Jews around the world recently read the Book of Ecclesiastes (Koheleth) in their synagogues. In magnificent philosophy, alleged to King Solomon, one needs to read carefully the third chapter.
“La kol zman v’et l’chol chefetz tachat hashamayim…” To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven…. Et laharog v’et lirpo… a time to kill and a time to heal… et milchama v’et shalom.. a time for war and a time for peace.”
We do not enjoy killing. We prefer to be healers. We detest war and we long for peace. But our neighbors prevent us from the realization of those Jewish hopes.
When Arab children are killed, we do not celebrate, we do not distribute candies and sweets, we do not rejoice and send fireworks climbing to the sky. We regret the deaths of innocents. But our neighbors do not.
When Jewish children and their young parents are mercilessly slaughtered by Arab marauders, the killers and those who sent them rejoice, dance, sing praises to the killers, distribute sweet things to all who gather in celebration of the deaths of Jews.
It is difficult for those of us who cherish life to understand the mentality of those who praise death.
The streets of the Old City of Jerusalem run red with the blood of our martyrs, soldiers who protect us, police who guard us, rabbis who pray for us, heroes who save us. It is a return to the Kishinev of 1903.
There was a time in our history when Jews and Muslims (Moors of Spain) lived in harmony, created magnificent poetry and practiced the art of medicine. There were centuries where Jews lived among Muslims as dhimmi, a religious and protected minority, often in personal friendships. There was no conflict because there was at that time no Jewish return to the land of our ancestors. Few Jews made the long journey to Jerusalem to die and to be buried in its holy earth. They were not a threat to Muslim dreams.
In the late nineteenth century, prior to the Dreyfus affair in France, the Bilu’im came in small numbers to build up the ruins of our ancient homeland, to settle on the land, to clear swamps, to plant vineyards and to restore glory to our Jewish motherland. Over the years they were joined by many other chalutzim, pioneers, who gave up the opportunities and comforts of Europe to settle in a barren land and make it fertile once again.
They were inspired by the words of Koheleth: “et l’hashlich avanim” and et lataat”….. there is a time to cast away stones…there is a time to plant”
And so they came. And they did the back-breaking labor of casting away stones and rocks so that the earth could be cleansed and then prepared for planting.
In 1882, a handful of young Jews from Rumania and Russia settled on a sandy desert-like wilderness called Ayun Kara. They gave it a Hebrew name, taken from our Bible, and called it Rishon Lezion, First in Zion. The local settled Arabs looked upon them as crazy Jews. Who could possibly live in sand? How could anything possibly grow? But these young Zionists had a dream… “livnot u’l’hibanot”.. to build and to be rebuilt. And through the years of their labor, my city of Rishon Lezion, with a population of almost 275, 000 is Israel’s fourth largest city and its largest city in terms of land.
There were skirmishes with local Arabs from time to time. Small thefts from newly planted fields and vineyards. But there were no major difficulties between Jews and Arabs at that time. Palestine was an integral part of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey was its master and both Jews and Arabs resented the cruelty of the Turks who ruled them.
At that time, Palestinian nationalism had not yet been born. But Zionism, the national movement of the Jewish people for the return to and the redemption of Eretz Yisrael was actively blossoming.
The 1917 Balfour Declaration was the spark which ignited the past one hundred years of hatred and violence. It hinged upon one single word in the Declaration which began: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a home for the Jewish people”.
The Arabs, being Semites, could not be anti-Semitic but they surely were anti-semantic. Both Jews and Arabs had different opinions about the meaning of the word “home”. Whereas the Jews interpreted it to mean a homeland for them, the Arabs interpreted it as a home in which Jews could be allowed to live in Arab Palestine. So for one hundred years we are fighting and killing and dying because of differing interpretations of one small word… home.
1948 saw the fulfillment of the Zionist dream, “to be a free people in our own country, in the land of Zion and Jerusalem”. And we have built a nation of which the entire world can be proud. Even our enemies envy our progress and the Jewish genius.
So Koheleth was correct. There is a time to heal and a time for peace. That is the Jewish way. Regrettably our Arab neighbors are still having semantic problems and until they recognize our God-given right to live, to build and to settle on the land of our patriarchs and matriarchs, sadly Jerusalem’s streets may continue to be red.