Tammy and I spent a month in Israel this past summer. I am participating in a 4-year Rabbinic Training Institute in Israel at the Hartman Institute, studying Jewish texts and focusing on the North American/Israel relationship.
Living in Israel is complicated. It is a very intense place. To visit is one thing, to live there another.
I have never been in Israel without some crises happening. This summer was no exception. You probably heard of the random stabbings in Jerusalem and around the country. There have been knifings, car rammings and shootings. This summer, we were there when two Israeli Druze policemen were murdered with premeditation on the Temple Mount by 3 East Jerusalem Palestinians. Tammy was at that very spot on the Temple Mount just two days earlier on a tour.
These murderous acts were committed by East Jerusalem Arabs who are citizens of the municipality of Jerusalem and could become Israeli citizens if they wanted to. They have free passage throughout Israel and hence the possibility to walk up to an Israeli Jew and do him or her harm.
With other students of the Hartman Institute, I went on a trip to Arab East Jerusalem. We visited a Palestinian school K-12. We heard glowing words about the school, partly funded by the Jerusalem municipality. For East Jerusalem Arabs, the city provides them with health care, education, water, electricity and so on. The principal of the school spoke with us about the school and then entertained questions. As I tend to be a trouble maker in things like this, I asked the principal what they taught the children about Israeli Jews. The principal said they teach the kids that Jews occupy their sacred lands and they teach the kids to resist. When we asked what resistance meant, he said, he teaches the kids not to knife or shoot Israelis, but throwing rocks was ok. I thought at that moment how Denver Policemen would react if you threw rocks at them; they would respond, perhaps with deadly force. Later, on the bus, I asked our Palestinian guide who is also a journalist, about the families of these young people who knife Israelis and get shot. Most of them die. He said he interviewed some of these families and had one interview in particular with a Palestinian mother of a knife attacker who murdered a Jew and was killed. When asked what she thought of her son, she said, “had I known that my son would go knife a Jew, I would have given him a longer knife.”
This is a crisis. It’s just that this crisis has been going on for a long time. Some say going back to the Six Day War, when the “occupation of Palestinian villages and neighborhoods began. According Palestinians, occupation is outrageous and untenable and violent resistance is called for. It was after the Six Day War that east Jerusalem was annexed to Israel proper and East Jerusalem Arabs felt humiliated and angry to now be living under a Jewish government. Settlers began to settle East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai. The Palestinians and eventually most of the world called that “occupation.” Note, that from 1948 to 1967, it was Jordan who occupied these territories.
Let’s talk about the Six Day War in 1967. This past June marked its 50th anniversary. It was the central topic this summer at Hartman.
Yossi Klein HaLevy; a journalist, author and Hartman scholar, gave us his take on the Six Day War, which I think, is very helpful and I want to share it with you. He says that there are two kinds of Jews today. There are those who focus on May of 1967, who understand Israel’s predicament in the light of Israel just before the ‘67 war (remember the war took place from June 5 to June 10). And then there are those that focus on Israel’s predicament, in June 1967 (right after the war). Depending on your focus; the situation before the war or the situation after the war, that focus will determine your view of Israel today.
May Jews: let’s look at what was happening in Israel and the Middle East in May 1967. May was the run-up to an inevitable war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. At that time, Israel was utterly alone with enemies on every one of her borders. Gamal Nassar, the president of Egypt said, “Our basic objective will be to destroy Israel.” Syria’s defense minister and later president, Hafez al Assad, promised a “battle of annihilation.” Iraqi president, Abdul Rachman Aref declared, "The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified... Our goal is clear -- to wipe Israel off the map." On June 4, Iraq joined the military alliance with Egypt, Jordan and Syria and they prepared to attack.
There were cheers in Egypt, “death to the Jews.” Cairo radio declared “Israel’s death and annihilation.”
Israel was utterly alone: this is the key point. Even in the United States. A State Department spokesman said, “Our position is neutral in thought, word and deed.” The French who supplied Israel with most of their weapons, changed sides and abandoned Israel. The Soviet Union supplied weapons to Egypt, Iraq, Syria and the U.S. supplied weapons to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. No United States, no France, no Soviet Union; no United Nations: nobody was there to help Israel. Its life or death would be determined by Israel alone.
Israel had 2.7 million citizens in 1967, many of whom were Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab countries. They had 264,00 troops, most of whom were reservists who couldn’t stay mobilized for long. Israel had 950 tanks. 196 planes. The Arabs had twice the number of troops: 500,000. They had 5 times as many tanks, over 5,000 tanks and two and a half times more planes: they had 450 airplanes.
On May 22, Nassar blockaded the Straits of Tiran choking off Israel’s Red Sea route to Asia which supplied 90% of Israel’s oil. And that same month, Egypt amassed 100,000 troops on the Israeli border and ordered the UN Peace Keeping troops out of Sinai and amazingly, those troops just up and left.
Syria was shelling Israeli settlements in the Galilee. Arafat’s PLO was staging nightly raids.
Israel distributed gas masks and dug 10,000 graves in its parks for the massacre that they knew was coming. Jews worldwide and in Israel saw this as an imminent second Holocaust. Jews around the world thought Israel didn’t have a chance. Israel would soon cease to exist, forever.
According to Yossi Klein HaLevy, this is how May 1967 Jews see Israel today and always will see Israel. Alone with existential threats all around. Today, May Jews see Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon with over 100,000 missiles aimed at Israeli cities. Hamas is in Gaza pledging Israel’s destruction shooting rockets into Israel and building terrorist tunnels into Israel. And Iran, despite their agreement, are building a nuclear arsenal, pledging yet again, history repeats itself; to wipe Israel off the face of the map.
According to May 67 Jews, Israel is today threatened from all sides, again. This is how people see things who remember Israel’s isolation in May 1967.
Lets go back to 1967 for a moment. The Six Day war began on June 5th and ended on June 10. On the morning of the 5th, Israel launched an aerial preemptive strike in the morning and within hours, destroyed Egypt’s air force on the ground. Then they sent the same planes to destroy Jordan and Syria’s air forces and attained complete air superiority in the course of a single day. Then the Israeli tanks started rolling to Egypt under the leadership of Ariel Sharon and they began destroying the Arab lines. On June 7, after three desperate calls to Jordan’s King Hussein to stay out of the war, Jordanians attacked west Jerusalem with 6000 mortar rounds. Jordan threatened and Israel attacked destroying Jordanian forces and capturing East Jerusalem, the Old City and the Temple Mount. Then the Israelis went to the Golan Heights and pushed the Syrian and Iraqi armies back and took the Golan Heights. On June 10th, after just six days of war, Israel destroyed the armies of four hostile neighbors who attacked them; and tripled the size of the country. Some say this was the greatest military victory in the history of the Middle East. The Israelis had the Sinai, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. All together, the Jewish holy sites were in Israeli hands: Jerusalem, Hevron, Bet El, Bet Lechem and Shechem. Religious Jews saw this as God’s intervention in history; a miracle; beginning the dawning of the messianic redemption.
And here is the important part: after the Six Day War, Israel was ready to return much of this conquered territory to the Arabs for peace. Land for peace. They had no desire to occupy all the land that they had conquered in a defensive war.
And here is what the Arabs said a few months later on September 1st, 1967, in Khartoum. No, no and no: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel. And therefore, Israel held on to the land and this was the beginning of the occupation that exists to this day.
So now you can understand what Yossi Klein HaLevy calls the June 1967 Jews: those today who focus on the Jewish victory. These Jews today, which by the way includes most young Jews, no longer see Israel as threatened. Israel won the war; they beat the Arab states. They see a nuclearized Israel today. They see Israel with the strongest army in the region. They see Israel in close strategic and military relationship with the United States. They see Israel’s qualitative military edge over every country in the region. Perhaps even the ability to attack Iran before they get a nuclear bomb.
So for those who focus on the aftermath of the war, June Jews as Yossi Klein HaLevy calls them, Israel is now seen as Goliath to the Palestinian David; it occupies 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and another 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza. For June 1967 Jews, Israel is so strong that it could make peace and grant the Palestinians their own state. They just have to do it.
So we have May 1967 Jews, more politically right wing and hawkish who see Israel as vulnerable in the world and June 1967 Jews more left wing dovish; Israel as military colossus able to make peace at will. Which are you? A May or an June Jew? I confess: I am a May 67 Jew, just so you know. May 1967; even though Israel is strong, they are still threatened existentially by dangerous enemies.
Let’s move ahead a bit in Israeli history that might shed even more light on this, In 1987, Palestinians still frustrated with occupation started the First Intifada; which entailed kids throwing rocks. Palestinian kids, here, were being beaten and shot at by the IDF. World opinion chastised Israel. The Israeli Left were sympathetic to the Palestinians and were incensed at their own army. The First Intifada lasted from 1987 to 1993. The Israeli Left was now ascendant and influential. Yitzchak Rabin entered the 7 years of the Oslo Accord which began with his handshake with Yassir Arafat’s on the back lawn of the White House on September 11, 1993. The Left was insistent now: give back land for peace which would end in a Palestinian State
As Oslo proceeded, however, nothing was happening. The Palestinians were still teaching hatred of Jews in their schools; encouraging kids to become shahids; martyrs for Islam. Kill Jews and go to heaven. The Israeli Left, counting on the success of Oslo were now losing their argument as Oslo failed again and again.
Then came the Peace Accords at Camp David in 2000 and the end of Oslo all together; Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered up a Palestinian State to Yassir Arafaat: 98% of the West Bank and Gaza, and East Jerusalem as its capital. Here was a Palestinian state. Had Arafat said yes, the State of Palestine would be 17 years old today.
Arafat said no and the Second Intifada broke out: pizzerias and night clubs and buses in Israel were being blown up by Palestinian terrorists. 1000 Israelis died. With the Second Intifada the Israeli political Left died because Israel offered a Palestinian State for peace and what they got in return was terrorism. Land was offered again in 2008; same result; terrorism. There would be no more land for peace. The Israeli Right was now ascendant and proven correct. It was now about retaining military power; the settlement activity increased exponentially. And here we are today.
A quick note about the settlers. We spoke about them at Hartman. There are 400,000 settlers outside the settlement blocks (which are cities, really and would never go back in any agreement for a Palestinian State). 1/3 of the settlers over the Green Line are Charedim; religious families that need more space for their large families and are encouraged to move into Judea and Samaria for housing alone. They don’t care about politics; they care about homes and the ultra-orthodox communities they form. 1/3 of the settlers are secular and are there for the housing opportunities as well. They live in the Settlements close to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where they work. But there is another roughly a third; 150,000 of them who are Religious Zionists who are in the territories for ideological and religious reasons; to settle the Holy Land, period. For them, the land belongs to the Jewish people eternally and they settle the land to create facts on the ground and they have succeeded.
To make room for a Palestinian State in a peace agreement, the Charedim and secular settlers would move out of the West Bank if you gave them new homes and compensation. The 150,000 religious Zionists would not move. You’d have to drag them out of the West Bank, kicking and screaming. In 2005, Israel gave Gaza back to the Palestinians and moved out 8000 settlers and it tore the country apart. Left and Right at each other’s throats; demonstrations throughout Israel and 8000 people dragged out of there, displaced to substandard housing and they are miserable to this day. Now think of trying to drag out 150,000 angry settlers from their homes and communities, to make room for a Palestinian State. Not possible, in my opinion. We are way beyond the point of no return with the Settlers. It’s too late.
As Brett Stephens concludes: “There would have been no occupation, and no settlements, if Egypt and its allies hadn’t recklessly provoked a war [in 1967]. Or if the “international community” hadn’t fecklessly abandoned Israel in its desperate hours. Or if Jordan hadn’t foolishly ignored Israel’s warnings to stay out of it. Or if the Arab League hadn’t arrogantly rejected the possibility of peace. A Palestinian state would most likely exist if Arafat hadn’t adopted terrorism as the calling card of Palestinian aspirations. Or if he hadn’t rejected the offer of a state 17 years ago. Or if he hadn’t renounced his renunciation of terror. A Palestinian state would also most likely exist if Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas — now in the 13th year of his elected four-year term — hadn’t rejected it again nine years ago, and if Gazans hadn’t turned their territory into a terrifying model of Palestinian statehood, and if the United Nations didn’t treat Hamas’s attacks on Israel as a nuisance but Israel’s self-defense as a crime against humanity.”
In my opinion, Israel is not to blame here for they’ve offered the Palestinians their state, twice and the Palestinians just said “no.”
So here is the thing: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t believe there will be a two- state solution any time in our lifetimes. Too many settlers. Too little will on both sides.
So what are we supposed to do? We don’t want stabbings. We don’t want car rammings. We don’t want things blowing up in Israel.
One of the scholars at Hartman said the following. The solution is not occupation or no occupation. There will continue to be for a long time, an occupation. But perhaps there could be less occupation. We have to get Israeli soldiers out of the faces of Palestinians. Help Palestinians build infrastructure. Get their kids educations. Get them good health care. Help their police keep order and prevent terrorism. Give Palestinians more autonomy, connect the autonomous Palestinian settlements with roads. Remove whatever checkpoints security will allow. Make it such that Palestinians will have a lot to lose if they continue their hostility against Israel. When you have a lot to lose; you think twice about letting your kids knife Jews. There can be a brighter future for Palestinians even without a state of their own. Less occupation. It is the best deal Palestinians are going to get in the long term.
I love Israel. I don’t see a future for Judaism and the Jewish people without Israel. Israel is the greatest single Jewish experiment of all times. We must never go back to May of 1967. Israel must be able to defend itself by itself. We, as the Jewish people outside of Israel must be ever vigilant. We mean it when we say “never again.” I know that God blesses our holy land. May it always be so.
Avinu Sheb’shamayim, Tzur Israel V’Goalo, Barech et Midinat Yisrael raishit tzmichat g’ulatenu: Our father in heaven: Stronghold of the people of Israel. Bless the state of Israel, the beginning of our redemption. Shield it with your love, spread over it the shelter of your peace ... strengthen those who defend our Holy Land. Bless the land with peace and its inhabitants with lasting joy. And let us say; Amen.