As a tour guide, I have shared and explored Israel with Orthodox right wing Jews, Palestinian activists, fundamentalist Christians, liberal politically active young American Jews, Israelis of all sorts and many others. Even before I started guiding for these diverse audiences, I had a healthy respect for the complexity of the conflict in our region and the multiplicity of ways of looking at it. My appreciation for the complexity has only grown from considering and reexamining our situation through the various eyes of my extremely diverse clientele. I feel a deep responsibility as a guide to be able to help those who are exploring this amazing land with me to navigate the convoluted history and conflicting narratives of the conflict (Of course this goes not only for politics but for culture, religion, ancient history and beyond but that isn’t my focus here). I am always reading, listening, watching and rethinking in an attempt to integrate all the facts, information, and the various ways of putting them together into some coherent picture. The more I learn and process, the less hardened my opinions have become. I find myself vacillating between right and left wing positions, depending on my most recent encounter, the last article I read, or who I am in dialogue with at the moment. I have come to appreciate a wide range of political opinions that span the left and the right.
So when someone on a list-serve of Jewish leaders and educators that I participate in, suggested a collective statement condemning the proposed unilateral annexation of parts of the west bank, I found myself reluctant to join in. Even though I generally favor the creation of two states through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and unilateral annexation is arguably a step away from that, I have developed a distaste for self-assured and simplistic condemnations. Many of the terms of the potential annexation are still extremely vague. I wasn’t interested in blanket opposition. It might not be the direction I would suggest, but I could imagine certain benefits and besides, the various other directions are all deeply flawed as well.
All my ambivalence came to a halt when Prime Minister Netanyahu recently clarified that the Palestinians living in the annexed areas would not receive Israeli citizenship. If this is the type of annexation under discussion than I am decidedly opposed.
The IDF’s administration of Judea and Samaria has allowed Jews to reconnect with the Biblical heartland and afforded a measure of security for Israel. While it also denied Palestinians political rights, overriding security concerns for the state of Israel could justify it to a greater or lesser degree. Even U.N. resolution 242 which calls on Israel to withdraw from at least some of the territories, also insists that Israel has a right to “live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” and threats still exist to this day. But, as territories that were administered but not annexed, the implicit message was that the present status of the Palestinians living there was not ideal. It was a necessary evil that could hopefully find resolution at some point. Eventually, these Palestinians when circumstances allowed, would be granted political rights as citizens of one of the existing Arab countries, a newly founded Palestine, or Israel. Annexation without giving political rights to the Palestinians living in the annexed territory institutionalizes their disenfranchisement without providing any tangible security benefits. With all my appreciation for the complexity of the conflict and the legitimacy of a wide range of political opinions this goes beyond the pale for me.
Two thousand years ago, the great sage Hillel was asked to sum up Torah in what we would now call an elevator speech. He responded, “that which is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary.” I recently encountered an echo of Hillel’s ancient statement while revisiting the writings of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits on the conflict. Given his right-wing leanings, one line of his stood out in particular, “who can understand the soul of a nation, or even a portion thereof, that lives under foreign rule better than we Jews who suffered so much from persecution and oppression. Because of the very experiences that we endured throughout human history, we are called upon to implement ideals of righteousness and justice with our Arab neighbors.” (The Crisis of Judaism in the Jewish State pg. 136-37 — my translation)
There is no denying the Jewish people’s connection to all the land of Israel. We have as much of a right as any other nation to sovereignty in our homeland. But a Jewish state that in principle, systematically and institutionally disenfranchises an indigenous population within its sovereign borders is beyond what I can countenance. It goes against Hillel’s declaration the most fundamental Torah principle. If I wouldn’t tolerate it for my own, don’t do it to others. Annexation without representation will entrench within the borders of the Jewish state a deeply un-Jewish policy.