Do Something!

Life down the rabbit hole. First stabbing of the day…in Ra’anana…before 9:00 AM. Three more incidents before 11:00. Is this the new normal?

Can’t be. It will get worse or get better. And it will get worse before it gets better…or before it gets worse. Shocking, but isn’t this what so many have been predicting?

And everyone is yelling “For God’s sake, do something!”

But what?

Bibi wants a broad unity government to unify us, and to bolster him, in the face of the crisis. But yesterday, in this year’s opening session of the Knesset, opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog shot down any such possibility, citing the coalition’s lack of vision and strategy. Yet while calling for resumption of a diplomatic process, he has also criticized Bibi from the right in the past few days, calling for him to seal off the West Bank. I guess he is trying to play the Rabin game of fighting terrorism as if there is no peace process and pursuing peace as if there is no terrorism. But I don’t see how diplomatic effectiveness is bolstered by massive collective punishment. Just as upsurges in Palestinian violence push Israel to the right (the Israeli left still hasn’t recovered from the 2nd Intifada), so Israeli militarism feeds Palestinian hopelessness and extremism…and thus violence.

Bibi’s response was to take the podium and declare that the current outbreak of violence has nothing whatsoever to do with lack of diplomatic progress, or with the occupation, but is instead wholly attributable to the perennial desire of Arabs, from long before statehood, to annihilate Jews, at least from this part of the world. For Bibi, anti-Semitism is always the first premise, an immutable law of nature, the sine qua non of history. It’s as determinist a world-view as Marxist materialism, though fundamentally static and anti-historicist, as unlike Marxism it sees no teleological trajectory or dialectical progression towards redemptive transformation. But if everything always begins and ends with anti-Semitism as the governing constant, then we are always in the middle of an existential struggle in which any action is morally justified and we bear no culpability and no agency beyond killing our pursuers. So why does he resist his putative allies on the right?

Indeed, immediately afterward, Bibi convened his cabinet and took its members to task for attacking him from the right. Poor Bibi, the Jews’ Jew, taking it from all sides. What do these critics want? More property seizures? More house demolitions? Live ammunition and life sentences for teenagers who throw rocks? Ten new exclusively Jewish settlements on land privately owned by Palestinians for every stabbing? Censure and prosecution of Arab Knesset members for incitement? Abu Mazen (Abbas) in stocks in front of Jerusalem city hall? An elaborate orthodox synagogue on Temple Mount (with or without a sacrificial altar) to rival the Dome of the Rock?

And then there is the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat (Safed), son of a revered former Sephardi State Chief Rabbi and a former candidate for that position himself, giving religious legal opinions to the press suggesting that police and soldiers and armed Jewish citizens are obligated to respond to every Palestinian attack with a summary execution and that they are culpable, morally and religiously, for failing to do so. Because Palestinian violence is somehow discouraged by martyrdom? Then there’s the issue that the religious principle he cites, “din rodef,” is interpreted by most authorities as forbidding summary executions and authorizes killing an assailant only when there’s no alternative to neutralizing and apprehending him (or her).

But critiques from the left that take the right to task for having no strategic vision and that push for diplomatic initiatives and shifts in policy won’t have any credibility as long as they fail to acknowledge what the right gets…well…right. Marwan Barghout, the imprisoned Fatah leader who some see as a potential Mandela figure, published an op-ed in The Guardian this week in which he argued, quite emphatically, that if only Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 borders, including East Jerusalem (which includes the Old City) and accepts a full Palestinian right of return, everything will be immediately hunky dory. Why shouldn’t we believe him? Because Palestinian rejection of Jews in the Land of Israel pre-dates 1967. It pre-dates 1948. And because throughout the article, he refers to Israel’s colonialism, its colonial project, and its colonial policies. Shlomo Avineri, center-left intellectual, translator of Marx and of Hegel into Hebrew, biographer of Herzl, in a recent op-ed argued that there is a central difference between Israeli and Palestinian views of the conflict.

While center and center-left Israelis view post-1967 policies as colonialist, they ultimately see the conflict as one between two national movements, which can be solved through the establishment of two states. But Palestinians see the entire modern era as one in which they are victims of colonial oppression imposed by illegitimate foreigners. Barghouti’s employment of this logic makes his claim that resetting the clock to 1967 will bring peaceful relations patently incredible.

The right is correct that this conflict has roots that go back long before 1948, with its radical displacement of Palestinian communities and the establishment of a Jewish state in which its Arab minority was subject to 18 years of martial law, from 1948-1966. While security concerns cannot justify all of Israeli policy, its history was shaped by Arab and Muslim antipathy to Jewish communities in a land where if Jews are foreigners, this was largely not by choice. Indeed, there were instances and stretches of comity and coexistence. But for long periods, for instance, Jews were forbidden to repair homes in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and lived in hovels. The halal abattoir was intentionally placed in the Jewish Quarter, which led to stench and disease. And by 1800, the total population of Jerusalem was 9,000 people. A third of the area inside the Old City walls, so densely populated today, was abandoned and blighted with swaths of rubble and bric-o-brac.

Nonetheless, as economic conditions and liberalizing policies enabled both Arabs and Jews to begin to revive the city, Jewish enthusiasm for doing so outstripped that of Arabs. Both communities returned, but Jews achieved a majority here, legally and without stealing anyone’s anything, in the face of discrimination from the Albanian and Turkish Muslim authorities and from their Palestinian Arab neighbors, before the first Zionist Congress met in Basel in 1897. Did these authorities, or the British mandatory authorities after them, have the legal and moral standing to grant Jewish access? Many argue that they didn’t. So what of Arabs who migrated here in this period? And what do I say to a friend who argues that they didn’t, but that any oil discovered on the Golan belongs legally and morally to Syria, because the Golan was made part of Syria by these same authorities?

Ultimately, I believe everything rides on Jerusalem. Since 1929, when Arab leaders have wanted to incite violence against Jews, they have concocted falsehoods that Al Aqsa is under Jewish attack. The same Jews that in 1967 when they took control of the city and could have dynamited the mosques, immediately affirmed Muslim administration of Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Yet Abbas and even Abdullah II of Jordan are doing so again. To be clear, there is indeed an interest among Jews for freer access to Temple Mount, not to the Mosques, but the area. But even among these, all but the most extreme fringe seem to be asking for nothing more than to be able to utter prayers, not inside the Mosques, but somewhere on the grounds of Haram el-Sharif/The Temple Mount. There is no question that given the current dynamics, this is a mistake at this juncture. But the fact that merely talking about it in the press in vague terms is seized on as “an attack on Al Aqsa” puts them at fault.

This toxic dynamic has nothing to do with the occupation, for it predates statehood. And it is a dynamic for which Palestinians bear full responsibility. It is an ingrained intolerance that has nothing to do with the lack of civic, economic, and national equality. This fundamental lack of equality of rights must be addressed, even if it doesn’t bring utopian coexistence. For equality of rights is a moral imperative and thus end in itself, not merely a political strategy…unless one holds with the rightwing that Palestinians would use these rights to annihilate us and that we have no other way to preserve ourselves. I think the IDF and an international consensus would address short term concerns and that an opportunity for Palestinians to develop themselves is the only thing with a chance of shifting history to address long-term rejectionism. History is neither static nor is it determined. While we cannot create new realities by fiat, our policies and their articulation can shift dynamics and trajectories.

But nonetheless, all of the incitement over Al Aqsa suggests that Barghouti should not believed. Indeed, he bolsters the most extreme arguments from the Israeli right when he complains: “Why then does the world stand still while the Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people in the city and in Muslim and Christian holy sites, notably Al-Haram al-Sharif, continue unabated?” But there have been no attacks on Al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, unless clearing out stockpiles of pipebombs and other weapons is an attack. And the only attack on a Church has been an act of terrorism that we failed to stop. An anomalous one. Israel actually has an excellent record of securing Muslim and Christian holy sites. It’s one of the things we do well. And this canard jars in particular given that in 1948, when Jordan seized control of East Jerusalem, including the Old City with its ancient Jewish Quarter that rose time and again out of the rubble despite Christian and Muslim authorities alike making life all but intolerable, the new authorities, assisted by the Palestinians in whose name Barghouti and Abbas speak, destroyed no less than 22 synagogues and systematically desecrated Jewish cemeteries. But we are supposed to consider reciting a Psalm on Temple Mount an attack?

Was the destruction of our synagogues and cemeteries in Jerusalem justifiable because we are colonialist foreigners with no valid historical connection to this land where our history and culture begins,and to which we have been turning and attempting to return while being both passively and actively excluded and in which we have been treated as foreigners all too often?

The demographic history of this region is more complicated than almost any other place in the world. It doesn’t begin in 1967, in 1948, in 1897, or even in the modern era. It goes back through the crusades and into antiquity. We aren’t Cowboys and they aren’t Indians. And over and over again I read that as an Ashkenazi Jew, I have no rights here unless I can prove with DNA analysis that I am not the product of Khazar converts. That’s right, DNA proof required. But I am the racist?

So yes, it’s about the occupation. But it’s not only about the occupation. It’s about colonialism, but not in any simple sense. It’s about a leadership vacuum and diplomatic stalemate. It’s about racism and religious antipathy….on both sides. It’s about a conflict between national movements and narratives. It’s about a disparity in the recognition of rights and starkly unequal material realities. It’s about self-image and it’s about international recognition. It’s about water and it’s about security. It won’t be solved through inertia, through quiet acquiescence. And it won’t be solved by a 13-year-old Palestinian Jerusalemite stabbing a 13-year-old Jewish Jerusalemite riding by on his bike.

I don’t know how to solve it. And neither do the Right or the Left or the Extremists or the Moderates or the Jews or the Arabs or the Israelis or the Palestinians or the Americans or the Russians or the EU or the Arab League or the Egyptians or the Jordanians or the Academics or the Journalists or the Rabbis or the Imams or the Priests or the Generals or the Activists or the Economists or the Business Leaders or the Mothers or the Fathers or the Grandparents or the Children.

But for God’s sake and for ours, do something.

About the Author
Ori Weisberg is a writer, editor, and translater. He holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance English Literature from the University of Michigan and has taught at Michigan State University in English and Jewish Studies, was a Golda Meir Post-Doctoral Fellow and served as Guest Lecturer at The Hebrew University, as well as at The Kibbutzim College and Bar Ilan University. Dr. Weisberg is also the composer of "Hashoshanim," a world-beat setting of the entire text of Shir Hashirim in an 18-song song cycle. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three implausibly attractive children.
Related Topics
Related Posts