Where I stand

The Israeli flag flying at the Western Wall (Photo courtesy of Brian Burke)

I am an American Jew. I am a proud Zionist. I am a member of Gen Z. I was born after the height of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process of the 1990s and was a young child during the Second Intifada of the early 2000s. 

I stand in the political center. I believe the Jewish people, indigenous to the Land of Israel, have a historical and legal right to the entire land. I also recognize that Palestinian Arabs have a deep-rooted connection to the same land, with their own narrative and legitimate right to self-determination. I believe that some kind of negotiated two-state solution is the only way for Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic state in the long term, though I do not think it will or should happen anytime soon.

This is not a summary of my position on the conflict. This is where I stand. 

Rocket Attacks from Gaza

Since last Monday, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have fired almost 4,000 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza into Israel. Millions have been forced to flee to shelters during the attacks. Thankfully the Iron Dome has intercepted most of these rockets, but it is not perfect. To date, twelve people in Israel have been killed. Hundreds have been injured.

In response to the firing of rockets at Jerusalem, the IDF launched an operation against Hamas and PIJ. Underground terror tunnels, rocket manufacturing facilities, weapons depots, Hamas intelligence centers, and other terror infrastructure and assets have been destroyed. Dozens of terrorist leaders and operatives have been killed. 

Sadly, several dozen Palestinian civilians have been killed and over a thousand injured. Every innocent life lost is a tragedy. The IDF does its best to avoid civilian casualties, using phone calls, text messages, and non-lethal “knock on the roof” missiles to warn civilians before strikes.

Hamas and PIJ do not care about innocent Palestinians dying. If these Iranian-backed terror groups did, they would not place rocket launchers in homes. They would not build terror tunnels underneath apartment buildings, or store weapons and run operations out of buildings with civilian occupants. Hamas and PIJ use Palestinian civilians as human shields as they shoot rockets and missiles into Israel and target Israeli civilians. 

Israel has every right to forcefully respond to these attacks. There is no moral equivalency whatsoever between the Jewish state and the terrorists seeking its destruction. One side hides behind civilians to launch rockets and missiles. The other does its utmost to avoid civilian casualties while fighting an enemy that purposefully embeds itself among civilians. 

I stand with the IDF as it defends the state and people of Israel. I stand with Israelis, including friends and family who have spent the past week under rocket attack from genocidal terrorists. 

Arab-Jewish violence across Israel 

The scenes coming out of Lod, Akko, Bat Yam, Jaffa, and other cities of intense violence between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens are heartbreaking.

Arab rioters have beaten Jews, set synagogues on fire, and thrown firebombs and Molotov cocktails at Jewish homes. Jewish rioters have attacked Arabs, set fire to a Muslim cemetery, and vandalized Arab-owned businesses. Obviously, these rioters do not represent a majority of Israel’s citizens. Nonetheless, the violence is deeply troubling and a true threat to the country’s delicate and complex social fabric. 

Figures from across the political spectrum have condemned the violence and called for calm. Law enforcement authorities are working to quell the rioting and attacks. Hundreds have been arrested. Anyone involved must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

Israeli Arabs have legitimate grievances. Arab cities, towns, villages and neighborhoods have been plagued by inter-communal violence for years, with law enforcement often unable or unwilling to prevent it. The community poverty rate is higher than the Israeli national average. Budgets for education, infrastructure, and other programs are often smaller than in many Jewish-majority areas (various Israeli governments have worked to shrink the gaps, yet there is still a lot of work to be done. One of the kingmakers in the Knesset is the leader of the Islamist Ra’am party, Mansour Abbas, who has sought to bring the socio-economic needs of Arab citizens to the forefront of the national debate amidst Israel’s political crisis). 

None of these issues justify committing these crimes. The same goes for Jews. No amount of rocket attacks or Arab violence justifies attacking innocent Arabs and turning to vigilantism. Coexistence between Jews and Arabs in many places across Israel, often difficult on even the easiest of days, has taken a serious hit. 

Nevertheless, I remain hopeful. I stand with the Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, who have come together in the face of these violent riots to call for coexistence, repair damaged properties, and build peace between neighbors. 

Tensions in Jerusalem

Jerusalem has been on edge for weeks. Barriers outside Damascus Gate to prevent crowding during Ramadan were installed and then removed after a wave of Palestinian protests. Videos showing Haredi Jews being beaten by Palestinian youths were uploaded online, leading to far-right Jewish supremacists marching through parts of the city, attacking Arabs and clashing with counter-protesters and police. 

In the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, a decades-long property dispute that has been making its way through Israeli courts came to symbolize tensions in the city. The case is centered around land purchased by Jewish religious trusts in the late nineteenth century. Palestinians were settled on the land in UN-built and funded homes by Jordan following the 1948 war, when Jews were forced out of Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem. 

The ownership of the land was never transferred by the Jordanians to the tenants, who have been living rent-free. The Palestinian families now face eviction from the new owners of the land, a Jewish organization that purchased it from the original religious trusts. A compromise put forward in which the Palestinian residents would pay rent to the Jewish owners was rejected by the tenants. The Israeli Supreme Court was due to hear the case last week, but the hearing was postponed in light of the recent tensions.

On the Temple Mount, Palestinian extremists stockpiled rocks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks inside the Al Aqsa Mosque, throwing them at Israeli security forces on and below the mount. This led police to respond with riot control measures. Several hundred people were injured on Sunday and Monday. Who stores weapons at their holy site and then tries to distort what happens to have the Muslim world condemn Israel for trying to keep the peace? It is laughable if it were not so depressing. 

Last Monday was also Yom Yerushalayim. Israel banned Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and rerouted the Flag Day parade away from the Muslim Quarter in an effort to create calm.

Hamas used these events and the postponed Palestinian elections to enflame tensions and as an excuse to attack Israel, portraying itself as the defender of Jerusalem and the leading Palestinian movement. It has incited violence among Israel’s Arab citizens, worked to sideline the PA, fired thousands of rockets, and called on its supporters to commit terror attacks in the West Bank. 

So where do I stand when it comes to recent events in Jerusalem? I stand against Palestinians beating up Haredim and posting the videos on social media. I stand against the Kahanist Jewish supremacists beating Arabs. I stand against Palestinian extremists stockpiling weapons at a holy site and using them to attack people and riot. 

When it comes to Sheikh Jarrah, I stand with a thorough and comprehensive legal proceeding in the Israeli Supreme Court, recognizing the legal arguments on the side of the Jewish organization that owns the property but also the impact eviction could have on the Palestinian families that have lived in the homes for decades. 

A mentor from an Israel organization I was involved with would often say Israel is a work of progress and a work in progress. I couldn’t agree more. 

I stand with Israel as it navigates the complexities of being a Jewish and democratic state, fights terrorism, and endures attacks on its very legitimacy and right to exist. Israel is not perfect. But I will continue to proudly stand by its side.

About the Author
Brian Burke is a Pittsburgh native and 2019 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied political science, history, and Jewish studies. In college, he was involved with Hillel and the David Project, holding several leadership positions including president of the Pitt Hillel Jewish Student Union in 2018. Like many early 20-somethings, he is figuring out what comes next amidst the health and economic uncertainties of these times. Follow him on Twitter @BrianBurkePGH.
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