While we go about our daily lives and prepare for Pesach, one family’s world in Israel has just fallen apart. One minute, they were having a normal day, and cleaning their home of Hametz, and the next, they receive a knock on the door, and an IDF officer brings them heartbreaking news. From that moment on, their lives will have changed forever. Instead of concentrating on making this Seder a memorable one, they now must turn their attention to organizing a funeral and preparing their house for Shiva. I am once again reminded that our lives dangle from a delicate thread and despite how we strive to leave our mark on this world with our achievements and acquisitions, in the end, it only takes a split second to be reminded how fleeting life really is.
Elhai Taharlev; G-d Lives, pure of heart. I found myself instantly liking him, without ever having known him, from just hearing his name. The very optimism of it is contagious. Elhai’s family is religious-Zionist. They live in a settlement in territories acquired as a result of the Six Day War, called Talmon, near Ramallah. Despite the strong ideological objections I have with regard to settlers and settlements in these disputed territories, I nevertheless feel deeply the pain of their loss and their grief. Perhaps that is Israel’s saving grace, in a society riven with acrimony and growing enmity towards those who do not subscribe to your political view – our ability to unite in our outrage against terror and in giving comfort to the families of the victims.
This conflict with the Palestinians has taken far too many unnecessary casualties, on both sides. Now, Elhai is another tragic victim to this century old conflict, and no less tragically, have the qualities described in his name.
I have lived in Israel for 35 years now and I cannot contemplate living anywhere else. My passionate Zionism has not waned. However over the years, as we continue to rule over a people against their will, and our presence in the disputed territories becomes deeper and more intrusive, I have witnessed an erosion of the very values which made the Zionist enterprise so attractive and just to me in the first place. It is as if we are prepared to sacrifice the very substance of our cause, for a piece of land which we arguably may have a right to, but by holding onto it, we eventually will be forced to relinquish our collective moral soul as Jews and human beings, leaving us with an empty vessel. And as the mighty Roman Empire learned to it detriment, without strong moral substance, the society collapses from within.
We say that we want peace, that our hand is always outstretched. Yet, religious Zionists believe that the land of Judea and Samaria was bequeathed us by G-d, and it is our duty a great mitzvah, to reclaim it. They cite important biblical tracts as a justification for building settlements and then say that we cannot afford to give the Palestinians a state, for security reasons, because it will be used to attack us. They proclaim that the two state solution is dead “because we have no partner”. Really? And, if we DID have a partner, is it conceivable that under any circumstances, they would ever willingly relinquish land bequeathed to us by G-d, with their deep religious commitment to settle the West Bank? Even if there was a lasting peace? Of course not! It is against their beliefs. Therefore, citing security concerns, is irrelevant to their argument, and claiming that their rejection of territorial compromise and a Palestinian state is because they worry about more Jews being slaughtered by terrorists, is dishonest and cynical. Not exactly pure of heart.
The Palestinians use the “injustice” of our occupation of the West Bank as the reason for their “mukawama”, their armed struggle, their murderous terrorist attacks. Their whole diplomatic offensive against us is predicated on the fact that our occupation of the West Bank oppresses them, that settlements are an obstacle to peace, and that we have implemented an “apartheid” system. Yet, how many Palestinians are willing to accept our right to exist and for Israel – regardless of what its borders would be – to be a home for Jews? Not one person in the Palestinian leadership is willing to do that, certainly not Abu Mazen. So the issue of the occupation of the West Bank and the injustices they suffer (and, yes, there are some injustices, for sure), is but a smoke screen to hide their ulterior motive, which is the destruction of Israel as a state for Jews. That too, is severely lacking in honesty and purity of intent. How can we negotiate peace in this atmosphere of distrust, and where their true intentions are kept hidden? How can peace be genuine, if they are unwilling to abandon this one of their basic ideological aims? Good faith?
But, let us put that aside for a moment and indulge in some self-examination, before we start deflecting and pointing fingers at others. Ever since Rabin’s assassination at the hands of a fellow Jew, it is becoming harder to do. It is as if Israel lost not only its innocence on that fateful night in November 1994, it also lost its ability to control the boundaries of acceptable discourse. Over the last twenty years, our differences have become more acrimonious and our intolerance of others’ opinions more extreme, polarized and violent. This has gotten to the extent that in some quarters opposition to the government and its policies in the West Bank, is considered anti-Zionist and treason. The minute one equates opposition to the government with loyalty to the country, is the moment when a democracy begins to turn into a despotism. Where is the purity of heart among people who think that?
Before we can even contemplate resolving the conflict that has taken such a terrible toll, first we must learn again to resolve the differences among us. The great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber wrote in his philosophy of I-Thou, that in order for us to establish a meaningful I-thou relationship with G-d, we first must achieve I-thou relationships with fellow man.
We need to begin to learn once again to talk to each other, not at each other. We must recognize that we have a common destiny and that no tract of land is more important than the health of our society, because in the end we will need to live with ourselves. Israel’s resilience relies on our ability to come together and unite in times of adversity, which we face, all too frequently. Unity does not come from imposing one’s views on others, but by accepting the diversity of our views as a part of who we are.