Happy Twenty-fifth Anniversary

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood. – T.S. Eliot

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Too valuable to resolve. Too many people are too invested in the conflict.

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The peace story is also my story. For upper-middle-class secular Ashkenazi Israelis like me, peace…defined our identity. … Peace was our religion. … But the promise of peace was unfounded, … bogged down by a systematic denial of the brutal reality we live in. … [T]he Left endorsed the unsound and irrational belief that ending occupation would bring peace. … The Left adopted the peace illusion… – Ari Shavit, My Promised Land

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“You are trying to improve the conditions of the Palestinians and I’ll never let you get away with it.” Yasser Arafat…The PLO leadership benefited in many ways and wanted to keep the people subjugated and impoverished for personal gain and in order to create the sympathy of the world. – Tal Becker, negotiator for Israel during Oslo in 1994, Hartman Institute, June 20, 2018

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On September 13, 1993, a group of self-aggrandizing leaders, smiling and shaking hands, gathered on the White House lawn to witness the signing of a document that was a blatant lie. Today, twenty-five years later, you would have to live in an alternate universe to say that there was even one day when the fraud wasn’t apparent to anyone who truly cared about peace or Jewish lives. It was a charade from the beginning. All those despicable photo-ops documented the lie. Complicit in the lie were President William Jefferson Clinton, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Contemptible stupidity later coupled with the obscenity of tagging body parts of murdered Jews “korbanot hashalom” – sacrifices for peace.

Over 1400 Israeli Jews were slaughtered in bus bombings, suicide bomber attacks, at Passover seders, in ice cream shops and marketplaces on the streets of Israel, and still the feckless Jewish leaders, in Israel and in America, eagerly sloshed through the bloody remains, urging the participants to continue their peace babble, while smiling for the cameras, as three of the culprits grabbed Nobel Peace Prizes they never deserved, quickly depositing blood money into their bank accounts. Looking back, Oslo brought nothing but shame.

It was a real Nobel laureate, Robert Aumann, who wrote at the time, “By relentlessly seeking Peace Now, Israel has predictably communicated to the Arabs that terror and aggression work. By repeatedly informing the Arabs that it wants peace more than it wants victory, Israel evinces a short-term strategy that powerfully and consistently rewards bad behavior. As a result, Israel gets neither peace nor victory. … By accommodating aggression, a nation invites it. Peace requires the imposition of penalties on aggression” (George Gilder, The Israel Test) – harsh penalties, like closing the checkbook to the PLO, Hamas and UNRWA. Forgotten was that Oslo was about autonomy – self-rule, not a state. But once you’re on that slippery slope…

An Arab I once talked with in eastern Jerusalem explained that the failure of Oslo was a failure to understand his culture. In the bazaar, there are two interesting Arab sayings: “The blood of the lamb excites the tiger,” and even more profound, “What was taken by blood can only be redeemed through blood” — the underpinnings of an “honor and shame” society. That is what was in play. Our peace partners and their all-too-willing martyrs were happily going for those 72 virgins as blood flowed on the streets of Israel.

Back in those bloody days, I was labeled an “enemy of peace” for pointing out unambiguously that in speech after speech to his own Arab people, Arafat was inciting his blessed shahids to murder Jews. Yet sadly, Jewish leaders could only drool waiting for their next claim of imminent success. Peace was just around the corner! I chose to wear my honor as an enemy of Oslo with pride. “It was just a few bad  jihadists,” claimed the peace-processors. After the first 400 dead Jews from 1994-2000, the “machers” began to finally wake up, when it became so bloody they could no longer rationalize the situation. They called it the Second Intifada, but the truth was the First Intifada had never stopped. The remains of burntout buses in Afula and Jerusalem were trophies to the blessed shahids, as their heroic pictures were plastered on the walls in Arab towns and villages for others to follow in their heroic footsteps, and Arab mothers smiled and handed out candies, never to see their sons again.

How could those who claimed to care about Jewish lives sleep at night? Did Jewish leaders once again turn their backs on fellow Jews as they did 60 years before? Again surrounded by mounds of dead Jews, had nothing changed but the names? Our people have seen this story before over the last 2,000 years. Yet sadly, feckless leaders whispered sha’stil, while liberal Diaspora rabbis 6,000 miles away intoned the mantra that everything will be good. Remember, you must pursue peace – as if it were righteous to pursue peace to the last Jew.

After the Oslo Accords (1993) came the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (1994), followed by the Oslo 2 Accord (1995), followed by the Redeployment Agreement in Hebron (1997), followed by the Wye River Memorandum (1998), followed by the Sharm el-Sheik Memorandum (1999). All bloodstained, worthless pieces of paper. And at the United Nations, Israel was condemned for building a wall!

I am not into mysticism. I read only the pshat, but a wise old rabbi once told me, “If I didn’t believe it I wouldn’t have seen it.” In those days of my frustration and anger I found comfort in a story I kept near my desk at work, and at my bedside and read and reread often. It gave me solace and determination as I continued my public confrontations. How I happened upon this story I can’t remember, but it had to do with a profound idea of turning admonitions and curses into blessings, since there was no doubt in my mind that with Oslo, we were living in a time of curses. Where was the underlying blessing? Certainly the affirmation after the Shoah was “Am Yisrael Chai,” not “Am Yisrael Die”! What was I missing? What was the secret?

No matter how many times Peres, Barak or Olmert, Clinton, Bush or Obama tried to give away pieces of our Torah’s homeland (and sadly these fools were all too willing), the hearts of our “peace partners”- our enemies– first Arafat and then Abbas — were seemingly hardened as they refused to accept offers of our sacred Holy Land… offered, one might say, on a silver platter.

The story I read was from the Baal Shem Tov, “that everything that is secret has a superior quality; therefore the blessings that are enveloped in the garb of curses are even more elevated.” Oslo had been a curse.

In the introduction to Ma’amar Mordechai, the son of the author wrote that once his father was in Lublin for Parashat Be-Hukotai and heard that it is worthwhile spending this Sabbath with the Maggid of Kozienice because he turns the Admonishment into blessings. When the author of Ma’amar Mordechai heard this, he set off by foot to arrive in Kozienice by the Sabbath. During the Torah service he stood directly in front of the Maggid as he read from the Torah. When he reached the Admonishment he raised his voice, louder and louder, and when he came to the verse, “I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors” (Lev. 26:31), he exclaimed, “Our Father in Heaven, grant that we have the merit to reach this hour.”

The Maggid of Kozienice did not explain his words. It seems to me that the blessing embedded in this verse was the following: “Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin” so that the other nations not come and settle in your land and prevent you from returning. Rather, the land will remain a desolation, waiting for you to return from your evil ways. Indeed, we witness with our own eyes that for two thousand years, as the land of Israel passed from one nation to another, and from one rule to another, not one of them succeeded in settling it and maintaining their existence there. The land maintained its desolation and awaits its children to redeem it until the end of time. (“Turning Curses Into Blessings,” Rabbi Dr. Haim Talbi, Bar Ilan University)

And then the words of historian, John Gunther flashed in my memory:

The concrete achievements of Zionism have been considerable. … I have watched the immigrants come in at Jaffa on boats like troop ships from the ghettos of Lamberg and Czernowitz and Prague. No, they were not handsome, vigorous young men. No, they were not lit by any apparent inward fire. Instead, they were wretchedly dressed and miserably poor. … They looked like refugees from the slums. But a few years later, I saw these same people tilling the soil, carving a livelihood out of the dusty rock of the Jordan Hills and the Plain of Esdraelon – upright, alert, self-sufficient, with pride in their work, and pride in themselves. … The transformation was all but unbelievable. … They had transformed the land, (but the reality was), the Land had transformed them. (John Gunther, Inside Asia, 1938)

Yet not long after, in contemptible weakness, the once heroic Israeli General Arik Sharon capitulated to the pressures of the U.S. State Department and forcibly expelled the courageous Jews living in Gaza. To what end? It was madness, and again Israel was to pay dearly with three wars, hundreds of missiles and the senseless death of dozens of young heroic Jewish soldiers. A once heroic legacy was severely tarnished. It was the Israeli prince of the Left, Ari Shavit, who confessed, “The. promise of peace was unfounded …the Left had adopted the peace illusion.” But as the story of curses and blessings swirled in my head, I read a headline in Arutz Sheva and then similar stories in the Jerusalem Post and then Ha’aretz, and I began to understand the blessing.

In 1993, the shtetl Jews of the Labor government were in power and there were just over 100,000 Jews living in Judea/Samaria, with 30,000 Jews living in eastern Jerusalem. Israel’s economy was sluggish and Jews in Israel were demoralized, as if they had been cursed. Then came Oslo, and slowly, seemingly with each slaughter, the delusion of peace began to fade and the Jews of Israel began to awaken to a new reality. More Jewish babies were being born. A new generation was coming of age. “The transformation was all but unbelievable.” In the last 25 years, a new generation of Israeli Jews has emerged. There are now close to 500,000 Jews living in Judea/Samaria and 300,000 more Jews living in eastern Jerusalem. Jews in Israel are having more and more babies. Last year was the fourth consecutive record year for Jewish births. Israel has become one of the world’s premier economies, called the “Startup Nation.” As Israel got up off its knees and stood “upright, alert, self-sufficient, with pride in their work, and pride in themselves,” countries all over the world have flocked to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel now has relations with 164 of the 192 members of the United Nations, while Arab countries are sneaking in through the back door. The once-powerful left-wing Labor Party has become irrelevant as the blessings have become more obvious.

It is said that Hadar begins with a proclamation of a Jew’s own self-worth and dignity, an affirmation of self-respect and a demand for respect from others. It means the burial of a Jew’s neurotic need to be loved. But before one can even hope to win love he must gain respect – and it begins with self-respect. In the words of a wise old Rav, “If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t have seen it!” Today, Israel is beginning to live in the time of the blessings of our G-d. Enjoy!

Shabbat Shalom, 09/14/18; Shana Tova 5779                     Jack “Yehoshua” Berger

* *Back issues archived at Times of Israel.com

About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.
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