Tuesday 20 April 2010

All or Nothing

During a recent heated debate with my nearly 16 year-old son, he explained to me his view of the current stand-off between the Israelis and the Palestinians. His understanding is that the Palestinians are so-called because they were the inhabitants of Palestine before the Jewish state was declared. In his view, Palestinian nationalism was created by virtue of the fact that Arab inhabitants of Palestine were forced to leave their homes at the time of Israel's creation, and they await their opportunity to return to their original homes. He believes that their claim is legitimate and that they have a right to be able to return to their homes.

During the course of the conversation, I tried to gather from him what he believes this situation may mean for Israel. He is convinced that the "Palestinians" have a right to return to the homes which they ran away from in 1948. Despite knowing that the Jews requested the Arabs to remain in their homes and not to run, his sense of fair play causes him to feel that they have the right to return to the homes that they abandoned. When I raised with him the fact that they wish to see Israel destroyed, his perspective on the situation is that they wish to see Israel destroyed because they want the whole of "Palestine" for themselves. In his view, they have nothing against the Jews as such, it is just that they wish to have the land for themselves.

In attempt to try to run with his argument, I asked why he felt that the Palestinians had not tried to at least build a state with the bits of land that they have managed to gain over the years. During the period between 1948 and 1967, there was no attempt to build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. In recent years when they have had control over much of this land and now also have huge sums of international aid which was donated to help them to build a state, still no progress has been made in this direction. How can this be reconciled to his view that all they wish to do is build a Palestinian state, and that it is nothing personal against the Jews? It was then that I was introduced to the concept of "all or nothing". I was told that the Palestinians do not wish to build a state on part of their land, because they hold the view that they can only build a state when they have all the land that they are demanding. For them, it is all or nothing.

I was quite surprised by the introduction of this concept to our discussion, and felt very unprepared for it. It was not something that I had heard before, and I am unsure what the source of this view is. Perhaps, by agreeing to accept some of the land, the Palestinians may feel that they are relinquishing their right to the rest of it. It seems, however, that there may be a generation of young Israelis growing up who believe that Israel stands in the way of the Palestinian demand for all or nothing.

I thought for a moment about the situation, then tried to link this view to the Jewish perspective. I explained that there are many Jews who believe in the "greater Land of Israel", A belief that Jews have the right to the land which was promised to the Jewish people by G-d in the Torah. If we take the boundaries which are set out in the book of Numbers (34:1 to 15), we would be demanding not only the West Bank, we would be expecting to have much of Jordan, Iraq and beyond. But when, in 1948, the Jews were given even the smallest sliver of land to build a Jewish state, we grabbed it and immediately set about building it. We never hung onto an "all or nothing" view. The reason is that we were not concerned at all about displacing the Arabs or fighting the Arabs for the land that they had been granted. Instead, we were only concerned about building our own homeland. I hold the view that if the Palestinians are truly interested in building themselves a homeland, they would set about doing so on whatever land they have under their control. But they do not do this. Their only concern is fighting the Jews for what we have. Their actions signal a clear intention to me, and this is not "all or nothing" for themselves. This about ensuring that the Jews have nothing.

The debate with my son ties into a recent debate on the same subject with my father. In this conversation, I found myself verbalising something that I may have thought for some time, but have never said before. I finally admitted out loud that I honestly cannot see a situation which would bring peace to the Middle East in my lifetime, and possibly not even in the lifetime of my children. Despite my high hopes for my peace when I arrived here nearly 12 years ago, and despite my views that the Palestinians had finally come to the realisation that the Jews cannot be removed from Israel, I am now of the opinion that this is not true at all. Instead, I see that the Palestinians and many other Arabs refuse to recognise Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. This fundamental refusal is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Until such time as Israel gets this recognition that she deserves, there can never be peace in this region. As much as this admission saddens me, I am relieved that it is out in the open for all to see.

The problem is that my son, and possibly other Israeli nearly 16 year-olds don't see this. These are the boys and girls who, in another 3 years from now, will be enlisting for their compulsory military service to fight for the freedom and safety of the State of Israel and the Jewish nation. I do feel good about my son's sense of fair play, and I would never want this part of his character and set of beliefs to change. Being a good human being is important to me, and I am proud to be the father of a boy who cares deeply about others, even those who may be trying to kill him. It is important, however, for him and his friends to recognise what the reality is. I do feel that these boys and girls, whilst holding a sympathetic view regarding the claim of the Palestinians, do recognise that two peoples cannot rule over the same piece of land at the same time. As such, they understand that we have to fight for it as much as we can before it is taken away from us. So, although we don't agree on what may be driving the Palestinians to claim the land, we do all agree that the land is ours to defend with all our strength.

It strikes me that if there are Israelis who hold a sympathetic view towards the Palestinian position, no matter whether this is only held by a minority of Israelis, it is unsurprising that many of those watching the ongoing Middle East conflict from the outside also hold this belief. As Israelis, we have an obligation to ensure that our children see the situation for what it is. It is also critical for the world-at-large to understand this. There will always be commentators who will criticise Israel, no matter what the situation is. There are, however, sufficient people in the world who don't necessarily hold preconceived ideas, and who are available to be convinced of the truth. It is Israel's responsibility to demonstrate what the truth is. In particular, the world, and the Arab world in particular, should understand that sympathies will never be enough to convince our younger generation to relinquish our right to our homeland.

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