or the government will simply abandon the settlers to be murdered by the Palestinian Authority, which will also cause a huge split. Both left and right wing governments are responsible for placing these settlements in Yesha, and if the government refuses to protect them, the vast numbers of settlement supporters inside Israel are not going to sit calmly by and allow them to be killed.
If Israel were to make this hypothetical withdrawal, the 1.2 million Israeli Arabs would immediately rise up in full revolt. Already, Israeli Arabs (or Israeli Palestinians as they are now called) are carrying out terror and suicide attacks and assisting terrorist groups acting within the territories. Asmi Bishara, one of the major Arab members of Parliament, had his Parliamentary immunity stripped and is now on trial for incitement because he appeared before a wild rally arm in arm with Israel’s Sheik Nasrallah of Hizbullah, and called upon the Arab world to unite in holy war against Israel. The Israeli perception is that the Israeli Arabs view democracy as just another means of destroying Israel. If a revolt breaks out among the Israeli Arabs, Israel would have to either crush this revolt or retreat from further areas in pre-1967 Israel, mostly in the Galilee, which have a substantial Arab population. If Israel would retreat from further territory, it is difficult to see how the country could last five years.
This course is, for the time being, unlikely. The left has no charismatic politicians, no clear plan, and is in no danger of winning an election any time soon. More likely, the government will continue its current policy of inaction for as long as possible. Israel is under enormous international pressure to allow its citizens to be killed. "The world loves dead Jews," one relative tells me, "Look at the Europeans, they have all these holocaust monuments and memorial services, they always come to visit Yad Vashem (the holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem,) they feel so badly during terrorist attacks, but when we fight back, when we don’t die, they hate us." At a certain point, however, Israelis are going to start fighting back on their own because nobody wants to die as part of some public relations ploy to keep the British and the French satisfied. Israelis are not going to give up their lives just to quiet the slander of British Foreign Secretary Cook.
If the government refuses to do what is necessary to protect the people, then the people are going to at on their own. The first acts of this are already being seen, as a Jewish terrorist group calling itself the "Committee for Road Safety" has started killing Palestinians at random, and a bomb was set off by the "Avengers of the Infants" at an Arab school in East Jerusalem yesterday. If it became more widespread, it could take the form of riots in Arab neighborhoods and loss of government control.
Israel is in a completely impossible position because it is trying to play two ballgames on the same field. Israel is desperately trying to remain an enlightened democracy with free elections and free speech, and is trying to maintain civilized society and to be a part of the free world. Unfortunately, Israel happens to be located in what is undoubtedly the single most inhospitable environment on the planet. The Middle East has the unfortunate combination of a stone-age tribal order combined with vast oil wealth. The mentality of the tribes is the same as African tribes involved in a blood feud, except the Arabs can afford tanks, fighters, and nerve gas to unleash on their subjects at will. In order to be able to call itself a democracy, Israel has to follow the Geneva Conventions and all the rules of the civilized world. The Arabs have never even heard of such things. Israel is trying to play touch football while its enemies are engaged in no holds barred street fighting.
However, Israel must remain a democracy if it is to survive. Modern wars are won or lost by technology, and the technological advantage requires a free and open society. In a dictatorial society, order is maintained at gunpoint, and the free exchange of ideas, so critical to technological advancement, is absent. If Israel were to become a totalitarian state today, it would lose its technological edge and be destroyed tomorrow. Israel must also remain democratic in order to maintain what little support it has in the free world. However, because Israel is surrounded by people who only understand the rules of the feud, that there are no rules, it must make it clear that it will do whatever it takes, using street fighter rules, to survive.
This is easier said than done. The Arabs, for their part, have no problems with such rules. One soldier in Gaza who served in the border town of Rafiah, which is half in Israel and half in Egypt, described how the Egyptians quelled the rioting that broke out on their side of the border in support of the Palestinian Intifadah, "A few Egyptian soldiers walked into the crowd and just opened fire with their machine guns, mowing people down. They killed a few dozen and that was the end of it." Where Israelis use rubber bullets and aim for the legs, Arabs use steel bullets and aim for the head. Where Israel uses tear gas, the Arabs use nerve gas.
When I ask one old-timer, now a "Peace Now" supporter, what he thinks Israel has to do to calm the situation, he has no illusions, leftist views not withstanding, "We just have to go in and wipe out a few villages." Speaking to one friend, a descendent of immigrants from Morocco, "If I had a button that I could push to do a holocaust on the Arabs, I would push it."
These types of decisions are not easy to make. It’s easy to say, "Go wipe out some villages," quite another to drive through the village, tell everybody to get out of their houses, and then send in the bulldozers. A friend who manned a checkpoint told me simply, "I hate doing it, but I have to do it. At the checkpoint, you go up to every car and get the people out at gunpoint, force them to stick their hands over their heads, and search them. Even to grandfathers and old ladies. I hate doing it, I don’t like being mean to people, but if I don’t then somebody is going to pull a gun and shoot me dead, and if the checkpoint isn’t there, than a suicide bomber is going to get through and kill twenty people."
The only option worse than taking these draconian measures is not taking them. The Arabs can always afford to lose a war. The only thing that happens to an Arab country when it loses a war is that it gets a new despot, and maybe loses some prestige. Lebanon today is dominated by Syria, which occupies most of the country, but Beirut still exists, and some day Lebanon will be strong enough to force the Syrians out. The only difference for the Lebanese people is that they are now being tortured and slaughtered by Syrian Bashar Al-Assad instead of Bashir Gemayel, Yassir Arafat, and the other warlords who controlled the country during the early 80s. Iraq can take over Kuwait and replace the Emirs with Sadaam, but what difference does that make to the average Kuwaiti? None.
Israel, on the other hand, can never afford to lose even one war. Israel’s total security paranoia is justified by the fact that if the Arabs ever defeat Israel, every Jew living in Israel will die. This is accepted common knowledge, and one need only read the speeches of every Arab dictator from Arafat to Hussein to see it. Everybody knows where the nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction being constructed by Iraq and Iran are pointed: Tel Aviv.
Israel today is running out of reasons not to go to war. The Palestinians speak only of driving the Jews into the sea, Europe is presenting a stone wall of hate, the Arabs are increasingly threatening to attack, and scores of Israelis are being killed in the streets every day. By constantly attacking Israel, condemning even the weakest non-lethal defensive measures, the world’s "opinion makers," being the media, foreign ministers, Colin Powell and the U.S. State Department, and the elite academia have totally discredited themselves. If all they can do is attack, slander, and malign Israelis, if all they only undermine and deny Israel’s right to exist regardless of Israel’s actions on the ground, then what does Israel have to lose by going to war? It may seem crazy, but the Israeli people are ready for war. The slogans put up by foreign peace groups all over Israel read, "Better the pains of peace than the agony of war." What they fail to mention is, "Better the agony of war than the peace of death." Israel is facing national death by allowing terrorism to continue torturing the nation and killing its citizens, causing many more to seek life elsewhere. Terrorism is shaking the foundations of national existence and life itself. For the average Israeli, at a certain point it becomes much better to pick up a gun and defend himself, giving him a greater measure of control over his fate, rather than wait for death to come and take him in the form of Palestinian terrorists.
If Israel withdraws from the territories, terrorism will become unbelievably worse, and Israel will eventually have to go to full war. If Israel refuses to act, the Israeli people themselves may decide to take "vigilante" actions, convinced that their own government refuses to protect them, which will force the government’s hand to all-out war. In the end it may be unavoidable. But what would all-out war look like? In the worst case, it wouldn’t be pretty or clean. The first step would be to wipe out the Palestinian leadership. Israel has, until now, avoided hitting political targets and only hit purely military or terrorist targets. This despite the fact that the Palestinians make no differentiation between political and military targets, having assassinated Israel’s cabinet minister. This discretionary method has proved ineffective. Because the political leadership, including Yassir Arafat, Muhammed Dahlan, Marwan Barghouti, and Abbed Rabbo, in addition to planning and directing terrorist attacks, also hold political power, they have been deemed immune from assassination. This would have to change. Next would be ordering the military to enter into Palestinian areas and begin large-scale destruction of civilian areas, "erasing villages" as one cousin described it, in actions modeled on the American and British method of rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan. Essentially, any villages or structures used to launch murderous attacks on Israelis or fire at Israeli soldiers or civilians would have to be destroyed. This could result in a partial or full expulsion of the Palestinians to one of the neighboring Arab countries. By violently rejecting all peace offers, and by dehumanizing themselves, the Palestinians may cause another "Nabka", another catastrophe for themselves. The remnant of the Palestinians may very well wake up one day to find themselves on the other side of the river.
This would, of course, involve major violations of International Law and human rights, much like what America and Britain are doing in Afghanistan, but because is has very little international clout, Israel will pay a heavy price. Israel could become an international pariah, possibly earning the dubious title of "rogue state." The United Nations would almost certainly enact economic sanctions against Israel, which would further crush the economy. Yassir Arafat’s goal has always been to provoke an Israeli response so severe that the international community would have to intervene. The question is whether the United Nations or NATO are prepared to intervene militarily, and I do not believe they will for several reasons. First of all, any NATO bombing would require enthusiastic American support. Israel’s decision to get "down and dirty" with the terrorists may cause a major rift in Israel’s alliance with America, and possibly even a temporary policy shift, but America will not support military action against Israel. The European Union, which seems to be trying to use good old fashion Jew-hating talk to find common ground and bring its member nation states together on foreign policy, will never act alone against Israel militarily because they simply lack the ability. Israel is not a third-world country like Iraq or Serbia, but an ultra high-tech nation whose army is totally committed to defending their homes. Unless Europe is prepared to lose hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers and pilots going up against the most modern and accurate military hardware the world has ever seen, it will not get involved. Likewise, if Europeans have made the decision to fully support the Palestinians in their quest to drive Israel into the sea, than they face losing a few of their major cities like Paris and London, as Israel is a nuclear power with the ability to carry ordinance over very long distances. Lastly, the Afghanistan war has proved that European armies do not even have the capability of operating outside of their own countries without hitching a ride from the Americans. The United Nations may send troops as well, but if they get anywhere near combat, they will simply be caught in the cross fire and die. One can’t reasonably expect a bunch of UN conscripts from India and Fiji to put their lives on the line for a Palestinian state.
The world may try to passively strangle Israel, but it is doubtful that they will become directly involved. Israel must execute and finish such a war as quickly as possible to mitigate the ill effects. As my cousin Rafi puts it, "We will lose the Americans, there will be sanctions, we will be hungry, but we’ll still be alive, and that’s better than what we’ve got now." After the war, the United States will sponsor some sort of Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy, and after a few decades left-wing poets wracked with guilt and self-loathing will write about the horrors we inflicted upon the guiltless Palestinian people, but Israel will live.
An all-out war is a horrible, sickening thought, and it makes me cringe to even imagine such a thing. War is really a roll of the dice. Who can name a single war in history which turned out exactly as planned? Israel needs peace worse now than ever before, but Israel’s existence is threatened, and Israel has to exist before it can coexist. The Jews have always flocked to compassionate causes. Jews are always vastly over represented in charitable organizations such as the Peace Corps, Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders. Our people flock to liberal and left-wing political parties throughout the world. However, misplaced compassion can be as evil as cruelty. The Talmud teaches us that "He who is kind the cruel will become cruel to the kind." By deciding to create the State of Israel, the Jewish people left the theoretical world of civilized, parliamentary debate and entered into the dirty world of international politics. Like every decision in real life, this was not a pure decision; there is no absolute right. The Jewish national undertaking was based on the fact that the Jews in the Diaspora, while enjoying the luxury of being a pure, powerless and blameless minority, also face repeated attempts at physical annihilation by Nazis, Cossaks, Poles, Catholics, Romans, etc. However, the decision to enter into nationhood is also wrought with difficult decisions. Today Israel faces a choice: do we maintain ideological purity and innocence by allowing ourselves to be annihilated, or do we decide to get our hands dirty and do what is necessary to survive against an enemy who does not share our morals and does not follow our rules. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in the Middle East, it’s that no decision is pure, and there is no absolute "Right Thing to Do." The best that can be done is to take all the facts and possible outcomes of a decision into account, balance the good and evil on both sides, make a decision, and pray to G-d that you did the right thing.

Saturday, March 02, 2002

War and Peace

Batala, a “refugee camp” suburb of Nablus, has been the source of several terrorist attacks on Israel, including the Sbarro Pizzeria bombing which killed 15 and the attack on a Bat Mitzvah in Hadera in which a Palestinian gunman entered and began mowing down guests at a family celebration. It is currently under the control of at least five Palestinian warlords. The Palestinian Authority actually attempted to enter the camp in 1999 and assert some control and was immediately expelled. The town is constructed in the haphazard fashion typical of these shanty towns with very narrow, crooked streets. Last week, an Israeli Merkava tank was destroyed when it went over an enormous mine, and it is assumed that the streets of these neighborhoods are similarly mined.

There has also been a great deal of nail-biting on sending foot soldiers into these areas because they will be exposed, easy targets in this sort of urban environment. On Wednesday, the Israeli Defense Forces began seizing tall Buildings around Balata, a Palestinian Suburb of Nablus. These buildings were to be used as observation posts and sniper nests for the operation that began on Thursday. The Army avoided the hazards of using the streets by entering the first house, and then blowing a hole in the wall to move to the next house, and then blowing a hole in the wall to move to the third house, etc. Occasionally, they have simply driven tanks straight through the walls. This is one of the first instances in which the various warlords have actually stood and fought instead of run away, so 15 terrorist gunmen were killed on Thursday, five on Friday, along with one Israeli soldier. The operation is continuing and will probably last into next week, as the army is still uncovering rocket, bomb, and mortar factories.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority gunmen opened fire on Gilo again, wounding four Israelis, and a suicide bomber just blew himself up a few hours ago amongst a group of Jews leaving synagogue, killing at least five, including a one year old baby.

As one of the strange consequences of Israel’s backward parliamentary system and national unity government, while reality moves closer to all-out war, the “political solution” rhetoric is moving full speed ahead. Arafat’s demands seem to be closely obeying Moore’s Law, i.e. they double every eighteen months. Eighteen months ago, Arafat was demanding 100,000 Arabs be allowed to settle in Israel as part of a final deal. He is now demanding that, “Only 200,000 refugees,” will “return.” The more moderate Sari Nussebiah, who is now being touted as the most reasonable Palestinian alive, is now making territorial demands inside pre-1967 Israel. Peres continues abasing himself and accepting any and every offer made by the Palestinians and their European Allies, so they keep making more and more demands.

Then, out of the blue, like a bolt of lightning from the heavens, the “Saudi Plan” appeared. New York Times Editorialist Tom Friedman was on a visit to Saudi Arabia and was discussing the violence with crown Prince Abdullah, the second in command but really de-facto dictator of his country. Friedman suggested that Abdullah and the Arabs should offer to call of their Jihad against Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal to the holy “Green Line” and a voluntary self-ethnic-cleansing of all Jewish communities on the other side of that Green Line. “Why, funny you should mention it,” said Abdullah, “because I have the text of exactly that speech sitting in my desk drawer.” He then told Friedman that he was just about to give the speech, but then Sharon ruined it by his brutal oppression of Palestinian stone-throwers. It’s like some western tourist walking into the bazaar and pointing to a five-dollar tin pot and asking, “Is this an exotic, ancient relic?” to which the storekeeper responds, “Oh, why, yes it is, and I will give it to you for the paltry sum of $1,000,” at which point the naive tourist races off to the nearest ATM machine before someone else gets a hold of his “find.” In this case Friedman, playing the naive tourist, immediately ran off and printed and editorial in the New York Times to publicize the plan.

Friedman has been around the block a couple of times, he covered the civil war in Beirut, the first Intifada in Israel, so it’s nearly unbelievable that he could be so incredibly stupid as to believe such a thing, given the history of the region. Arab governments aligned with the United States have, for the last quarter century, been trying to keep the Middle East in slow-burn. It’s all part of a delicate balance, in which the dictators, needing an external enemy to justify their oppression, try to keep themselves at war with Israel, but in order not to incur the political wrath of the United States or, worse, the military wrath of Israel, they act to cool things down whenever events begin to move too close to peace. During Camp David II, in which Arafat was offered a viable Palestinian State, it was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who clearly told Arafat he would lose Arab support if he made any compromises on Jerusalem, but it was also Hosni Mubarak who later drafted a potential cease-fire, essentially a rehash of the American Tenet agreement, along with Jordan, to try to cool things down. Throughout the Intifada, there have been several totally unrealistic offers made to Israel, including an offer by Syria to “enter into negotiations” if Israel first gave away the entire Golan Heights and now the Saudi offer. Sharon simply called Abdullah’s bluff by saying, “Sure, so let’s get together and talk about it.” It’s a perfectly reasonable request to which Abdullah must say no. Meeting Sharon at this point would be as unhealthy for an Arab despot as drinking a gallon of bleach because his own people would immediately kill him.

This plan will fail like every other plan so far because successful treaties, plans, and arrangements do not alter history or end wars, they only formalize reality. Egypt and Jordan did not sign peace with Israel until they determined that it was absolutely impossible for them to defeat Israel militarily. Germany and Japan did not surrender to the Allies until after they had been militarily defeated. In order for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 cease-fire lines, which is clearly not enough to appease the Palestinians in any case, Israel would have to be first militarily defeated, which it is not. In order for the Palestinians to stop attacking Israel, they first have to be militarily defeated, which has not yet happened. All of these plans and cease-fire arrangements are utterly meaningless until there is a basic shift in the Arab mindset, or a total surrender of the nationalist ideal on the part of the Israelis. Since the Arabs, and later the Palestinians have been on the losing side of every war since 1948, it’s better than even odds that the Palestinians will crack before Israel does.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

The Left Reconstitutes

Tuesday, February 26, 2002, 11:24:14 AM

The Israeli left is back and it has a new ideology: full retreat. There are, of course, a few mavericks within the Labor party, most notably Defense Minister Ben Eliezer and former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, who have internalized the fact that the Oslo Peace Process approach has failed and are now advocating tougher measures to deal with terror. Most of the Labor party, however, and especially the authors of the Oslo peace nightmare including Foreign Minister Shimon Peres have continued their leftward drift and joined up with more extreme left-wing elements such as the virulently anti-religious and anti-Zionist Meretz and Shinui (Democratic Movement for Change) factions in advocating a full, unconditional withdrawal from Yesha (West Bank Gaza Strip,) without any conditions or even the declaration of a cease-fire. Peres is now fully backing a plan whereby Israel withdraws from the territories and recognizes a Palestinian State in eight weeks.What ever happened to "Land for Peace," the marching song of Labor? Both the left and right have come out from the delusion that turning over tangible territorial and strategic assets to enemies in exchange for meaningless promises from violent warlords is going to bring a real peace. Therefore, Labor, Meretz and Shinui have reached the end of the line, and decided to simply abandon Yesha without attaining peace. This is, in fact, the logical conclusion to the ten-year peace process.The peace process began in 1993 with then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's campaign pledge of "The three no's: no negotiations with PLO terrorists, no Palestinian State, no giveaway of the Golan Heights." By the time of his tragic assassination, he had broken the first two promises and was inches away from breaking the third. The Peace Process began with the signing of the Oslo I accords with "Jericho and Gaza first," an Israeli withdrawal from these two areas as a pilot test to see if Palestinian sovereignty could be achieved without endangering Israeli lives. When the pilot test failed and Israel experienced a crippling wave of terrorist attacks, Rabin and Peres were unable to admit the failure of the pilot program and coined a new sound byte, "We will pursue the peace process like there is no terror and fight terror like there is no peace process." After every attack, the defenders of the Oslo process would come out with their slogans, "We can't let one suicide bomber veto the peace process." Peace is, by definition, the absence of hostilities, and this concept of a paper peace being superior to an actual peace on the ground was probably the most significant and tragic break with reality that the left had to make in order to maintain their illusion of progress. The fact that there was no peace, that people were being murdered in vastly greater numbers than before the peace process began, became just a distraction. It would be about as logical for Roosevelt to say on December 8th, 1941 that, "We can't let the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor distract us from making a just and lasting peace with the Japanese." This had the unfortunate effect of making the Hebrew word "Shalom," "Peace," no longer associated with calm and tranquility, but with some sort of warped and doomed scheme which cost Israeli lives and produced only despair. Strangely, as it became more and more obvious that Arafat and the Palestinians were preparing for war, those who had subscribed to the peace process built it up to be something greater and greater. While Arafat was videotaped giving blood-curdling screams to mass rallies in Gaza for "Jihad!" the Labor Party was busy dropping its opposition to a Palestinian State, while the Israeli Army was intercepting huge shipments of illegal arms crossing into Palestinian areas, Peres was opening the Middle East Center for Peace Research.Today, now that their actions have resulted in a war, the left has taken the tack of supporting a withdrawal to the 1967 border, which raises the question: why? A partial withdrawal would seem more logical. Of course, Israel has to get out of heavily populated areas to avoid becoming an apartheid state, but that's exactly what it did a decade ago, and now 99% of the Palestinians live under the full control of Yassir Arafat or whichever local warlord is running the show in their area. So why withdraw to the green line? After all, the national consensus since 1967 has been that, since these lands were used as a staging point for two massive invasions of the country in 1948 and 67, and since almost every military expert unhesitantly says that retaining some of these lands is an absolute strategic necessity, and since most of the West Bank is unpopulated, open land, what is so holy about the green line? It is not even an international border, just a cease-fire line with no international recognition. This was done at the insistence of the Kingdom of Jordan in 1948 which believed that it would soon be able to conquer more land from Israel and thus did not want to set the borders in stone just yet.What the green line really symbolizes for the left is a return to the womb. "Withdraw from the territories, return to ourselves," reads the new left-wing bumper sticker, and this is quite telling. Israel before 1967 was a different sort of country. The Socialist Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) secular minority had control of virtually all aspects of the government, from the labor unions and the hospitals to the military and the media, since they had gotten here first and built these institutions. After 1967, Israel began the gradual process of desocialization, decentralization, and free-market reform, a process which is still continuing today, and the left began to lose its sole control of the various organs of government. Today, Israel is a much more open and democratic society, and the Socialist left is in despair as its power continues to be redistributed in a more equitable and democratic manner among the religious and Sephardim (Jews of Middle Eastern descent.) Likewise, the settlements before 1967 were largely built by the Labor activists, whereas those after 1967 were built by the right and by the religious. This change was indicative of the decline of the left, and is why the settlements are so hated and scorned by the left above all else. I believe that the left correctly views the 1967 military victory as the beginning of the end of their unilateral hold on power, and therefore they subconsciously desire a reversal of this victory in order to regain their previous glory, hence the slogan, "Withdraw from the territories, return to ourselves." (to power.) Similarly, the destruction of the post-1967 settlements, all of them, is the destruction of the enormous physical accomplishments of the Israeli right. Likewise, Israel lost the sympathy of the world in 1967 when it ceased being viewed as a tiny country and became seen as a military goliath. Perhaps, then, if Israel puts itself in a completely indefensible position, living in constant terror of yet another Arab invasion, then it will regain the status of a tiny Jewish David versus the Arab Goliath?The truth is that it won't, that history has no "reverse" gear. Socialism is a proven economic failure, government bureaucratic control only hurts the economy. The right will never disappear, and the country is becoming more democratic by the hour. European sympathy for Israel before 1967 was as much a function of European guilt over the Holocaust as anything else, and Europe is now seized in a tantrum of violent anti-Semitism, so regaining international sympathy is out of the question. The clock can't be turned back, and the idea that it can is just another nostalgic illusion.When the war started, these psychological illusions came crashing down like any fictitious construct of human fantasy, and most Israelis have now faced up to the fact that their neighbors haven't changed and that the "Iron Wall" of impermeable defense coupled with strong retaliation is really the only recourse Israel has to terror. Peres and some of his friends, however, still haven't gotten it. Some day, it's going to hit him that pseudo-Communist theories about "a world without borders" and the evil of nationalism are wrong (in his biography, he boasts of having courted his wife by reading passages from Karl Marx's "Das Kapital.") Some day, Peres is going to realize that our cultural and religious distinctiveness is a source of pride, strength, and genius, not shame. Reality always breaks down the walls eventually, and the longer one waits the harder it hurts. It's going to happen to Peres and the authors of Oslo as well, but I wouldn't want to be in the same room when it does.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

The Religious-Secular Split

Rather than bring national unity, the current conflict seems to be exacerbating the problems within the Secular-Religious divide. While there are many shades and forms of religious observance, there are basically three Jewish religious philosophies in Israel: secular, Religious Zionist, and Haredi. The secular Jews do not believe in G-d or Torah, and therefore view all religion as nonsense. They tend to identify with the strict secularity and separation of Church and state of Europeans in their world outlook, rather than embracing the agnostic but respectful attitude towards religion which most secular Americans seem to have. The Religious Zionists, who wear knit, colored yarmulkes believe that the Israel is a Jewish State only as much as we make it one. I.e., to fulfill religious obligations is still a must, but they believe that the creation of the State of Israel should be taken as a religious omen, and that the religious Jews should work within the system to make the State more Jewish. While Secular Zionists were at the forefront of the pre-1967 settlement drive, the Religious Zionists took the lead after 1967. Meanwhile the Haredim (plural of Haredi), who wear black hats and suits, who were originally opposed to statehood, are becoming more and more involved in the government to obtain funds for Yeshivas and draft religious legislation, but do not serve in the army nor do they view the state as being particularly Jewish. Of course, these are general trends, and there are plenty of right-wing secular Jews and Haredim living in the settlements, and plenty of left-wing Religious Zionists (including the speaker of the Knesset) who advocate withdrawal. This week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Knesset must legislate an end to the Haredi draft deferment soon.

Today, the “debate” is continuing about what kind of State Israel is going to be. The problem is that the political leaders of these different ideologies are more interested in grandstanding and making rhetorical statements than reaching an agreement on how to live because each group is convinced it will win in the end. The Secular Jews are convinced that the Religious will “wake up” and see how silly their religion is, and the Religious Jews are convinced that the Secular Jews will “wake up” and see how empty and meaningless non-religious life is. The main fight is between the Haredim and the Secular Jews, with Religious Zionists taking flak from both sides. The problem has become so great that some of the largest parties on the left, Shinui and Meretz, state as their primary goal, “To fight the Haredim.” However, if one could get a Haredi and secular Jew to hammer out a conversation, it would look something like this:

Secular: You Haredim are all crazy. You have been sitting around studying Torah and praying in your Yeshivas for 2000 years and what exactly did you accomplish? You sat there praying your hearts out for a return to the Land of Israel with all your souls, and you got nothing. When we secular Jews decided to start up a country, we took action. It only took us 50 years from the first Zionist Congress in 1898 until we founded an independent Jewish State in 1948.
Haredi: So you think that this is a Jewish State? And what exactly makes this a Jewish State? After all, Israeli Law is based on Turkish and British law. You don’t even have to be Jewish to be a citizen here. We have the Torah. The Torah gives us a very clear guideline as to how to run a country. We have thousands of years of legal experience and precedent according to Jewish law. We have been running our own affairs according to the Torah just fine for the last four thousand years. We don’t need your state, thank you very much. We would be just as happy to live under the British as under you.
Secular: This is a Jewish State because it is a democracy and the majority of the people living here are Jewish. We share a culture and a history together. What makes an Italian state Italian or a British state British? They live together and share one national identity and history.
Haredi: And without Torah, what, exactly, do Israelis share in common? We have lived apart for 2,000 years, with very little contact between the different branches. Yemenite, French, Moroccan, Indian, Polish, Argentine, and American Jews have absolutely nothing in common except that which is contained in the Torah: language (Hebrew), history (the Bible), food (kosher), and Jewish Law.
Secular: We share a history of persecution for our beliefs.
Haredi: Beliefs that you do not believe in.
Secular: Take a look at America. They are a nation of immigrants that shares a common national identity even though they come from different countries and backgrounds all over the world. We live here now, what’s the difference?
Haredi: The difference is that you call yourself a Jewish state. If you just wanted this place to be a nation of immigrants, then why aren’t you living in Manhattan? It’s a lot less trouble than here.
Secular: We need a place for Jews to run to when they are persecuted, a homeland.
Haredi: A lot of good that’s done. This is the only country in the world where non-Jews can kill you for being Jewish, and the rest of the world is cheering them on.
Secular: Well, I don’t see you helping with that. Why won’t you go into the Army if you’re so worried? I have to send my sons and daughters into the Army and sit at home and worry every night whether they are going to make it back. I don’t see you taking any risks or making any major contribution.
Haredi: We learn in Yeshiva day and night. This is our contribution. The “Jewish State” would have no reason to continue existing if there was no learning in the Yeshivas, if nobody was keeping the faith alive. We contribute spiritually and you contribute physically.
Secular: Well, I manage a grocery store, and nobody would be able to eat if there weren’t grocery stores, yet I had to do my army service and I get called up for a month of reserve duty every year and I have to worry about my kids. The country can’t exist without automobile mechanics, engineers, sales clerks, steel workers, and house painters. If we all said that our work was too important and refused to go into the army, the state would have been destroyed long ago. I’m not asking you not to learn in Yeshiva, I’m asking you why you can’t take a three-year break and help out with the country.
Haredi: Because the army is a corrupting influence. The army is full of promiscuity, drug use, and misbehavior. Half of our boys wouldn’t be able to stay religious in the Army.
Secular: Then why don’t you do what the religious Zionists did and set up a Haredi unit in the army where you can serve and still live according to your faith?
Haredi: And look what happens to them. Many religious Zionists simply stop being religious altogether when they go into the Army. We can’t afford that! We will never be like the religious Zionists because they follow Rabbi Cook, whose teachings we believe to be inferior. In spite of this, we did set up a Haredi unit.
Secular: Yes, but almost nobody goes into it. The Religious Zionists are drafted. They don’t have a choice.
Haredi: Well, why aren’t you complaining about the Israeli Arabs who are also exempted from the draft?
Secular: Are you crazy!? If we handed them guns, they would immediately turn on us. As a matter of fact, there are plenty of very loyal Arabs in the army from among the Circasians, Druze, and Bedouin. There is even an Arab General. But this is a Jewish State, and we know we can trust you not to turn around with your gun and start mowing innocent people down. I have seen no effort on the part of the Haredim to work out a solution, to try to figure out a way around this impasse, only to resist and obstruct any attempt at bringing the Haredim into society.
Haredi: But this is not a Jewish State and we don’t recognize it as such, therefore we have no desire to join this society. I have about as much desire to serve in the Israeli army as I do in the Polish or Spanish Army.
Secular: Well, you certainly seem selective as to when you recognize the state and when you don’t. You may not recognize the state when it comes to Army service, but you do when it comes to receiving government funds for your Yeshivas, you don’t recognize the state when it comes to obeying the rulings of the Supreme Court relating to draft deferments and separation of religion and state, but you recognize the state enough to vote and pass religious legislation banning the sale of pork or mandating that places of business be closed on Shabbat.
Haredi: Remember, if it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t be here. The only reason that there are Jews today and we didn’t assimilate into Greece, Rome, Europe, and the Arab world is that we kept our beliefs and our careful practice of Torah. If we don’t continue learning and doing the commandments then Israel will turn into something totally unrecognizable. It is just as easy to assimilate inside of Israel. Already, if we look around, this place looks more American than Jewish. There are McDoalds opening up all over the country, we drink American Pepsi and you watch American programs on television. If we don’t keep our religion, what will Israel be except a more dangerous and poor version of America?
Secular: Well, I don’t believe and I don’t want to be religious, and you are just taking my money and ordering me to be more religious while refusing to contribute anything tangible to Israeli society and sending my sons out to die for you.

Another problem within the religious-secular divide is the Religious control over civil matters such as weddings, divorces, and burials. Upon independence, it was decided that because of Israel’s sharp variety of religions and traditions, with Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Bahai to name a few, each religion would form a religious council and each council would govern the civil affairs of its own adherents. The Jewish state religious authorities are known as the “Rabbinut.”

Meanwhile, in America, the Jewish people divided into four groups; Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and unaffiliated. The Reform and Conservative, while making up the bulk of the American Jewish population, decided that Jewish law is not obligatory and can be rewritten to suit the needs of the day, while the Orthodox believe that Jewish law is not something which human beings are capable of rewriting any more than the laws of physics can be rewritten. While the Orthodox consider Reform and Conservative adherents to still be Jewish, since one can never “escape” from being Jewish, they nevertheless do not consider Reform or Conservative to be authentic forms of Judaism.

These divisions are all theoretical until it comes to issues such as conversions and marriages, and divorces. According to the traditional (Orthodox) interpretation of Jewish law which has been in effect for about 3,000 years, conversion to Judaism requires three things: 1) Immersion in a ritual bath (Mikveh) 2) acceptance of the entire Torah and all Jewish law as obligatory and 3) circumcision. Because the Reform do not believe that Jewish law is obligatory, Reform converts do not fulfill the second requirement, acceptance of the entire Torah. The Conservative ideology of being able to rewrite the law is viewed by the Orthodox as a decision not to follow the law, since the law never really changes. Therefore, when someone goes through a Conservative conversion, he also doesn’t fulfill the second requirement, acceptance of the entire Torah. The conversion must also be carried out by three religiously observant Jews. Because the Reform rabbis do not observe Shabbat, and because the conservative Rabbis have “rewritten” many laws over the last 100 years and do not follow the traditional interpretations, these rabbis are not considered to be observant by the Orthodox. For all these reasons Reform and Conservative conversions are not considered valid conversions, and someone who has gone through them is not considered to be truly Jewish according to the Orthodox.

It is my personal experience that most Reform and Conservative Jews do not necessarily believe in or even know the minutia of the differences between the philosophies. The synagogue fulfills a social niche as a place of gathering and solidarity for many American Jews. In Israel, there is no need for such a function because just living in a Jewish state is enough of an act of group solidarity for most people, and there are no friendly Gentiles against whom to define one’s self. Therefore the Reform and Conservative, while making up the bulk of American Jewry, are a tiny minority in Israel.

However, it is now all coming to a head as the Israeli Supreme Court last week ruled that Jews who have been through a non-Orthodox conversion can be registered as Jews by the state for the purpose of census and statistics. This has no effect, however, on the civil system whereby marriages and divorces are controlled by the Orthodox Rabbinut. Because Israel’s definition of who a Jew is (one Jewish grandparent, married to a Jew, or went through any type of conversion) is different from the definition of who is a Jew provided by the Orthodox Rabbinut (one with a Jewish mother or who went through an Orthodox conversion,) hundreds of thousands of people now live in Israel but are not able to marry, divorce, or be buried in a Jewish cemetery by the religious authorities. Many of these Gentiles want to go through conversions to show solidarity with the country, but do not want to keep all of the commandments, so they go through non-Orthodox conversions. However, when it comes time to marry, the Rabbinut will not recognize their conversions and therefore will not help them, and they are left with no one to officiate their weddings. Most simply fly to the nearby island Cypress to get married as Israel, like all countries, is required to recognize marriages performed outside of the country.

There is much talk of beginning a non-religious civil service to take care of these problems. This would, however, generate a new problem, a problem which the Reform and Conservative will soon face in America as well. Every time a sect of Judaism modifies the practice of conversions and marriages, the adherents of that sect will eventually not be considered Jewish. Christianity was originally a sect of Judaism, with anybody who wanted to convert to Christianity having to go through a full Jewish conversion. Later, Paul modified the conversion process, requiring only Baptism (ritual immersion,) not circumcision and acceptance of the Torah. Immediately after this change, it was still known who was Jewish and who had gone through a Christian conversion. After a few generations, however, it was no longer remembered who had converted and who had married, and, since there was major doubt as to who was, in fact, Jewish, anyone Christian who wanted to become a religious Jew or have a Jewish marriage had to go through an arduous conversion process lasting several years.

The same danger faces Israel today. In a few generations, Israeli and American Jewish society may very well split into two different groups, one group of Jews who have gone through marriages and divorces by the Orthodox authorities, and another group of Reform, Conservative, and secular Jews whose status as far as Jewish law is concerned is uncertain, and who will have to go through conversion to marry into the Orthodox Jews.
It must also be remembered, however, that this may not be such an issue in America as Reform, Conservative, and secular Jews are disappearing at breakneck speed, with a 58% intermarriage rate, virtually none of the children of intermarried couples being raised as Jews, and with birth rates which are well below replacement anyway. Meanwhile, the birthrates among Orthodox Jews are astronomical (Haredi families with ten or more children are commonplace,) and Orthodox intermarriage is at about 1-2%. While the Orthodox only comprise about 20% of American Jewish households today, this number is sure to rise very quickly in the near future.

In Israel, a similar situation exists, with secular families having one to two children, religious Zionists four to six, and Haredi families, by conservative estimates, an average of 7.5. This is counterbalanced by immigration statistics, which show hundreds of thousands of largely secular, intermarried, assimilated people moving from economically depressed countries like Russia and Argentina to Israel. 70% of new immigrants are not Jewish by anybody’s definition, including their own. Assimilated American Jews will gradually lose their cultural and religious distinctiveness and "disappear" off the radar screein into the general American society. In Israel, however, there is no "greater society" into which to assimilate, and the Jewish people may very well split into two distinct groups, one of which does not consider the other to be Jewish. The secular-religious split, which was much less important 50 years ago, is now becoming one of the dominant issues in Israeli politics. The face of Israel will look very different in another 30 years.

Friday, February 22, 2002

There Will Never Be A Palestinian State

As I look out my window over the dusty desert city of Be’er Sheva, I try to imagine what life would be like if the Palestinians could live their dream. What would life be like if the Palestinian Authority were to achieve its declared goal of eradicating the State of Israel? What would post-Jewish Palestine look like?

I imagine the crisp, beautiful Jerusalem-stone faced buildings covered in graffiti and portraits of suicide bombers. Yitzhak Rager Street, Be’er Sheva’s main boulevard, is pockmarked and covered with potholes with burned-out cars left for dead on the curb. The warm desert breeze blows heaps of garbage through the main intersection. The scent of urine and excrement wafts through Be’er Sheva as chickens pluck through the piles of refuse for food. Various Palestinian warlords have taken control of the different neighborhoods and are constantly engaged in street-battles and turf wars. Neighborhood Alef, where Hamas took control after the Jews were exiled, is constantly shelling neighborhood Gimmel, where Islamic Jihad has taken control, and Fatah is trying to hold it’s own in the stronghold of the Old City. Teenage punks with jeans and AK-47s man checkpoints between each neighborhood, collecting tolls from the beaten up vehicles that pass through. The beautiful Be’er Sheva Government Square with its handcrafted stonework and modern architecture is used as a place for three-minute trials followed by public torture and execution. The State of Palestine will be just another Arab dictatorship like Libya and Iraq, it will be a destination for hijacked airliners and a source of endless terror. The State of Palestine is going to be the type of country that the United States ends up either invading or bombing from time to time.

But that’s not going to happen. There will never be a truly sovereign Palestinian State because every trapping of sovereignty which the Palestinians attain is immediately put to use in an all-out war against Israel. A truly sovereign state has control over its borders. However, during the last ten years while the Palestinians had this control, it was used to smuggle mortars, missiles, and rockets, which are now being used against Israel. Israel therefore had to reassert control over all borders and seaports to protect the lives of its citizens. A truly sovereign state has control over its budget, but during the last ten years the Palestinian warlords have embezzled and stolen virtually all of the hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid earmarked for building a country. Today, the United States and even Saudi Arabia have stopped making payments until the Palestinian Authority makes its budget transparent. A truly sovereign state has control over its airspace, but today, because of unrelenting terrorism, Israel has had to violate this airspace almost daily to strike at the terrorist infrastructure. A truly sovereign state has control over its water resources, but today Israel is being forced to reassert control over these resources as the Palestinian Authority intentionally dumps toxic wastes and raw sewage into Israel’s major waterways. In a sovereign state, citizens have freedom of movement, yet Israel has been forced to set up checkpoints throughout the territories to apprehend terrorists and prevent the movement of Qassam missiles. A sovereign state has the ability to make alliances, yet the Palestinians have allied themselves with Iran, forcing the United States to effectively cut relations and thus delegitimize the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinians will never have true sovereignty because it simply doesn’t interest them. The Palestinians (or Syrians as they were called before 1948 and Egyptians and Jordanians as they were called from 1948 until 1967) have, in fact, repeatedly and violently rejected sovereignty at every opportunity. Four times in the last half century have they been offered sovereignty, by the Peel Commission in 1937, the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947, the Palestinian Autonomy Clause of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt in 1978, and the sovereignty offer of Camp David II in 2000, and each time they have reacted violently. No counter-offers or negotiations, only terror and war. Palestinian Nationalism is the only movement of national liberation whose goal, as is proven by both word and deed, is simply the destruction of another state; the State of Israel.

Thursday, February 21, 2002


My former Y. came back from his trip to Hungary and decided to drop by Be’er Sheva to say hello a while ago. "Ephraim, It’s good to see you man!" he exclaimed giving me a powerful bear hug. I asked him what his plans are, and he announced that he was going back to Hungary to live as soon as possible.
I was shocked to say the least, because Y. is not the sort to leave. He’s no Oslo fan, he’s no devote of Shimon Peres, Y. is hardcore right wing. In the last elections, in the middle of the peace process, he voted for Moledet, the party of the late Rehavem Ze’evi, the party which is now advocating forcible transfer (expulsion) of the Arabs. "It’s all ours," he tells me, "every last inch of it, but I don’t want to live in it." When I ask him what attracts him to Hungary, he just says, "It’s peaceful." Not because Hungary isn’t at war, he explains, but just the atmosphere. People don’t yell at him all the time, they aren’t on the horn in a split second at a traffic jam, and they are all polite.
"In America, you get a better package," elaborates another friend who is moving to New York. "You can see that the people on the streets are calm, everybody is easy going, nobody has any problems." I am still trying to believe that it’s New York City that he’s describing.
"Living in the Diaspora was the best thing the Jews ever had, we were stupid to give it up," declares another acquaintance of mine. When I mention the Holocaust and all the horrors of the past 2,000 years of exile, he replies, "Yeah, but except for those the Diaspora was really great. I’m just looking for a girlfriend with a foreign passport. The shop is closing down and it’s time to get out." When I point to the university across the street, and the massive construction projects going on there, when I mention the million Russian immigrants who came in the last decade, when I point out that the Diaspora Jewish community is, at least statistically, experiencing rapid death, he just shrugs his shoulders. "Who cares."
All this talk makes me curious about my other friends. I ask my roommate G. if he would leave if he had the chance, "BETACH!" of course, he replies, "What is there to look for here? The only reason I’m not there right now is because I can’t afford the plane ticket. In America there is no unemployment, there is no crime, there are no taxes, there are no wars, everything is perfect." Would he marry someone Jewish? "It’s a new generation, who cares."
Living in Israel is easier said than done. It’s easy to dream or pray for the "Return of the Exiles," quite a different thing to try to live it. There is, of course, the constant state of warfare, the knowledge that millions upon millions of Muslims are out there dedicating their lives to destroying you, the three years of active duty military service combined with another two years of reserve that every Israeli has to do, and the terror. "It’s just going to go on and on forever. Everybody knows it, even Peres. They lose every single war, they lose more and more land every time, but they just don’t care, they keep attacking," my roommate explains.
But these are almost external things for most people. Army service can be fun and rewarding, you can get reserve duty over with, terrorism isn’t particularly dangerous, at least statistically. It’s the daily grind here that’s really a killer.
The basic fact is that it’s possible to live, but it seems impossible to get ahead. Each paycheck goes to pay last month’s rent and groceries. The banks don’t give interest, and even if they did, most people don’t have any money to put in them. You can tread water, but you can’t swim anywhere. A new car costs $50,000 minimum. Everybody is heavily in debt. If the average Israeli took the sum total of his income minus his debts, he would be dead five years before he was born. Whereas a tenured professor in the United States would make enough for an enormous house and two or three cars, the Israeli professors I know make do with a four bedroom apartment and an old Japanese station wagon if they’re lucky. The joke among American immigrants is, "How do you make a small fortune in Israel? Arrive with a large one."
And even if an Israeli does end up somehow getting rich here, he simply won’t have the time to enjoy his wealth. Israelis work six days a week, and up to twelve hours per day. It is possible to live the "good life" in Israel if you’re prepared to die at 55 of a stress-induced heart attack. Most middle-class Americans work eight hour days, and after six it’s free time all night long. That plus the two-day weekend means there’s even time to be bored!
Not only do Israelis make a bit less, but everything is much more expensive. Of course, you can buy the cheap Israeli stuff at the shuk, but it all falls apart. I learned the hard way that it’s much better to buy American stuff. "Even the cars they sell here are lousy," says my cousin Rafi, who is an insurance broker, "Even the exact same model and the exact same make of car that they sell in America! They use lousier parts on the ones they ship here because they know that Israelis just don’t know any better and expect their cars to be falling apart all the time." A bar of deodorant costs about $7 here, while in America I can buy a four-pack for $6. When any of my relatives visit America, they always come back loaded with toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, cosmetics, clothes, even frozen meat.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the oppressive tax burden, which is needed to fund the army, immigrant absorption, the Yeshivas, the state subsistence payments to the exponentially growing and chronically unemployed Arab population, all burdens which most societies don’t have, suck the life out of the economy. God help Israel if the $3 billion per year in American military assistance aid ever stops.
Everything in life is a struggle here. Even just getting to the front of a line (a line in Israel is shaped like a triangle) you have to push. When one of my relatives had a serious medical problem, she had to go to the hospital to have an MRI scan. When she arrived, the doctor told her she wasn’t on the list and she would have to wait a few months even though she was clearly in great pain and it was an emergency. Eventually, her husband found out that he knew the plumber of the building, who threatened to cut off the water to the Magnetic Resonance Imaging department if the chief doctor didn’t admit her immediately, so he did. Two Israelis having a heated discussion sounds to most outsiders like a roomful of people screaming at each other. You feel that you have to yell at the top of your lungs just to be heard.
All of this with the feeling of being locked in a ghetto. Israel is an absolutely tiny country. No matter where you are in the country, to drive half an hour west will take you to the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, to drive half an hour to the east will land you in the prison of some third world Arab country, and now you have to be careful where you’re driving inside the country because one wrong turnoff will land you in the clutches of the Palestinian Authority. Ramallah, where the two Israelis were brutally tortured and lynched a year ago in front of the cameras by the Palestinian Authority, is a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Jerusalem. Never mind that Silwhan and East Jerusalem are only five minutes away. Sometimes, you can even just stay where you are and the suicide bombers will come to you. Tulkarm, a major Palestinian center for terrorist bombings on the Israeli city of Hadera, is only an hour away from Hadera by foot.
It all adds up to a feeling of discomfort, like the land is trying to spit you out. Every inch of territory, every shekel in the bank, every minute of sleep is a constant struggle. In order for someone to decide to live in Israel, there needs to be some sort of counterbalance to the equation to make the struggle to be worthwhile. When an Israeli can’t answer the question, "How can you stand to live in this place," then it’s only a matter of time before he leaves. Today one in nine Israelis doesn’t live in Israel.
The difference between the people who leave and those who stay is like the difference between people who love their work and those who hate it. If you have a job you hate, or you aren’t suited for, every minute seems to take an hour, every hour an eternity. Small problems become frustrating and it becomes difficult to understand new ideas. For someone who loves his job, the days fly by, and every problem is a new challenge to overcome.
The main draw to Israel today is no longer Zionism or Jewish national liberation, it’s religion. Everybody who has told me that he wants to leave is secular, everybody who has told me that he wants to stay is religious. I am yet to find an exception to this rule. While most of the immigrants of today come from Russia and other decaying countries, when these immigrants find out that I came from America, they always ask me with bewildered expressions, "Why!?" Most secular or non-Jewish Russian immigrants with whom I have spoken view Israel as a stepping-stone to greater things, a way station on the way to America. Immigrant benefits provide an education and a recognized degree which will be very useful upon arrival in the United States.
Succeeding in Israel requires a certain level of acceptance. The happy Israeli has to tell himself, "It’s okay, I’m not going to live with everything. I’ll have one car instead of two, my house will have one story instead of two, I’ll stop drinking Coca-Cola all the time and drink the lousy Israeli version." The Talmudic saying goes, "Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion."
I asked my religious roommate S. whether he could ever imagine living in the United States. He paused for a quarter second before replying, "No, never." When I mention that I will have two years of army service if I decide to make aliyah, he immediately replies, "Do it! And try to get into a combat unit. It’s hell, but the army was the best thing I ever did in my life."
When I ask the secretary at work why she moved from France, the answer is simple, "What is there in France for a Jew?"
To the proud immigrant, being poor becomes a distinction. "When I first came from Canada and married, we had nothing, and our apartment flooded every winter," my cousin tells me, "we built furniture out of scrap wood, Styrofoam, and cardboard boxes, but it was really fun!"
Emigration, known in Hebrew as "Yeridah," or "descent," is a very serious problem. Shimon Peres’ "New Middle East" philosophy, in which he attempted to turn the Middle East into a borderless common market, was supposed to be a secular remedy to the problem. Israel was to become a wealthy merchant hub, the Hong Kong of the Middle East, distributing goods and services throughout the Arab world. Even if the peace process had succeeded, the "New Middle East" wouldn’t have done anything to help with Yeridah. No matter how rich Israel becomes, the United States will always be richer. No matter how calm the situation may be between wars, there’s always another war around the corner. Yeridah takes away the best educated segment of society, it is Israel’s version of the "Brain Drain." Worse, those who leave Israel, especially the non-observant, lose the anchors of Jewish identity and face the prospect of assimilation. Those who leave may not be the idealists or the dreamers, and I may have my political differences with them, but each and every loss is an inestimable tragedy both to Israel and to them, and I for one will miss them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002


The city of Hebron has always been at the center of Jewish history. Hebron is the city where the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the matriarchs are buried. It is the city where Ruth and Jesse lived and are buried, it is the city where King David was crowned, it was the first capital of the Jewish Kingdom under King David, and it is the second holiest city of Judaism.

From the time of King David, Hebron was continuously populated with Jews. Often, throughout the eons of history, through Rome, the Byzantines, the Muslims, the Ottomans, and the British; the Jewish community would be destroyed, exiled, or killed, but there were always new volunteers to take their place. It is said that that the Jewish people still live if there is Torah study in Hebron, but in 1929, Torah study came to an abrupt end when the Muslim population rose up, killed, mutilated, and dismembered the Jews of Hebron with passive British assistance. In 1948, the city was conquered by Jordan and remained under Jordanian control until it was recaptured by Israel in 1967. On Passover of 1968, a group of eighty-eight Jews rented the Park Hotel to celebrate holiday in the holy city. When the holiday was over, they announced that they had come to reestablish the ancient Jewish community of Hebron, and were not leaving. They remained besieged in the hotel until, five months later, the government finally granted them permission to stay. Eventually, they established Kiryat Arba, which is today the Jewish suburb of Hebron. In the heart of the city, 400 Jewish settlers have repossessed the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, site of the ancient Jewish quarter, they have refurbished the Hadassah building, the hospital built with the funds from the Jewish Women’s organization, and have established several trailer homes on Tel Rumeida, the site of the ancient city itself, all amidst a hostile Arab population of 100,000.

Hebron was the first religiously motivated settlement, and it sparked a wave of similar settlements throughout Israel of Jews returning to their ancient cities out of religious conviction rather than secular ideology. For this reason, and because Hebron is the most besieged and isolated of the settlements, Hebron is something of the “capital” of the settlement movement. When a left-wing Israeli wants to talk about removing the settlements, the first word out of her mouth is Hebron. “Hebron is full of fanatics. How can we keep 400 Jews protected in a city of 100,000 Arabs forever?” When a right-wing Israeli wants to talk about keeping the settlements, the first thing out of his mouth is Hebron. “Hebron is the second holiest city of Judaism. How can you talk about giving up Hebron? You had might as well rip the Jewish Star off our flag.” It is both the most slandered and praised Jewish community on Earth, which is why I wanted to see the place for myself.

I can tell which bus is headed to Hebron without checking the number because of the obvious retrofit in response to the recent violence. The front windshield is protected by a thick wire screen; presumably to stop rocks, and the passenger windows look to be about two inches thick to stop bullets. I give the bus driver my 12 shekels and we’re off.

The bus ride from Be’er Sheva to Hebron may only an hour, but it feels like driving through the pages of History. Be’er Sheva, where the Patriarchs lived their lives, and Hebron, where they are buried, both claim the title “City of our Forefathers,” but they feel like different worlds. The Be’er Sheva of today is a modern city. Driving through the countryside, which used to belong to the tribe of Judea, we pass Bedouin villages, Jewish towns, and gentle, rolling hills. Because of the recent rains, the usually dead landscape is carpeted in thick green. Passing the city of Meitar, the bus crosses the green line into “The Territories.” There is no sign to tell you that you’re entering Shomron, but I have the map of Israel pretty well memorized and I know where we are. The gentle hills and plains suddenly give way to steeper hillsides dusted with a thin layer of grass. Everywhere are small streams, reforestation projects, and open land. There is not a soul to be seen as we drive on and on, just more and more empty land. We come to a Jewish settlement to drop off some passengers. The settlement is built into the hillside, surrounded with barbed wire. As we stop and wait for the soldiers to open the iron electronic security gate, some men walk by with hoes and pickaxes slung over their shoulders, returning from the fields. It all looks like something from a picture book of the pre-statehood pioneers.

As we continue and approach Hebron, the land becomes more and more crowded with Arab neighborhoods and settlements, built in a haphazard, unplanned style. On either side of the road are roadblocks and checkpoints to keep road clear of terrorists, and we have a military Jeep paving the way ahead of us. Eventually, we come the to Kiryat Arba, the Jewish suburb of Hebron, and pass through the iron gate and the security checkpoint. I get off the bus and ask around on how to get to the city itself, and I eventually find the front entrance to the settlement where I bump into a bunch of people waiting there who tell me I can hitch a ride with them. A minivan pulls over to the side and we all pile in, about eight of us total. We drive by the squad of soldiers standing by the entrance bundled up in flak jackets and helmets, looking for all the world like giant green cocoons with M-16s. The minivan weaves through the zig-zag of cement barricades outside the entrance, obviously designed to stop some crazed terrorist from charging a car straight through the iron gate. I look around, no military escort. I notice the five millimeter thick tinted glass-window, about as effective against bullets as saran wrap. I look around in the car, nobody holding the customary M-16. But before I have time to ask any questions, the driver takes the minivan barreling straight into the heart of Arab Hebron.

This is when I realized that the Jews of Hebron are a different breed. Throughout the country, the vast majority of people rely on the military and police for protection. All the checkpoints and border fences and bag searches are enough to stop most of the terrorists, and if anybody gets through, well, it’s just a risk you’re going to take in life. Not so in Hebron. As the car zigs and zags through Arab Hebron, I’m too surprised to say anything. The buildings are covered in Arabic graffiti with spray-painted portraits of the Dome of the Rock, Mecca, and some faces (suicide bombers, I imagine, although there’s no way to know.) The streets are full of gangs of Arab men, sitting on the street corners, mothers walking home with their children, kids playing soccer in the dusty unpaved road.

From what I have read about the community here, I had expected to find in Hebron a besieged and terrified Jewish community, shuttled from place to place by armored convoy, always just waiting for the Arab population to get angry and attack and kill them, like in 1929. I expected to find the Jewish quarter surrounded by twenty-foot reinforced concrete walls. I expected that no Arabs would be allowed into the Jewish section, and no Jews into the Arab section, like in the old city of Jerusalem. But when we got to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, we came to checkpoint and passed into the Jewish quarter, and it was full of Arabs and Jews trading and doing business. When I got off the van, there were several soldiers standing around, but none of the people seemed at all worried.

Walking into the Avraham Avinu neighborhood was like walking into some propaganda video trying to get you to move in. An old, teacher stood under a tree reciting Tehillim (Psalms) while ten children sat on the bench and repeated after him. The yeshiva students were running to and fro getting ready for Shabbat, people were taking groceries home. There are the Carelbacher religious Zionists, with their long beards and peaceful expressions, the women with their long dresses, who could all be mistaken for counter-culture hippies. I notice a plaque on the wall informing me that this is the site of the murder of Shalhevet Pass, a baby who was shot to death in her mother’s arms by an Arab sniper at the beginning of the conflict. I look up and can see the hundreds of Arab houses in the Abu Snineh hills, and I wonder if my head is in anybody’s crosshairs right now, but nobody else seems concerned. Two soldiers are playing tag with some children right here in the open, the old teacher is still reciting Tehillim in the open, and nobody seems at all worried. It suddenly strikes me; these people are fearless! It’s as if some psychological surgeon opened up their souls, made a few clean incisions, and pulled all the fear right out.

I find my way the Yeshiva where I’ll be staying and meet some other people who have also come in for Shabbat. I’m the only one without a black hat, but I’m used to that by now. Two guys have come in from B’nei Brak, the super religious neighborhood outside of Tel Aviv, and the rest are Lubavitcher Chassidim from English-speaking countries who are studying at a Yeshiva in Tzfat, way in the north. We all walk together to the Machpelah, the Tomb of the Patriarchs for Shabbat. I find a spot to stand, Abraham’s tomb is ten feet in front of me, Sarah’s is ten feet behind me, and I am charged with electricity, as if I am the conducting wire of a spiritual current flowing between them, even thousands of years after their deaths. We proceed with Kabbalat Shabbat prayers, singing, and learning, and the electric feeling gets stronger and stronger. We feel an overwhelming sense of peace, and I begin to understand what draws people here.

We are jarred when the loudspeakers cry out, “Alaaaaahuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu Achbar!” I am rudely reminded that this site is also holy to Muslims and there is a prayer rotation. I swear I can hear the Muslim prayer leader giggling through the microphone at having interrupted the Jews. The three hundred or so Jews packed into the cave begin singing loudly enough to shake the building to its foundation. I imagine Jacob is lifting an eyelid in his tomb.

For dinner, I am invited to a family in Tel Rumeida, on top of the ruins of the ancient city of Hebron. A single road running through the heart of the Abu Snineh hills, which is a crowded Arab neighborhood, connects each of the different Jewish locales of Hebron; The Machpelah, the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, the Hadassah building, and Tel Rumeidah. Each turn-off from the main road is barricaded. There are steel screens attached to the buildings spanning the width of the street and reaching a height of two stories, obviously to protect the soldiers from rocks and firebombs. At every intersection is a sandbag foxhole; on top of the buildings at every street corner is a watchtower. One or two soldiers man each of these positions. At regular intervals down the length of the street are rows of sandbags, which look like fallback positions. At one point as we hike up the hill we come to a strip of the road where there are no buildings on one side of the street to block the view, but the vista is ruined by six-foot high cement blocks. This side of the street faces Area A, Palestinian controlled territory, and is lined with cement barricades, “To protect us from snipers,” explains my host. As we walk along the street, there is a gap in the protective barricades. “This,” my host tells me, “is the part where we walk faster.” He calls my attention to a particularly heavily fortified turn-off, which, he informs me, is the border with Area A. Most of the buildings on either side of the street are populated by Arab families.

Eventually, we reach Tel Rumeida. The “housing” here is really just maybe ten trailers. A steel framework has been constructed to support their weight, and the trailers are stacked one on top of the other. After the meal, as we stand in the kitchen, I can see the beautiful vista of the city lights out the window. In the middle of our conversation about his family, I notice a chunk is missing out of his kitchen cupboard before realizing it’s actually a hole. Then I see another hole, and another. Making careful mental measurements, I notice that some of the holes line up with holes in the wall.
“Is this what I think it is?””Yeah, sometimes we take fire from Area A.”
“When did all this happen?”
“Each bullet hole has a different date.”
“Was anybody hurt?” I ask, sticking my pinky into one of the holes.
“No, but that one right there happened when I was in the dining room.”
“Are you at all worried, what with the situation the way it has been for the last year?”
“No, it was just as easy to get killed here twenty years ago as it is today.”

The Jews of Hebron have a simple strategy for survival: Do unto your neighbor as he does unto you. There is no cheek-turning here. Many of the people here are followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was something of the Malcolm X of the Jews. He began the JDL, the Jewish Defense League, in the United States as a gang to retaliate against attacks on Jews. He eventually moved to Israel and started the “Kach” party, which advocates immediate forcible expulsion of all Arabs not willing to accept Jewish sovereignty, which is pretty much all of them. He actually won a seat in the Knesset before his party was declared illegal. He was assassinated while giving a speech in New York City in 1990, but judging by the graffiti around here, his ideology is still alive and well. I notice a pile of the newest bumper stickers on the table. It is a modification of the old bumper sticker “Ain Aravim, Ain Piguim,” “No Arabs, No Attacks.” The supreme court declared the bumper sticker to be incitement to violence and banned it last week, so the new ones have the word Ain crossed out and the word Yesh written over it, so it now reads, “Yesh Aravim, Yesh Piguim,” “There are Arabs, there are attacks.” Rabbi Kahane may be dead and gone, but his ideology is still alive and well. Everywhere the Arabs spray paint “Jews out!” or “Death to Jews,” the Kahanists spray paint over them the “Kach” logo, a clenched fist superposed over a Jewish star, or simply “Death to Arabs.” The Arab declarations that Hebron is an all-Arab city are mirrored by the giant Hebrew poster hanging from the barricade, “Hebron is all ours”

While the rest of the country is fighting the war physically, the Hebronites are fighting it psychologically. In most places, Israelis take what precautions they can to protect themselves. If a place is unsafe, people don’t go there. If there is a danger, you carry a gun. The Hebron Jews walk around with their heads high, totally unintimidated. While walking back downhill the next day, an Arab kid of about eight starts hurling insults and stones at a Jewish kid of the same age. Now normally, a Jewish Israeli would back off or maybe get some help, but this kid just picks up stones and starts hurling them right back. Anything the Arabs do, the Jews do right back, they don’t wait for the police to get involved. The Meir Kahane book I read last night, Referendum or Revolution, declares that if a government is unable to protect its citizens than the citizens are required to take matters into their own hands. Hebron’s Arab mayor was assassinated years ago, and there have been several attempts, some successful some not, to bomb Arab busses. I am scared to know what happened after Shalhevet Pass was killed by that sniper. They walk in the open davka, specifically to prove that they aren’t afraid, and it works. This is the first place I’ve been where Jews and Arabs interact, and the Arabs don’t follow you around and stare you down like they want to kill you. We go about our business and they go about theirs. Something tells me that if the army were to withdraw from this place, these people would do just fine by themselves.

Inevitably, when living this close to the edge, some people fall over. One morning in March 1994, a man by the name of Baruch Goldstein calmly walked into the Arab section of the Machpelah, pulled out an uzi, and started mowing down the worshiping Arabs. He was the Jewish version of the suicide bomber. 

On Shabbat day, I stayed with another family in Tel Rumeida. The husband is an “Anglo” (English speaking) immigrant, so we are able to understand each other quite well. After the meal, he walks outside and briefly talks with a soldier before returning. A giant armored truck which looks like a gasoline carrier drives by and sets up at the end of the street. He informs me that there was an attempted stabbing earlier today, so they are going to set up a fire hose at the end of the street and blast anyone who comes near. A fifteen year old Arab girl had attacked a Jewish woman walking back from synagogue with a fifteen-centimeter knife, in full view of a soldier. The soldier froze up and didn’t know what to do, so the woman pulled out a revolver and stopped the girl, who ran away before being caught.

“This whole place is built on murder,” he mutters. I ask him to explain. “We can only build after there has been a murder, because that’s when the opposition in the Knesset is lowest. When the original families took over the Beit Hadassah building, the Knesset couldn’t decide whether to let them stay or not. For five months, they were besieged in there until an Arab murdered five Jewish children who were playing outside the building. When that happened, the resistance in the Knesset was low enough that we would pass a bill allowing us to stay. We didn’t get permission to rebuild the Avraham Avinu neighborhood until there was a murder.” He points outside to a series of cement pillars, “That’s going to be our new home, but we couldn’t get the permit until an Arab broke into one of these trailers and murdered our Rabbi.” I remember when Shavhelet Pass was killed by that sniper, her parents refused to bury her until the Army retook the Abu Snineh hills. I am overcome with the eerie feeling that if I get killed here, there’s going to be a bill in the Knesset tomorrow to get another building, that if I die, it’s one more point for Hebron, that giving one’s life is expected.

After Shabbat, I am sitting by the bus stop waiting to get back to Kiryat Arba and catch a connection to Be’er Sheva. I am not a Hebron Jew, so I try to position myself next to the bus stop so that I am out of range of snipers. The sound of a huge explosion reverberates throughout the valley. The next day I read in the news that a roadside bomb had gone off as a convoy of soldiers passed, but nobody was hurt. The bus pulls up and I get the last seat, sitting next to an old Sephardi man, who immediately begins grilling me on how my Shabbat was, “Why are you sitting here? You should have sat somewhere else! There’s no room because we’re both fat! HAHAHA! How was your Shabbat? Did you pray at Machpelah? Did you like the food? What do you do? Oh, you’re an engineer? Are you married? Would you like to meet my daughter?” I politely explain that I’m going back to America in three weeks and would need more time than that to marry his daughter, and I hop off the bus in Kiryat Arba. The schedule says that the next bus isn’t coming for another hour and a half, so I start walking around the town. I eventually come to a long garden with benches and a path, lit by floodlights. I walk down the garden to the end and see a three foot by three foot by six foot rectangular stone. It must be a grave! I wonder who it is, someone pious? It must have been someone exceedingly righteous to merit having an entire garden built for him. As I come closer, I see that the grave is covered in small rocks. It is Jewish custom to place a small rock on the tombstone when visiting the dead, and so many of them indicates that this must be someone very special to have so many visitors. I bend over and read the inscription, “Baruch Goldstein.” I jump back! I’m not quite sure what to do with myself, and I just stand there numbly thinking about what I heard today.

“This whole place is built on murder.” A memory comes back to me of what my cousin told me about the Independence War. I had wanted to hear some stories about the war, so I asked him what he had been through. He just looked out the window wistfully and told me, “I was seventeen years old. My entire generation died.” I didn’t get it then, but looking at the Jews of Hebron, I get it now. These people know what happened to all the previous generations of Jews who came to Hebron, how they always ended up getting killed by the Arabs, and they are prepared to risk it all, to put everything on the line, to preserve this place. And, looking at Baruch Goldstein’s grave, I see how far it can push people.

I suddenly become very frustrated, as if some of Baruch Goldstein’s energy is still in the air. I feel my hands clenching like the clenched fist over the Jewish star in the Kach graffiti, and my mind fills with questions. Is this really what it takes? Why do we have to go through this? Why do we have to live next to people so full of hate for us that the only way to survive is to become them? Why can’t they just accept a Jewish minority the way Israel can accept an Arab minority? What is it about us that makes them so murderous? And why do we have do give so much? Nobody is asking the French to leave Paris, yet driving the Jews from the holy city of Hebron is considered justice! Why is it that, when somebody says “Jewish Settlers,” it’s always pronounced with a sneer, as if we’re all legitimate targets? Nobody ever asks what the “root causes” of Baruch Goldstein’s act of terror are, and yet they’re crawling all over themselves to declare in disinterested voices that terrorism against Jews is bad, and with passionate, angry voices about the horrible injustice that has been wrought upon the Palestinians that they should be forced to live next to a bunch of Jews! And what makes us so evil for wanting to live in our own home? And what gives everybody else the right to tell us that our home is not our home, it’s somebody else’s? And why do we have to be so perfect all the time? When the Palestinians gained control of Joseph’s tomb in Schem (Nablus,) they immediately gutted, destroyed, and burned it, yet when the Jews took control of the Machpelah, they worked out a time sharing arrangement so that Muslims and Jews could both pray there together, and yet the Jews are considered evil for being there! How outrageous! Why is it that we try so hard to be perfect, and the world seems to just hate us all the more for being so?

I’m not even close to being able to answer these questions, so I hop on the bus and head back to Be’er Sheva. We pass the green line, out of the territories, and the army escort heads back. Quiet, modern Be’er Sheva. No barbed wire, no soldiers in flak jackets and helmets, no armored personnel carriers, no “Death to Arabs” graffiti, no checkpoints, no explosions, no terrorist attacks in Be’er Sheva for the fifty three years of statehood. It seems so calm, but the very next day, two terrorists drive down the street spraying random people with bullets, killing an 18 year old and a 20 year old girl.

Despite my mixed feelings about the trip, I can definitely say that I learned more about what peace really is from one day in Hebron than from a year and a half in Israel. The settlers in Hebron taught me that peace is something that starts with us, not our enemies. The Jews of Hebron are at peace with themselves. Being in that community, one can feel that their souls are welded together as one, and that one soul of Hebron has the force of a locomotive. They are focused like a laser on what they are doing; restoring the Jewish community of Hebron, fulfilling the religious obligation to live in their homeland, and protecting the right of the Jews to pray at the Machpelah. They are prepared to make major sacrifices in their life, and occasionally of their lives, to bring this about. Fifty years ago, a generation fought in the Independence War to build the state. People who had survived five years in the concentration camps of Europe would get off the boat, be handed a gun, go to the front, and die the same day, only to be buried in an unmarked grave because nobody had time to learn their name. These people were prepared to give it all, and give it anonymously. They knew what they were doing, and the Jews of Hebron know what they are doing.

Nobody is strafing the streets of Tel Aviv with gunfire every night, nobody is sniping at babies around every street corner, I’ve never seen a kitchen full of bullet holes there, but the people are confused and lost because their paper peace of Oslo has fallen apart in their hands. Everybody used to make fun of Arafat because he kept his wife and children hidden safely in Paris. They stopped laughing last week when a report was aired on channel two that the children of almost every minister of the Labor party are living in America. If somebody doesn’t know why he’s here, then every responsibility becomes a burden, every week of reserve duty a nightmare, every bomb scare a trauma. But in Hebron, on the front lines, the people are calm and at peace with the world because they know why they are there. The hotels of Tel Aviv are empty, but I had to wait two weeks to get a free bed in Hebron. Tel Aviv has a thing or two to learn about peace from Hebron.