A Hero’s Welcome

It’s good news these days for national heroes here in the Middle East. Israel just released 26 prisoners, who received a full hero’s welcome in Ramallah. Lionized in a public celebratory speech by the President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, the newly released prisoners were greeted with cheers of: “Our heroes are coming home – long live the prisoners!” Everyone should be pleased that prisoners are freed and reunited with their families, no?

But, once the euphoria of this humanitarian gesture dies down, a few questions remain.

First: why are these 26 men national heroes? Each one was serving long sentences in Israeli jails, making them symbols of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

But why were they imprisoned? Because they had committed violent crimes. But not just any violent crimes. They had murdered 27 Israelis, almost all of them Jews. Brutal, bloody murders, with knives, and axes and other weapons, and with their bare hands. Among Ramallah’s national heroes are:

  • Issa (Jesus) Abed-Rabbo, who bound the hands of the young unarmed couple Revital Seri and Ron Levi while they sat in their car, draped them with a towel and shot them point-blank in their heads;
  • Hazem Shbair, who slaughtered elderly Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg with an axe;
  • Mohamed Ashour, who murdered cab driver David Caspi while he was on-duty. In his trial, Ashour’s sister shouted out: “He is blessed!” Ashour couldn’t stop smiling.

Each of these despicable criminals is now free, and leading the good life as a true celebrity, adored by the Palestinian masses wherever he goes.

So why, then, are these people heroes in Ramallah, and not behind bars, as would be the case for convicted murderers in most countries in the world? Well the answer is simple: these prisoners were not convicted of killing their own people. They murdered Israelis, mostly Jews. This is the real reason that they are heroic in the eyes of the Palestinian authority and the people of Ramallah.

Releasing Convicted Murderers as a Gesture?

This brings on some more questions. If they are murderers – something no one denies, since they were convicted by due process of law – then why did Israel let them go free, to be turned into heroes in Ramallah? Well, the answer is that United States Secretary of State John Kerry is convinced – and hence, has convinced us –  that releasing murderers of Israeli Jewish citizens was actually in Israel’s best interest. Mr. Kerry believes that Israel must make conciliatory gestures to the Palestinians so that they will want to enter in good faith into peace negotiations with Israel.

But wait a moment. Could this actually be true? After all, no other nation in the world would release convicted murderers of its own people, even if someone powerful thought that would be good for diplomacy. Would America consider releasing Charlie Manson, or Squeaky Fromm, who only TRIED to assassinate President Gerald Ford – no matter how many years of good behavior they did in prison? Would there be any issue that would compel United States policy makers to release the Boston Strangler, were he still alive? Would President Obama order American authorities to release the masterminds of 9/11 in preparation for negotiations with the Saudis?

I think not.

So why would Israel do this?

Avoiding Cognitive Dissonance

It’s important to note that in Israel, everyone is avoiding asking this question. Like the emperor who had no clothes, no one is prepared to take on the specter of cognitive dissonance that such a question reveals. Israel’s leaders, egged on by the Israeli and international media, are too busy pointing fingers at one another to ask why Israel would actually release the convicted murderers of its citizens as a gesture of goodwill to anyone.

But one might ask: why? After all, even a child knows that if you reward murderers with freedom and impunity for their crimes, you only increase their will to murder more. So why aren’t our leaders willing to say something? Anything?

The answer is: they have no vision by which to go by. It’s not that they are bad, or wish harm on the people they were elected to serve. It’s just that they all lack a clear, simple and coherent vision for explaining who the Jewish nation is and why we are here in Israel.

And that is the whole problem.

In Search of a National Vision

Fortunately, if we are indeed looking for a basic vision for the future of the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel, we need not look very far. Because such a vision has actually been around for a long time. And it is completely accessible to everyone who wishes to see it. And furthermore, that vision is built in to the national and international myths of most of the peoples of the world. All we need do is tap into it, and it will do the rest.

Every week, as has been the case for thousands of years, Jews all over the world read a section of the Torah (the Pentateuch; the Five Books of Moses). In the past few weeks, we have studying the Book of Genesis. (In mid-September of the coming year, we will read another section of the Torah that completes the story. But more on that later.) After the story of the creation of the world, the Biblical narrative quickly moves on to a single individual and his descendants: Abraham the Hebrew, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob (Israel), who is the ancestor of the Nation of Israel.

This ancient story – one known and accepted in both the Christian and Islamic traditions – is ideally suited to be the guiding narrative of the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel.

The Abraham Narrative

God starts by blessing Abraham for no apparent reason, telling him to leave the land of his birthplace and travel to a land that God will show him. In that new place, promises God, He will make Abraham into a great nation. Furthermore, says God, all the families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.

Furthermore, God promises to give to Abraham and his descendants the land where God brought Abraham to from his original home in what is now Iraq. He tells Abraham to lift up his eyes and look around at the land, because God is giving it to him and his descendants forever.

The narrative continues. Abraham has a son in his old age called Isaac. God appears to Isaac with a continuation of the promise He gave to his father Abraham, and tells him to stay in the land where his father Abraham lived. God promises to bless Isaac and to give to him and his descendants all the land where he is living, to fulfill what God swore He would do to Isaac’s father Abraham.

And still later, God appears to Isaac’s son Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) with the same promises. Once again, He swears to give Jacob and his descendants the land where he is living, and repeats the promise that all the families of the earth will be blessed – this time, through Jacob and his descendants.

The Jewish people, also known as the Nation of Israel, are the descendants of this Jacob that God blessed. And what is asked of the nation of Israel, that they receive these blessings? Well – we are asked to serve only God alone, to do his commandments, and not to worship any other deities or powers.

Note that this narrative is basically accepted by the two other major monotheistic faiths and cultures of the world, Christianity and Islam.

Exile – and a Promised Return

So is this the end of the story? No, it is the beginning. The descendants of Jacob make their way to Egypt, where they are enslaved and then released. They return as a great nation to live in the Land of Israel. But after a while, they drop the ball, so to speak, and begin worship the gods of the nations surrounding them. As a result, they were sent again into exile from the land that God had promised them.

Nevertheless, God promises later in the Torah (in the section that we will all read in mid-September) that no matter how long the exile is, nor how far away we stray from the land – God will eventually gather us back. He will return us to the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and we will once again live our national life in that Land. And there is a catch to this promise in our favor: it doesn’t depend on our actions. God promises to do this unconditionally. Of course, we can either work with the plan and make it easier on ourselves; or we can go against the plan, and make its fruition that much harder. That is where we do have some choice in the matter.

And that is the clincher, and the true proof of the pudding. Objectively, it is impossible to deny that God has already fulfilled this promise to a significant degree. That is what the modern state of Israel is: the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants that they would one day return to live in the land of Israel.

We Have Seen The Miracle, And It Is Us

Everyone, even Israel’s most intractable enemies, when pressed for an answer, is forced to admit: the recent return of the Jewish People to a national rebirth in the Land of Israel is miraculous. In less than 70 years, little Israel, the State of the Jews, has overcome a Holocaust and numerous wars of annihilation to become a world economic and technological power.

So if this is the case, one should ask: then must the nation of Israel undergo the humiliation of having its citizens murdered by neighboring peoples, while the existing world powers force us to release the murderers? The answer is simple: we are being pushed into assuming a new role, the role of the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel. We are being made against our will into the nation that the Prophet Isaiah describes as “the Light to the Nations,” that people who will bring a hurting world solutions of every kind: political, social, technological, psychological, and spiritual.

Our nation is just now learning, after 2,000 years of being in exile in other nation’s territory, what it means to be “the chosen nation.”  Yes, chosen: the nation that God shaped and formed and chose long ago for a role that we are just now beginning to see come to fruition. And to become that nation is a painful and wrenching growing process. But grow we will, because God has promised that this will come about. And God is not like a human being, promising without fulfilling what He promises.

The Hope of a Better Future

When viewed through the proper framework, one can make clear sense of the world around us, what our role is in that world, and where we are ultimately heading. It’s easy. It’s promised, without conditions. It is going to happen, whether we are aware of it, or want it – or not.

If that is the case: why not recognize the situation and just go with the flow of things?

Were our leaders to understand the power of adopting and promoting this narrative as their own, they would begin to work with it, instead of against it. And instead of confusion and despair, they would find – and promote – hope and the promise of a better future. Israel would no longer have to suffer humiliation at the hands of the other nations of the world, because we will be well on our way to becoming the nation we are supposed to be.