Explaining why, as a member of the Likud, he was abstaining from voting for the Nation-State law, Benny Begin reportedly said, “When you wave your national flag, don’t put the stick in someone else’s eye”
So much of what we are fighting over in this Holy Land is over symbols. Which flag? Whose language? Which anthem?
And then there is the symbol most “coveted” — Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa mosque.
Rather than treading carefully, trying to put a thread through the eye of a needle, we have politicians and their sledgehammers who feel that they need to make a “public statement”.
Israel was already a “Jewish state,” as stated in the Declaration of Independence. No Zionist party was debating the Law of Return. Did it really need the flag and Hatikvah codified in law? From a Haredi perspective, is that what makes the state “Jewish”? Aren’t these just potentially secular symbols devoid of religious content?
Flags are rags at the ends of sticks that people are willing to die over. Symbols are ephemeral — they can mean nothing — or everything.
Symbols can be instrumental. They can bind us together — or they can tear us apart.
At the end of the day, there will be (at least) two peoples, two flags, two languages. In the realm of religion, however, there are between three and six members of Abrahamic faiths that call the Holy Land home: the “big 3”: Jews, Christians and Muslims; and the “smaller” 3: Samaritans, Druze and Bahais.
Ironically, it might be in the realm of religion that joint symbolism and effort may be effective.
The magic word is “Abraham”, “Ibrahim”. Jews, the oldest group, view him as their ancestor and as the “Father of Many Nations”. Muslims, Druze and Bahais, see themselves as progenitors of faiths that venerate Abraham. Christians view themselves as followers of Abraham as Gentiles before the birth of Ishmael and Isaac.
In Genesis 12:3, God promises to Abraham that those who bless him shall be blessed, those that curse him shall be cursed “and through you will be blessed all of the families of the Earth”.
Our families are our first unit of loyalty. Our first allegiance is to our mother and father, brothers and sisters. From there we may expand outward. The Abrahamic faiths are families. We are not the same. But the family resemblance is still there. At the end of the day, most of us believe we are praying to the same God, the God of Abraham.
So in this land so divided by symbols, perhaps there is this one cultural, political, spiritual symbol that we can gather around. We can have a our Jewish states and our Palestinian Arab states, but we should be bound together in a federation or confederation, with Abraham as a joint unifying symbol. Let us keep our flags and separate identities, but let us join together where possible. The goal is dignity and mutual respect on each other’s terms. We will not solve the problems overnight, but we will have opened up a vista that was never before seen.