Before immigrating to Israel, I was told (either approvingly or as a warning – depending on who was speaking): “you’ll become much more right-wing living in Israel”.
In all kinds of ways, the opposite occurred. Living here has made me much more aware of, and disturbed by, the noxious populism emanating from much of the political Right. I’ve also become increasingly concerned by what passes for ‘authentic Judaism’ in the eyes of the Chief Rabbinate and other public Jewish institutions – an issue more traditionally associated with the Israeli Left. And perhaps most pertinently, on the defining left-right issue in Israel, moving to Israel did not budge me from my long-held position that, as a matter of priority, Israel must end its control over the Palestinian population, unilaterally if necessary. In 2010, three years into my life as an Israeli, I wrote an article advocating unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank in the absence of a negotiated agreement.
But having a child in Israel has forced something of a reassessment. Parenthood has pushed me, if not to the Right, then to a bitchonist (security-driven) Center.
I remain convinced that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians is morally objectionable as a long-term policy, bad for Israel diplomatically and a threat to our future as a democracy. However, this summer’s installment of the oh-so-repetitive story of the conflict twice led me into the bomb shelter of our building, carrying my two-year old daughter in my arms. I live in Jerusalem, and I can’t honestly consider the question of what would replace an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank without assuming the possibility (or on darker days, the likelihood), that such a withdrawal would lead to many more nights of air raid sirens and hiding from rockets for my little girl.
More terrifying still is the possibility of tunnels being dug from the West Bank into Israel. The Israel Defense Forces discovered the openings of tunnels from Gaza in the parks, and even inside the houses, of towns and Kibbutzim in Israel – Kibbutzim that are no closer to the border with Gaza than my apartment is to checkpoint crossings into the West Bank. Interviews with families living in these communities indicated, above all else, the absolute horror of parents imagining Hamas terrorists emerging out of the ground into their homes.
“As a long-time advocate of ending the occupation in a way that does not imperil Israel’s population I have reluctantly concluded that, for now at least, the chances of a Palestinian-run West Bank turning into another Gaza are just too great for Israel to contemplate a full unilateral withdrawal. The dangers of doing so are heightened by the instability further afield in the Middle East which could yet force its way into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To sharpen that point: if Hamas don’t take over the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, ISIS could.”
My prescription laid-out in that article, merely the least bad of some terrible options in my view, is to unilaterally evacuate the outlying settlements beyond the settlement blocs, creating a contiguous Palestinian area, but to leave the IDF in place as military guarantors until the Palestinian Authority has developed a serious economy, transparent and democratic governance, and a robust civil society. Essentially it will be an occupation without settlers – except in the blocs, which should be annexed to Israel in any case – with both the Palestinians and the rest of the world aware that Israel harbors no long-term plans of annexation or sovereignty over the area. And it would keep within the West Bank the only force that we can trust to prevent an Islamist takeover – the IDF.
Though I’m sure this proposal will not win me any friends on the ideological Right, who are opposed to any territorial withdrawal in any situation, I could not have imagined advocating such a plan a couple of years ago. I saw the need to give the Palestinians freedom from Israeli rule as paramount – for them and for us. I still want to free them – but with every barefaced, hate-provoking lie from Mahmoud Abbas about Israel’s intentions towards the al-Aqsa Mosque; with every Palestinian Authority-approved cartoon or sermon calling for the killing of Israeli civilians and then applauding when the deed is done, I become evermore convinced that an Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank cannot be countenanced in the near future.
To those liberal Jews in the US and elsewhere who define themselves as pro-Israel and who seek to save us from ourselves by pushing for a Palestinian state, I say this: I understand you. I believe you when you say you love Israel. I share your vision and most of your sentiments on this issue. But – and it’s a genuinely heartfelt but – I have skin in the game, and you don’t. That doesn’t mean I think you should stop. If you genuinely care about Israel you have every right to advocate for the Jewish state you want to see. Just don’t assume that those of us who are not willing to give up a military presence in the West Bank at this point care any less than you do about the fate of Israeli democracy, or about the moral cost of occupation. It’s just that my little girl is growing up at a time when our putative peace partners are accusing us of ‘genocide’, whilst lauding the killers of Israeli civilians, including a three-month old baby. Not too far from our borders, Syria and much of Iraq are being consumed by a medieval savagery, extraordinary even for this blood-soaked region.
I want peace and I want an end to the occupation. But not at any cost.