Michael Berkowitz

Things I haven’t heard about Israel: Part 3

In earlier posts I made clear my opinion that the Jews have a right to sovereignty in their homeland.  I now turn to the matter of the Arabs who share the territory with us.

I suppose I could begin with a discussion of Israel’s Arab citizens, but I doubt I have anything to say on the matter that isn’t already in the public domain.  Perhaps I’ll just throw in that as an Orthodox Jew growing up in America I was well-aware that I was a minority and that the overall culture and even certain laws reflected the majority.  I took this as perfectly reasonable and felt no dissonance between my patriotism and my minority status.

And so we come to the Arabs living in the Territories.

Having, as I mentioned, grown up in America – and in the ‘60s no less – I am sympathetic to the claim that people should be able to vote for the body that governs them.  The choice that’s generally presented, then, is either granting Israeli citizenship to these Arabs or creating another state of which they’d be citizens, said state to occupy the land from Israel’s recognized eastern border to the Jordan.

Here’s why that second option elides over possibilities that are more reasonable:

  1. Recognize that these people already have self-rule. They vote (when they’re allowed to, but there’s no reason that would change with statehood) for the Palestinian Authority, which controls the territory where the vast majority of them live.  The PA runs the local police, schools, medical facilities and so forth.

Sure, one could argue, but Israel controls security, controls the borders and the airspace.  True, but there’s no “human right” to the possession of a tank or an anti-aircraft battery.  Or, for that matter, to cross into another people’s country.

But still, why should the Palestinians be denied these?  Because they allied themselves with and fought together with people who were trying to kill us.  It’s not only fair that that should come with a cost, it’s desirable.  It’s also clear, from lived experience, that they can’t be trusted with sharp objects, much less live ammunition.

But Israel still needs to retreat to its border so that Palestinians can move about freely within the Territories.  Well, no.  As I discussed in previous posts, Israel has every right to sovereignty over this area.  Right now we’re discussing how the Palestinians can exercise self-rule, not why they should rule territory where few of them live or why they should be trusted to stop killing Jews.  This isn’t an optimal solution for them, but it’s no less than they deserve (see the previous answer).  There’s also no “human right” to not wait on line – if there were, the International Criminal Court would be investigating the Department of Motor Vehicles.

  1. Give them Jordanian citizenship. Or Syrian.  Or Lebanese.  None of those countries wants them as citizens?  Neither does Israel, and – once again – Israel doesn’t need to pay for their misdeeds.

But those countries aren’t where the Palestinians live.  Leaving aside that generations of Palestinians have lived-and-died in those countries – and that nobody seems bothered by the fact that those countries haven’t granted them citizenship – the Palestinians share language, history, religion and family ties with them, which would give ample expression to their nationhood.

In fact, there’s a Palestinian/Israeli peace organization called Shorashim (“Roots”) that proposed an agreement some years ago according to which Palestinians living on the Israeli side of the border would vote in Palestinian elections and Jews on the Palestinian side would vote in Israeli elections.  If that’s acceptable, why not this?  In both cases we have people expressing their political rights by voting for a government that doesn’t control the area in which they live.

I hope these essays broaden the conversation surrounding Israel and the Arabs, which has been unnaturally constricted by what seems to be some combination of groupthink, self-interest and animus.  Certainly it hasn’t improved things.  Certainly years of prediction by “authoritative” voices have not shown a tendency to be, you know, predictive.  Who knows, maybe this will knock something loose.

About the Author
Michael and family moved from NYC to Alon Shvut in 1986. He works in Software; blogs sporadically on education, public policy and whatever else comes to mind; chairs the boards of two educational institutions and practices philosophy in the ancient tradition of corrupting the minds of youth.
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