Many are asking after what happened in Lod can we still live together with the Arabs? But this is the wrong question to ask. Of course we can live together with the Arabs. They are our cousins. Long ago our two progenitors, Ishmael and Isaac, came together peacefully to bury their joint father Abraham. But we must understand, without condoning any violent behavior, that it is simply too much to ask of Arab Israelis to forsake their Palestinian brethren. Through the lens of their own narrative they would be seen as sell-outs, traitors who have given up on their own “homeland” for the trappings of a good economy, big house, nice car, etc. That is a decision no self-respecting individual would make. Would you? And if we cannot expect Israeli Arabs to forsake their brethren, we can hardly expect the Palestinian Arabs themselves to give up on their “homeland” when that is the narrative in which they live and when that is the narrative which we ourselves appear to partially endorse. Do we really expect the Palestinian Arabs of their own accord to one day say, “You know what? We’ve changed our minds. Because you are so ethical and nice, we think you should have the land.” So long as a plausible Palestinian Arab narrative of taking back their “homeland” exists, Arab Israelis and Palestinian Arabs will find it very hard to spurn that narrative themselves.
We Can’t Expect Them To Be More Zionist Than We Are
What do I mean when I speak about “their narrative which we partially endorse?” This means that we cannot expect the Palestinian Arabs to be more Zionist than we are. We cannot expect them to give up the dream of reconquering their “homeland” when we refuse to lay that dream to rest either. Partly, this is because we ourselves are a divided nation and undecided as to how to proceed with the messy business of building a nation in the real world rather than just in our age-old exilic dreams. This indecisiveness applies to the west bank/Judea and Samaria, to Gaza, and even to little “green-line Israel.” But whatever our current political position on the matter, we must realize the psychology of the current struggle.
It’s Not Just 1967
Although the problem became more acute in 1967 because that is when we truly gained power and therefore historical agency, the issue is really not the results of 1967. Most anti-Israel Arabs (not all Arabs are anti-Israel) are psychologically still fighting the 1948 war. Everyone knows it’s not really about a two state solution. Yes, the two state solution was one proposed solution that neither side really wanted and that with the hindsight of history hasn’t worked anyway. But at the same time everyone knows that’s not really what the fight is about. The enemies of Israel are still living in the narrative that we stole their land and one day they will take it back. Period. The bottom line is that we can’t expect them to give up that wish if we haven’t given it up ourselves. More on that below. But first, if that is their psychology, what is ours?
We Just Want To Be Loved
Our psychology is that we are tired of being hated. We simply want to be loved. (This psychology applies mainly to ashkenazi Israelis, which represent the bulk of the ruling class.) As happened in 1948, we want to be super-moral (remember, in modern ethics victims are by definition moral and in 1948 coming out the Shoa we were the most victimized group and so the most morally pure) so that everyone will see how good we are (as the world did in 1948 when they loved us enough to grant us a state), and then the world will finally come around and recognize that we are indeed righteous and that we deserve our land. Then, the thinking goes, we can live in peace in our land (little green-line Israel or big Israel, your political persuasion doesn’t matter here) with everyone loving us. Despite how silly this is once you see it for what it is, we are constantly incredulous that no matter how moral we are, no matter how moral our army is, for some reason no one else seems to be able to see it. Some of us have had enough of this game and turn to anger, wishing to just steamroll the other side, bomb them to rubble, etc. This gives rise to some of the anti-Arab hate we see on the extreme right. On the other side, some think, “clearly we just aren’t being moral enough.” This thinking leads to the Jewish anti-Israel sentiment so prevalent in the US and among some segments of the left in Israel. It leads some Jews to bend over backwards even to the point of taking the other side’s position just to prove how moral we really are. The problem is, no matter how moral we are, no matter how many victim groups we attach ourselves to (remember, in modern western ethics victimhood = morality) nobody is going to create our own reality for us. Nobody is going to look at us, notice how moral we are and therefore give us our land on a silver platter, removing all competing claims to it. Not the Americans. Not the Europeans. Not the Russians. And least of all not the Palestinian Arabs themselves. The bottom line is that with historical agency comes responsibility. We ourselves must create our own reality. And while yes, that may indeed be done in an immoral fashion, (indeed it has been by other nations many times before throughout the world) it doesn’t make the entire concept a priori immoral. If we create the reality, then people will live within it; both Jews and Arabs (and Christians and Druze and Bahai and Buddhists, etc). If it is indeed immoral and unjust (and antidemocratic and apartheid) then it will fail. If we do it right, as i believe we will, then it will stand the test of time. But one thing is clear. No one else will do it for us.
What Does This Mean For Us Today?
Getting back to the psychology of our enemies and the fact that we can hardly expect them to forsake their own dream of reconquering their “homeland” when we ourselves seem to waffle back and forth on that very idea – what does this mean for us today? On the ground, it actually means many things. For example, when we don’t declare sovereignty over the west bank/Judea and Samaria we seem unsure of what we want and who is sovereign here. When we don’t act like sovereigns in Jerusalem by allowing it to be taken over slowly by foreign actors like Turkey, European anti-Israel NGOs, etc, then we seem unsure of our convictions. When we further allow the school system in East Jerusalem to teach Palestinian Authority curricula in their schools rather than Israeli curricula, it seems like we aren’t really sure if the land is truly ours. When Israeli courts defer to Jordanian and Ottoman law to adjudicate cases, it seems as though we see ourselves as just temporary caretakers for what is really Muslim land. When we don’t stop illegal land grabs in the Negev then we seem unsure of what we want. When we don’t keep the peace in our own Arab towns by stopping violence there, then we seem as if we don’t really care about those areas and aren’t sure if we want to be sovereign there anyway. When we leave Gaza, give it over to the terrorist enemy saying “Don’t worry – if things don’t work out we’ll just retake it,” then we don’t follow through on our own words, it seems like we are just too weak and don’t have the resolve to follow through. When we have our own multiple elections, but we let an anti-Israel regime have their own separate elections in a quasi-sovereign state inside our own where the election campaign hinges on who can be more anti-Israel, leading even to the current rocket campaign to prove Hamas’ anti-Israel credentials, it shows that we are not serious about being the sovereign here. All of these examples show the Palestinian Arabs, directly or indirectly, that we remain undecided. Why would we then expect them to be more convinced of our right to be here than we ourselves are?
We Must Create Our Own Reality
People usually take this line of reasoning to mean simply that we should be more forceful, more aggressive, and not stop until the enemy is totally crushed and pulverized – that we need to win clearly and they need to lose clearly. While that argument about the psychology of warfare may have merit, that is not the point of this essay. Most of our lives are lived during peacetime, not wartime. Creating our own reality does not involve being mean, callous, brutish, violent, antidemocratic, anti-civil-liberty, or apartheid. Yes, we need to stop violence and kill terrorists (even if they see themselves as freedom fighters) who are coming to kill us. But that is not the main point. These violent episodes take up only a minority of the total time in our lives here. It is during the “peaceful” times that we need to make the reality on the ground apparent. This means acting like a sovereign. It certainly does not mean acting in a violent, defensively aggressive way toward our minorities, but rather in a peaceful, gracious, ethical way as befits one who is sure of their place and power. We cannot continue to conflate being nice with being weak, nor being strong with being mean. When it is clear that we are in control of our land – when it is clear that we believe in our hearts that we are the responsible party for this land and all that goes on within its borders to Jew and non-Jew alike, and when we act responsibly in that manner, then even those who oppose us will live within that reality. We already have the power; everyone knows that. Once we develop the confidence and act from a position of confidence, using our power ethically to create a just society for all who live here, then even our enemies will respect us and live within that reality.