PART 1: Vision For Jewish Sovereignty
I’ve always found it fascinating to consider that whenever impassioned Jewish rights activists defend our claims to the regions of Judea and Samaria based on a biblical argument–in addition to the plethora of historical and archeological facts that connects us to what is the cradle of Jewish civilization–it is out rightly dismissed by the international community, and unfortunately much of Diaspora Jewry as well, as being an inherently more irrational and outdated argument. Thus, they claim that any such historical-religious argument has no valid standing in the 21st century debate on modern territories and the future of such territories should be subject to the “legality” of international law.
Let’s consider just a couple of issues: The International law regarding an “Occupying Power” based on the 4th Geneva Conventions of 1949, as it applies to Israel, presupposes what it sets out to prove—a classic logical fallacy. Essentially, it does this by starting with the unsubstantiated assumption that Jews have no historically legal claim to Judea and Samaria and hence once we restored a Jewish presence there in 1967, this action was retroactively illegal and thus conveniently reverts back to their initial assumption anyways. Parenthetically, the legal counter-argument citing the 1922 map of Mandate of Palestine (accepted by the League of Nations) that designated what was then Transjordan for an Arab state and the territory between the Jordan river the Mediterranean as a future Jewish homeland, is arbitrarily deemed irrelevant in their eyes too. A far cry away from its initial conception to protect wounded soldiers and the sick with the establishment of the Red Cross, the most recent 4th Geneva Conventions regarding an “Occupying Power” have become a political weapon to target Israel and deny well-documented indigenous Jewish claims to this territory throughout centuries on end.
Furthermore, disregard the fact that these International Conventions about the laws of war and what constitutes a just treatment of native civilians are most strongly being advocated by the moral exemplars of the likes of France, the U.K, Germany, and Italy whose relatively recent histories is rampant with much of the very same violations, if not worse. European colonialist tactics constituted some of the very worst human rights violations and actual ethnic cleansing leading up to WWII. The intricacies of these laws were further devised, via international bodies, by elitist professors and “experts” who reside in ivory towers and have no actual understanding or experience of the conflict on the ground. Hence, they are in no justifiable position to dictate what the final status of the land in Judea and Samaria must be.
(Disclaimer: This is not in an effort to dismiss the relevance of all forms of international law or to say that it is completely meaningless. But it is in an effort to call for people to think critically about these issues and not succumb to blindly accepting the reality given superior demands from institutions—whatever those institutions may be. As they too can be flawed and unethical in both judgement and practice.)
Many in the pro-Israel camp mainly justify our claim within the contexts of international law, disputing that the 4th Geneva Conventions notion of Occupied Territories and prohibitions of transferring another native population does not apply to Israel on two grounds: 1) The 1967 War was a war of self-defense and such laws pertaining to “Occupying Power” does not apply in such cases and more importantly 2) There was no prior legal owner of the Territories of Judea and Samaria as it was being illegally occupied by Jordan for 19 years. Therefore it must be designated as “Disputed Territories” to be resolved by future negotiations, and thus not all settlements are created equal.
Both of these claims may indeed have their merits. However, using these sort of defensive rebuttals alone rooted in the modern notion of legality, will not negate or suddenly change the views of such institutions–and more importantly the hearts and minds in the court of public opinion–to accept indigenous Jewish rights to live freely between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. And when this appears to be the rationale for continued advocacy by many in the mainstream Hasbara organizations, it begs the question if that is the most useful strategy of advocating for our rights to reside in all parts of our ancestral homeland.
But just take a step back and consider for a moment if the topic of discussion was not about Jewish indigenous rights to Jerusalem, Hebron, Jericho and Shilo, but was with regards to the Muslim communities historic and religious rights to Mecca and Medina, or of Christians historic and religious rights to the Vatican. Consider for a moment what the statements and consensus would be amongst the international community if the rights and legitimacy of said groups to their historic holy sites and ancient cities were called into question. If a devout Muslim cleric would stand firmly and establish his connection to Mecca through the words of the Koran and their prophets, would that be seen as any less legitimate and rational a claim? Would the world blink an eye? Would Western society have a second thought on a resolution re-affirming the Vatican to be the home of the Pope and Catholicism?
Granted, it is not a precise parallel since the Muslim community of Saudi Arabia and Christian community of Italy were not similarly subject to two millennia of crusades, conquests, pogroms, genocide and other imperialist tactics to attempt to abolish their sovereignty from their lands. Others may claim it is not a precise parallel for other reasons, but nevertheless the historical reality remains true: a Jews connection to Hebron—let alone Jerusalem—is at least 2,000 years older than Christians to the Vatican and 2,500 years older than Muslims to Mecca. And yet, the international community is still baffled as to why a small pocket of courageous Jews chose to live there and defend the rights of global Jewry to visit every year.
Opponents who challenge the notion of Jewish historic and religious claims to the Land of Israel state that the existence of two Kingdoms of Israel during both Temple periods only occurred after the ancient Israelites, under the leadership of the prophet Joshua, unjustly arrived and conquered the land from the seven biblical nations who peacefully resided there beforehand. They were the true indigenous population, they claim, and we are the original colonizers. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately for them, this biblical counterargument is factually inconsistent with the texts of the Bible itself. And for my Jewish brothers and sisters, it’s imperative that we are educated with the basics of our people’s story so we too do not fall prey in making the same false accusations against ourselves.
There are several reason given as to why Abraham was called “Avraham Ha’Ivri”- “Abraham the Israelite” yet the most simple reason provided is because of his family roots. The name Ivri is given to Abraham since he descends from lineage of Ever, who was the decedent of Noach and the great grandson of Shem (Noach’s son). Scripture states, the Jewish people descend from Shem whose family resided on the “other side” [of the Jordan river] (Genesis-10:21). As the biblical commentaries expound in early Genesis, Abraham’s family originally resided in Land of Ivrim, which was the biblical name given to the portion of land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean prior to it being renamed Canaan.
However, once the Canaanites and other nations conquered the Land thereafter, this sent Abraham’s father, Terach, fleeing into exile to modern-day Iraq in the city of Ur Kasdim. After which, he resettled in the city of Charan—where the story of “Lech Lecha” begins with Abraham . In fact, if you take a look at the last verses of Parshat Noach, you will explicitly see that the verse says that Terach had an intention to return to Canaan (the land of his forefathers) but stopped half-way in Charan. In other words, it was not a coincidence that Abraham was born in city of Ur Kasdim; he and his family were religious refugees, fleeing after the very first conquests of their native homeland.
Thus aside from pointing out the vicious hypocrisy that exists within international law, there is also an internal message we must take away. The Jewish nation, especially Diaspora Jewry here in the United States, must begin to internalize this paradigm shift of re-envisioning our claim For Jewish Sovereignty. That is, any claim and justification that we have to reside in this land is not a result of the Balfour Declaration or the legal consequences of the U.N Partition Plan of 1947. Rather it is simply yet emphatically because this is where indigenous Hebrew civilization originated over 3,000 years ago, revived itself out of the ashes, and has culminated with our people’s collective story until this day.
The global Jewish community, especially those who claim to fight for causes of social justice and morality, must learn from and internalize the implicit message of other religious, ethnic, and indigenous groups similar to that of the Native Americans to their lands and the rights of Kurds to their own nation-state:
Take a defiant stance in what we inherently know deep down to be the truth, but repeatedly fail to fully acknowledge and admit to ourselves and to the world: The full Land of Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, is the ancestral, biblically-mandated homeland of the Jewish people and the only reason we have lost complete sovereignty over the land is because of repeated historical injustices committed against our people—one occupation after the next.
PART 2: Vision Of Jewish Sovereignty
But let’s investigate this matter of indigeneity further: If Abraham really was indigenous to the Land of the Ivrim doesn’t that make it possible that Palestinians, who claim to descent from our tribal cousins Yishmael and by extension Abraham, are also indigenous to the land too?
Yes, very much so. Regardless of the many valid issues pro-Israel Jews may have with the modern political tactics and formation of the PLO in the 1960s, it also remains a historical fact that an Arab population has been residing in this territory for over a millennia, if not longer, and they have experienced their own share of profoundly negative realities under the current status quo in the territories—whether it be because a morally bankrupt political system of the PA or lack of leadership on the Israeli part for several decades to seek genuine change in the region. And this brings us to our second topic of discussion: Re-Envisioning our claim Of Jewish Sovereignty.
First, there can be no over-emphasizing the point that anyone who is serious about achieving genuine peace in the Middle East, will relinquish the fantastical idea of a “two-state solution” and allow for genuine grassroots engagements among Israelis and Palestinians on the ground who seek a future of economic and civil integration. Not only is the historical incompetence of the two-state formula for achieving peace utterly clear, it is a notion that is weak and shallow from a moral perspective as well.
Unfortunately, the Western-backed notion that peace and civility can only be achieved by drawing imaginary green lines and telling two ethnic groups where they can and cannot live is not a recipe for harmony; it’s a recipe for perpetual bloodshed and war that foreign entities, the mass media, and international NGOs benefit from the most while the people on the ground suffer the devastating consequences, year in and year out. The worst nightmare of the “peace industry” NGOs who strives to reach a “two-state solution” is any alternative that they fear may in fact be more viable in creating an honest vision of peace.
The State of Israel, therefore, cannot and should not be allowed to be partitioned—whether under a U.N Resolution sponsored by the E.U or a Trump Peace Plan that is said to be our best chance at achieving “peace”. Forcibly segregating two indigenous ethnic groups from a territory, into two divided lands, is not peace; it’s non-belligerency at best. And it fails to satisfy the aspirations and grievances of both the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Second, given that we have touched upon what I believe is one of the greatest Jewish aspirations with regard to Judea and Samaria; we must seek to understand what the Palestinian aspirations, and therefore challenges, are too.
Of course, I cannot profess to speak on behalf of an entire population I am not even part of, but I can only offer the small insight I have gained through personal conversations with Palestinians in addition to listening to the words of Palestinian students on campus who are some of Israel’s greatest critics. It’s convenient to dismiss anyone who attacks Israel and its policies as espousing hatred in their hearts; for it’s certainly much more challenging to listen deeper and come to a honest conclusion as to whether there is what to learn and gain from those who you initially perceived to be your staunchest adversaries, but may in fact turn out to just want much of the same things you do.
The main ideas that I have heard first-hand and seen advocated by activists is with regards to daily living challenges in the territories. These include; lack of freedom of movement, the embarrassment of checkpoints/constant reminder of a border wall that makes them feel lesser than, lack of natural resources, and the terrible economic conditions and opportunities–due to a plethora of reasons that stem both internally and from the limited number of permits that enable them to work in Israel proper. I’ve always learned and believed it was the case that the barrier wall and checkpoints were installed to control terror attacks during the height of the Second Intifada, and this may indeed have been the rationale behind their building and arguments can be made in favor of its success of saving lives.
But then I considered that the insistence on their continued existence until today in 2020 comes along with perpetual and inevitable consequence of viewing Israelis as the enemy that will come about when the Palestinian masses experience a military bureaucracy on a daily basis. Not to mention the growing sentiment among Israeli security experts who claim that the real underlying aim of the wall was and continues to be a political tactic to divide the land into two. Thus, measures should be explored for their gradual and responsible removal once greater respectful integration is made possible by abandoning the two-state paradigm.
For Palestinians, the word Occupation means something very real and visceral, but for Jews, especially religiously and historically conscious Jews, it is an offense to claim that we’d ever be guilty of occupying a land that we are native too. This is where understanding the narrative of the other is vitally important since we can then transcend the surface level attacks in our conversation of certain buzz words and actually begin to understand how the two groups relate to the same word in vastly different contexts.
So, Palestinian statehood in Judea and Samaria from what I’ve heard from several Palestinians and also personally gained is not, at least for a growing number of them, an end in and of itself. Rather it represents a means to an end of achieving these goals that overall constitute living a life of economic mobility and prosperity and a socially-dignified place in society. Palestinian statehood in Judea and Samaria would unequivocally be a moral injustice against Jewish rights to live freely and experience sovereignty in the heart of our ancestral homeland; but why must that be the only resolution for achieving these aspirations? There is a growing number of Israeli religious leaders and Palestinians, especially amongst the Palestinian youth, who desire a one state alternative.
Many Jews are instinctively alarmed at the notion of one-state since they believe this is an end to the Jewish State as we know it. The question here that the Jewish community must consider is as follows: What makes the state of Israel Jewish to begin with? Is it something as superficial as a purely demographic majority or something that has more to do with the values, ethics, and moral code of law that the nation is run by? Perhaps we should be giving this more thought. We must also begin to realize that from a cultural, ethnic, and theological perspective, many Israelis and Palestinian share more in common that does a Diaspora Jew with his western counter-part. (Just to note: the largest growing populations between the Jordan river the Mediterranean is Jewish community, but even if that were not the case, Jews being a majority does not automatically create the Jewish status of a State.)
We must not give credence to the extreme notion in some Jewish circles that a population of over 3.3 million people, or even a majority, seek the demise of the entire Jewish nation. Incitement and violence in the Palestinian youth is a very serious problem, but children are not born with hatred in their hearts—they are taught it. And just as they can be taught to hate, they can be be taught a new path as well given the proper tools and conditions that will enable them to envision a more sustainable future for themselves. Better yet an enhanced mutual-education for the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian youth alike can be implemented; one that is rooted in a deep sense of respect and recognizing the humanity of one another.
To build upon the notion For Jewish Sovereignty and recognizing our historic connection in all parts of Israel comes another shift and acceptance that must take place as well that will impact the notion Of Jewish Sovereignty. As has been advocated by the Vision Movement, we must gradually move beyond the narrow notion of “Jewish Rights” in the regions of Judea and Samaria, and begin to then consider the notion of “Jewish Obligations” in the territories as well—to all the non-Jewish minorities living there. Although this must be fleshed out, Vision has stated that this translates into several meaningful policy changes that can be made in the near future, including paying the salaries of civil servants in Palestinian society, including essential workers such as firefighters, teachers, and other healthcare workers to transition into economic integration.
Furthermore, if the issue of education is seen as being so paramount, which it should be given the level of miseducation and violence taught in the curriculum, greater funding for Palestinian youth education can be offered with greater access to quality teachers and extracurricular opportunities for adolescents in their communities. As these seeds are planted, this can naturally lead to the establishment of innovative companies in Judea and Samaria that will be able to hire both Israelis and Palestinians to work side-by-side (as many obtained a glimpse of with Soda-Stream). Ultimately, when the process advances, voting rights can be extended and devised in a new fashion to give more individual autonomy to various city councils—whether in Nabulus, Hebron, or Jericho—to have more democratic say in who their elected officials are to represent them.
This notion of Peace will be one, not characterized by division, separation, checkpoints, and walls, but of inclusion of the other in a Jewish State of Israel. Needless to say, this change will not occur overnight—nor will it occur via selective application of Jewish Law to 30% of the territories. However, it is an idea that must begin to take root in the heart and minds of people if genuine change is to come about.
Lastly, we should aspire to live up to the Divine words of the Torah, ancient prophets, and sages, if we are genuine about fostering a lasting semblance of peace and justice in the region. This does not translate into creating a theocratic state nor does it mean abandoning the pluralistic values of equality and freedom in the modern State. But it does mean looking into our rich sources and texts and seeing how ancient principles, that were extraordinarily revolutionary for their times such as the principles of treating a gentile in Jewish society, can be applied in the modern context of 21st century Israel. Yes, this is possible to do. But it requires intense discussion and what it means to create a more just, democratic, and authentically Jewish state of Israel for all inhabitants of the Land.
In conclusion, the first step in aspiring for genuine peace and change to take hold in the region begins with an altering of our own self-perception and belonging to this territory: Jews are indigenous to the Land of Judea and removing them from their homes would simply be another imperialist action of injustice in the vast contexts of historical injustices committed against our people. And we, as a Jewish community and the leaders of our communities, should learn from the lessons of history. We should have the courage and strength to take upon ourselves the mantle of a divinely-ordained responsibility to mankind.
For when we are bold enough and respect ourselves enough to admit our truth to the world, perhaps, just perhaps, the world will begin to respect us more too and listen to our message.