Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

May we all have a Blessed and Peaceful Year.

But what will happen Now!

 

The Israeli - Palestinian conflict: Part A

 

“What appeared to be inconsistencies in Mr. Sharon's positions was often merely a reflection of his ability to sense out the preferences of the Israeli mainstream. When it became clear that the majority of Israelis would no longer fight to defend 8,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza and were no longer willing to occupy the strip, he evacuated settlements and left the Gaza Palestinians to shoot at one another. When Israelis overwhelmingly supported the construction of a West Bank fence, Mr. Sharon, who originally opposed the barrier, began to build it. When most Israelis despaired of the status quo with the Palestinians but gave up on the possibility of finding a Palestinian leadership able to negotiate Israel's borders, Mr. Sharon broke away from the status quo Likud and founded Kadima, a party capable of redrawing Israel's borders unilaterally.” (Michael Oren, Wall St. Journal Jan. 6, 2006)

 

“We are tired of fighting. We are tired of being courageous. We are tired of winning. We are tired of defeating our enemies. We want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors. And I believe that this is not impossible." (Ariel Sharon)

 

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The world seems obsessed with the State of Israel and with the ‘occupied territories’ in Palestine. The number of civilian deaths in Bosnia (175,000 deaths), Sudan (over one million deaths), Algeria (50,000 deaths) the Turks and the Kurds 50,000 deaths) and Chechnya (over 50,000 deaths) far outweigh the number of civilian deaths in the entire IsraelPalestine conflict for 100 years. Since the birth of Israel in 1948, there have been almost two dozen wars in the Middle East (variously involving Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq that have had nothing whatever to do with the Jewish state, or with the Palestinians. In one of these alone--the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88--more lives – over one million deaths occurred more than in all the wars involving Israel put together. Other ‘occupied territories’ exist in Tibet and Lebanon (whoops Lebanon has become unoccupied after 30 years) with little world concern. Why is the ‘Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir’ (50,000 deaths), overwhelmingly Muslim, not called ‘occupied’? India and Pakistan have publicly noted nuclear capabilities. The neighborhood of Pakistan with its ‘Islamic bomb’ includes Afghanistan, Iran, China, India and Bangladesh. These countries comprise 40% of the world’s population. Pakistan is full of Jihadist insurgents and borders on being a ‘failed state’. Shortly after September 11 terrorists suicide bombed the Indian Parliament almost creating a state of war. Everyone considered the almost certainty that they came from Pakistan. Several Pakistanis including Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan and his proliferation network have already sold nuclear secrets and components to troublesome characters and states for which we garnered tens of millions of dollars. (After Khan’s criminal activity became evident President Pervez Musharraf denied any Pakistani government involvement, refused to allow international agencies the right to investigate and pardoned the ‘hero of Pakistan’ of any potential crime.) There have been several wars between these two very populace states. America has now agreed to sell Pakistan the world’s best fighter planes the F-16 as a reward. Is this conflict not more alarming to the world than the conflict between Israel and Palestine?

 

For Muslims it is understandable that Israel is the most emotionally and violently charged issue. For Europe who helped create the State of Israel as a result of their responsibility for the Shoah it requires a willing suspension of logic.

 

 

Despite the common interest by both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority this conflict has continued for such a long time because on both sides there are intractable identities. On the Israeli side some believe the land belongs to Jewish people because God promised it to them. Ariel Sharon with his Gaza disengagement changed that situation radically. Others believe that the Palestinians do not and never will agree to peace. On the Palestinian side some believe the land belongs to Arab people because Allah promised it to them. They believe Israel is a surrogate for the Imperialist West.

 

The PLO and Zionism are both secular movements who recast their conflict in religious terms.

 

For many Arabs the very right of a Jewish-democratic state to exist in Arab-Muslim land is the problem. Israelis have come to understand that the conflict is not about borders or about Jerusalem or about the right to return; it is the very existence of a free, democratic, non-Arab society in the Middle East. Who will convince Hamas and the Jihadists that their Greater Palestinian thesis is not more valid than the Greater Israel thesis?

 

There are other reasons. Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East is surrounded by five Arabs nations – Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan and Palestine not yet a nation - all to one degree or other unstable. No one can rightfully predict the nature of these nations in the next ten or twenty years. The Palestinians to whom the Israeli’s are to make peace is the most unstable of all. The Palestinian Authority is currently controlled by Fatah whose members come from the Palestinian diaspora (like Arafat, Abbas and Ahmed Qurei) who developed their skills in exile; they are all secularists and their government is mostly corrupt.  Within the home grown and younger generation are leaders like Marwan Barghouti in Israeli prisons for life, Ami Makbul, Mohammad Dahlan, Jabril Rajoub and others. Which of these will gain power is unknown. Then there is Hamas; the primary religious Jihadist organization. The latter group thinks Israel ought not to exist; that all Jews should go back to Europe or America where they presume they all came from. The fact that 65% of Jewish Israeli’s were born in Israel and no more than 10-15% have foreign passports is irrelevant to these ideologues. Given these existential threats to Israel’s existence Israeli’s need to protect themselves becomes obvious.

 

However the threats have lessened. Iraq and Saddam Hussein no longer exist as a threat. Syria no longer occupies Lebanon and the Assad regime is tottering. Egypt and Jordan have a peace treaty with Israel. Saudi Arabia has troubles of its own with terrorists versus reformers and a leadership with a generation gap is less a concern than previously. The Palestinian problem is more isolated that in the past.

 

A majority of Israelis understand that as a result the prospects for peace with the Palestinians in this generation are not good but Israel’s survival seems less existential than in decades past.