Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We Never Left Israel

The other night, as I’m apt to do once in a while, I was sitting at home watching TV. Initially I was watching CSPAN, since they were having something about Israel. It was just one of a million other conferences about what America can do to achieve peace in the Middle East. The thing about it that piqued my interest was the fact that an acquaintance of my mother's was speaking. You see, one of my mothers' classmates from the Zionist Yeshiva of Flatbush high school in Brooklyn married an American ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer. I listened to him and I was appalled. All he did was agree with all the other speakers that the only barrier to peace in the Middle East was the Jewish settlements in Samaria and Hebron, and that he would do all that is in his power to stop them. One of the other speakers complained to him about how gatherings to raise money for the Jewish community in Hebron are held in facilities that are funded by American tax dollars, and he reacted in a show of great disgust. I myself was in a state of disgust by then, so I changed the channel to PBS, only to find Charlie Rose having a discussion with a senior editor from Ha'aretz tell him about how all of Israel’s problems were caused by the Jewish presence in the West Bank (which is a pretty funny term actually, since the whole of Israel is on the west bank of the Jordan). In despair I switched to WLIW, but there too I found no solace. It was the severely Anti-Zionist news program World Focus doing a story of how Israelis were causing the Palestinian communities to be in a state of very high unemployment. Surely he who said that it's better not to watch TV was a wise man.

In my opinion all these takes of the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" are flawed. They see the conflict as a recent one in political history and as one that can be remedied relatively easily. They see the Jewish presence in Israel as a short term phenomenon. To them Zionism started around 60 years ago, and as soon as the Palestinians receive a state of their own the world will move on to bigger and better problems. Unfortunately, not only is that not how I see the problem, that's not how the Muslim world sees the problem. They see it as a cosmic struggle, as a millennia-old struggle, and that is, in fact, what it is.

For starters the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel greatly predates 1948, or 1890. The enemies of Israel try to shroud the connection between the Jews and their land in great antiquity, and suggest that since they left, the Jews have settled-down comfortably in other countries. There is a well used line that Arabs often tell Jews, that "perhaps you were here two thousand years ago, but we have been here for two thousand years". Even our national anthem suggests we've been out of Israel for two thousand years. In my mind the people who espouse the idea that we haven't been to Israel since the destruction of the Temple are working against our cause. There has been a Jewish presence in "the Land" the entire time since the destruction. Even if it was said that we left our land the year of the Temple's destruction, it's only been 1,878 years between the destruction of the Temple (70 AD) and the establishment of the state (in 1948) , and the Jews certainly didn't up-and-leave the Holy Land the same very same year the Temple was destroyed, and they certainly didn't suddenly appear in Israel in the year 1948 either. All I’m saying is that even according to the most skeptical opinion we were only gone for more like a thousand years. And the Arabs themselves don't have some sort of ancient presence in the land. They also resided in the land for more like a thousand years (a land, by the way, which they conquered by force of hand from the Byzantines), and even then, mostly as serfs.

Yet even those thousand years of absence we haven't had. There has been a small Jewish presence in Israel the entire time, not to mention the constant flow of Jews from the Diaspora to Israel since before the twelfth century. It's also of great importance to mention that we have been exiled from our land once before—after the destruction of the First Temple—and have returned, something that was unprecedented in the ancient world, and is indicative of, and helped forge, our relationship with that land in the future.

The yearning of some Jews, therefore, to reside in historical Gaza, Judea and Samaria, or any other part of Israel, is far older than any recent political event, and is much older than, and will far outlast, a bunch of ignorant, self serving politicians, even those from among our own ranks.

Two articles I later found online which seem to better articulate the very same points I was trying to make:

Rabbi David Rosen (link)
(Excerpt: "contrary to anti-Zionist propaganda, the return of the Jewish people to its ancestral homeland did not begin just a half a century ago, following the Holocaust, nor even a hundred years ago with the advent of modern Zionism. For the past almost twenty centuries, ever since their expulsion from Palestine by the Romans (70 C.E.), Jews have striven continuously to reestablish their bond with the Land of Israel, although the foes of the Jewish people did their best to obliterate the Jewish connection with the Land.")

Jewish Virtual Library (link)
(Excerpt: A common misperception is that the Jews were forced into the diaspora by the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. and then, 1,800 years later, suddenly returned to Palestine demanding their country back. In reality, the Jewish people have maintained ties to their historic homeland for more than 3,700 years. A national language and a distinct civilization have been maintained.")

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