A sculpture was unveiled in the Knesset last week to commemorate the Jewish communities that were destroyed during the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. The statue itself is small and tasteful, but the concept that it symbolizes is immense and powerful. In fact, it goes to the very heart of Zionism.
The statue, sculpted by Aharon Shabo, shows a palm tree sprouting up between two divided halves of a Star of David — illustrating the power of Jewish national renewal despite divisions and disagreements. On the side of the sculpture are the names of the 21 Gush Katif communities that were destroyed, as well as the four Jewish towns in Samaria that were dismantled at the same time.
I believe Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein when he said that he had no political motive in deciding to install the sculpture. The Jewish communities of the Gush Katif bloc, in Gaza, represented a Zionist consensus. They were established by Labor governments and continued by Likud governments.
Supporting or visiting Gush Katif was not a political statement. My daughter Alisa had no political motive when she went to spend a few days in Gush Katif in 1995 — on a bus that was attacked by Palestinian terrorists, taking her life and the lives of seven other innocents. Alisa and the others were doing what Jews naturally do — they visit, or they choose to live in, all parts of the Jewish homeland. That’s Zionism 101.
Commemorations of the destroyed Jewish communities in Europe during the Holocaust has become a widespread practice in the Jewish world, and for good reason. Those communities were the heart and soul of the Jewish people. Their loss was a blow to the entire nation. Remembering them is a way of binding all Jews to one another.
If that is true of Jewish communities in Poland or Germany, how much more so is it the case for Jewish communities in Eretz Yisrael. The Diaspora, after all, is regarded in Judaism as a temporary state; it is in Israel that the permanent Jewish future is being built.
The idea of “redemption of the land” has always played a central role in Zionist thought. Draining swamps and making arid terrain bloom was the focus of the Zionist movement throughout its formative decades. Every new Jewish town that was established marked the advance of Zionism. The destruction of a Jewish community in Israel represents a step backward. And the dream of rebuilding those destroyed communities has always remained alive.
Some of that rebuilding has already taken place in our lifetime. The Jewish communities of the Etzion bloc and the Old City of Jerusalem, which were destroyed by the Arabs during and after the 1948 war, were rebuilt when Israel won back those areas in 1967. The Hevron Jewish community, expelled after Arab pogroms in 1929 and 1936, was revived in 1968. What makes the memory of Gush Katif and the four Samaria towns any less sacred?
By the way, the Palestinian Authority, for its part, invests considerable resources in commemorating Arab villages that were destroyed during the 1948 war. Of course, the PA falsely accuses Israel of “genocide” when in fact, those villages were destroyed as a result of battles between clashing armies — in a war that the Arabs initiated. Aggressors have no moral right to complain if their side suffers in a war that they started. The Palestinian accusations are approximately on the level of the Nazis complaining about German towns that were destroyed in Allied bombings.
But the point is that the PA’s constant commemoration of those Arab villages serve a very important purpose. It instills in young Palestinians a false memory of victimization that galvanizes them and gives them a sense of national purpose. It helps manufacture an otherwise-non-existent national identity.
In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, we read that Shimon Ben Zoma, the 2nd century CE sage, taught: “Who is wise? He who learns from every man.” In this instance, we can learn even from the Palestinian Authority, which recognizes the importance of commemorations even when they have no basis. Surely the Jewish people, who have more of a basis than anyone for commemorating destroyed communities, should learn this lesson.
This column first appeared on Israel National News.