No Country for Jews?
By Daniel Gordis
New York Daily News
October 18, 2015
We have a young language
instructor at Shalem College in Jerusalem, where I work. She's a religious
Muslim who wears a hijab, lives in one of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem
and is a graduate student at Hebrew University. She's fun and warm, and a great
teacher — the students like her a lot.
Late last spring, when things here
were quiet, some of the students mentioned to the department chair that as much
as they'd spoken with her over the past couple of years, they'd never discussed
politics. They were curious what someone like her thought about the conflict in
this region, especially now that she was teaching at an unabashedly Zionist
college, had come to know so many Jewish students and had developed such warm
relationships with them. How does someone like her see things here? How did she
think we would one day be able to settle this conflict?
"So ask her," the
department chair said. "As long as you speak to her in Arabic (she's on
staff to help our students master the language), you can talk about anything you
They did. They told her that since
they'd never discussed the "situation" (as we metaphorically call it
here in Israel), they were curious how she thought we might someday resolve it.
"It's our land," she
responded rather matter-of-factly. Stunned, they weren't sure that they'd heard
her correctly. So they waited. But that was all she had to say. "It's our
land. You're just here for now."
What upset those students more
than anything was not that a Palestinian might believe that the Jews are simply
the latest wave of Crusaders in this region, and that we, like the Crusaders of
old, will one day be forced out. We all know that there are many Palestinians
who believe that.
What upset them was that she —
an educated woman, getting a graduate degree (which would never happen in a
Muslim country) at a world class university (only Israel has those — none of
Israel's neighbors has a single highly rated university) and working at a
college filled with Jews who admire her, like her and treat her as they would
any other colleague — still believes that when it's all over, the situation
will get resolved by our being tossed out of here once again.
Even she , who lives a life filled
with opportunities that she would never have in an Arab country, still thinks at
the end of the day the Jews are nothing but colonialists. And colonialists, she
believes, don't last here. The British got rid of the Ottomans, the Jews got rid
of the British — and one day, she believes, the Arabs will get rid of the
That is one of the many reasons
that this recent wave of violence, consisting mostly of deadly
stabbings carried out by Israeli Arabs (not Palestinians living over the
Green Line) and Arab residents of east Jerusalem, has Israelis so unsettled.
Yes, the reality on the ground is
are being stabbed on the street, on buses, in malls. Those being attacked
are elderly men and women and young boys on their bicycles. No one is immune,
and unlike the last Intifada, when suicide bombers sought high casualty counts
so you felt safe away from crowds, now nowhere feels definitely safe.
But even that is not the most
debilitating dimension of this new round of attacks on Jews. What's most
sobering is the fact that this new round of violence has made it clear, once
again, that this conflict is simply never going to end.
What Israelis are coming to
understand by virtue of the fact that the attackers are not Palestinians living
in refugee camps but Israeli Arabs — who have access to Israeli health care,
Israeli education, Israel's free press and right of assembly, protection for
gays and lesbians and much more — is that this latest round of violence is
simply the newest battle in the War of Independence that Israel has been
fighting for 68 years now.
The war began even before Israel
was a state — Arabs attacked Israel not when David Ben-Gurion declared
independence on May 14, 1948, but when the United Nations General Assembly voted
— on November 29, 1947 — to create a Jewish state. When formal independence
followed some six months later, the attacking Arab militias were replaced by
standing armies of five Arab nations — Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and even
Iraq (which joined the fray even though it did not share a border with Israel).
Over the years, the enemies have
shifted (Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but now there are
the Palestinians and Iran is both pursuing a weapon of mass destruction and
declaring that Israel must be destroyed) and the methods have changed (standing
Arab armies have been replaced by terrorism at home and an international
campaign to delegitimize Israel in the UN and beyond). But the basic goal of
Israel's enemies remains the destruction of the Jewish state.
Increasingly, Israelis (who, polls
show, overwhelmingly would like to get out of the West Bank and live peacefully
alongside a Palestinian State that would recognize Israel) fear that while for
us this is a conflict that can be settled by adjusting borders and guaranteeing
security for both sides, for our enemies this is an all-or-nothing battle in
which the only end would be for Israel to disappear.
Israel's iconic diplomat, Abba
Eban, said in the early 1970s that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to
miss an opportunity." It was, sadly, an apt observation. And it is still
true. By joining the violence and responding to Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas' incitement (Abbas insists that he's not inciting, but that is patently
false — if nothing else, his ludicrous claim that Israel is planning to change
the status quo on the Temple Mount proved sufficient to inflame an entire
region), Israeli Arabs have foolishly put themselves on the wrong side of
Rather than take a page from
Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps protesting peacefully on behalf of other
Palestinians, a violent minority has chosen to show its support for the larger
Palestinian cause by attacking innocent Jews. And by and large, Israeli Arab
leadership has been silent.
Israeli Jews have taken note —
and the consequences are likely to be longstanding. While Israelis are feeling
vulnerable, they are also feeling abandoned. When Secretary of State John Kerry
said that he would not "point fingers from afar" at who was
responsible for the violence, and called the latest attacks part of a
"revolving cycle that damages the future for everybody," he convinced
Israelis once again that the present American administration has abandoned any
ability to distinguish right from wrong, just from unjust, wise from
destructive. America is hopelessly irrelevant in the Middle East, which means
that Israel is sadly very alone.
When Americans fret in the months
and years to come that the peace process is stuck, Israelis hope that they will
remember that when the violence broke out again, the world's newspapers ignored
it. When Abbas said Israel had murdered a 13-year-old Palestinian attacked and
the Israeli press then published a photo showing the boy sitting in an Israeli
hospital bed, Abbas did not retract and the world ignored his mendacity.
When the American secretary of
state was asked to comment on why the new round of violence erupted, he refused
to mention Abbas and said he would not point fingers. When Palestinians incited,
Israeli Arabs (20% of Israel's population) who picked up knives convinced many
Israelis that they were enemies, not fellow citizens.
Israelis hope that people will
remember all that, but we also know better.
Where all this will lead, no one
can say. For the time being, though, the future in this region is going to be
bleak. Despair and a sense of having been abandoned never bring out the best in
anyone, never make them more likely to compromise. When Palestinians express
their objections to occupation, to checkpoints, to mistreatment at the hands of
Israelis, those protestations will fall on increasingly deaf ears.
Why? Is it because Israelis do not
want peace? Is it because we do not understand that our future would be better
if Palestinians could have a democratic, functioning state? Is it because we're
oblivious to their legitimate complaints?
No. It's simply that we know, with
no doubt, that for our enemies, this is a conflict not about borders but about
our very right to be here. We know that, overwhelmingly, the Arab world is still
committed to driving us out of this land. So we'll stay, and tough it out —
whatever the world thinks of the steps we have to take — for as long as it
takes. For as Golda Meir put it decades ago with her characteristic wit,
"Israelis have a secret weapon — we have nowhere else to go."
Gordis is a senior vice president,
Koret distinguished fellow and chair of the core curriculum at Shalem College
and the author of "Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul."