Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A statement by Deborah Lipstadt and David Ellenson, courtesy of Israel Policy Forum

The following statement first appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It was then distributed by email by the Israel Policy Forum. The version below is taken from that email.

Last week when Palestinians murdered innocent worshippers in a west Jerusalem synagogue at morning services, one of the first Israeli policeman on the scene was Zidan Saif, a Druze.  He played a key role in stopping the assault and was murdered as he did so. The entire nation took note of his sacrifice. Israelis, among them many ultra-Orthodox and President Rivlin, turned out in droves for his funeral as a sign of respect and deep gratitude. One week later the Israeli Knesset is poised to consider a bill which would demean this man’s standing as an Israeli citizen.
It is with sadness that we write these words.   Neither of us has ever spoken out in public forums in criticism of Israel.  We have held to the view, which even some Israelis consider antiquated, that as long as we have not chosen to live there permanently, our right to comment on internal Israeli decisions ought to be limited.  We are both staunch supporters -- indeed lovers -- of the State of Israel.  We rejoice in the fact that we have lived there for extended periods. We  consider the Jewish state to be central to our own self-understanding and identity as Jews.

It is precisely because of that love that, we find ourselves so alarmed at the recent support of the Israeli Cabinet for a proposed basic law entitled “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Prime Minister Netanyahu is intent on introducing this proposed bill to the Knesset.  It would formally identify Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, enshrine Jewish law as a source of inspiration for legislation, and delist Arabic as an official language.  The law pointedly fails to affirm the democratic character of Israel.

The proposed legislation betrays the most fundamental principles enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which promises “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex and will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture." 

Such a bill will certainly concern, if not inflame, Israel’s Arab citizens.  However, such a law also concerns countless Jews in Israel and throughout the world who are committed to Israel as a democratic state devoted to human rights and equality for all.

To be sure, we firmly believe that Israel is a Jewish state just as its neighbors are Muslim states. We are also proud that Israel, in contrast to most of these other states, is a democracy that proclaims that religious minorities who live within its borders can be full-fledged citizens who suffer no impediments because of their faith or identity.  Israel has found this a difficult balance to maintain but it is what put Sidan Zaif at that Jerusalem synagogue last week.

 The proposed bill provides no additional security for the State of Israel.  It does not help it stand up to Hamas or any of the other nations or groups devoted to Israel’s destruction.  On the contrary, we believe passage of this law places Israel in ever-greater danger.  It fosters the impression that Israel has moved away from its firm commitment to democracy and sends a message that the full-fledged rights of the twenty percent of its citizens who are not Jews are diminished in the eyes of the law.

We are fearful that the proposed bill would serve as fodder for Israel’s critics at a time when that criticism is growing in volume beyond the borders of Israel. Some of Israel’s critics lie in wait for the slightest pretext to condemn her.  This bill gives them that opportunity.

But it is not just Israel’s wellbeing that is threatened by this bill. For many decades, Jews such as us   feared – and often rightly so – that criticism on our part could provide ammunition to those who opposed Israel’s existence.  Now, to a certain degree, the tables are reversed.  Israel’s actions directly impact Jews throughout the world. There is a rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world, particularly in Europe.  Increasing numbers of European Jews feel that they live under threat and that even those who were once their allies – liberal, pro-democracy groups – have abandoned them.  This bill delivers to those groups added cover to justify their opposition to Israel which often spills over into disturbing opposition to Jews per se.

Israel, which proudly claims that its mandate extends to the protection of Jews living outside its borders, should consider the impact of such a bill on  global Jewry, especially Jews in Europe.

Consider the message this bill sends to Zidan Saif’s four-month old daughter --   that your father died for this state and its citizens but you are no longer a full-fledged member of it? In speaking out against such a bill, we speak for the future good of the Israel we cherish.

Our hearts, filled as they are with love for Israel, are truly heavy. But reverberating in our heads are the words of the prophet Isaiah: for the sake of Zion I will not remain silent.   We believe we speak now for the sake of Zion and pray that the Knesset will reject passage of this bill.

 David Ellenson is Chancellor of Hebrew Union College. Deborah Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Graffiti on Jewish-Arab School demands end to co-existence

Last Saturday night, a bilingual Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem was firebombed and defaced by graffiti. Among the spray-painted slogans: "Kahana was right." "Enough assimilation." "No co-existence with cancer." The outpouring of public support and expressions of solidarity for the school and what it stands for were immediate and heartening, though not sufficient, as a friend of mine wrote, when I asked her whether things are getting worse. My friend went to the demonstration with her daughter, a graduate of the K-8 bilingual school Yad-be-Yad, which is the largest of five such schools across the country.

For more on the incident, see the following reports: http://www.timesofisrael.com/bilingual-jewish-arab-school-in-jerusalem-torched/ http://972mag.com/we-will-overcome-arson-mourning-at-jerusalems-bilingual-school/99428/ http://972mag.com/jerusalem-bilingual-school-set-on-fire-in-alleged-arson-attack/99391/

You can express support by donating to the school through its website at http://www.handinhandk12.org

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Young Netanyahu Advocates One State Solution

Courtesy of Roger Alpher, who posted this interesting 1978 interview with a 28-year-old Ben Nitay, we can now perhaps understand better what the Israeli Prime Minister really believes. It is safe to say that he has not changed his mind on the crucial question, which is that the Palestinians don't deserve another state, as they already have one in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Whether he still believes that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should vote in Israeli elections and become full citizens with equal rights, is another matter. To be sure, he wasn't saying that then either. It is not really clear what he was advocating then, and it is not really clear where he imagine things going now. Source: Haaretz

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ultra-Orthodox and Orthdox and Liberal Rabbis agree on one thing: Leave the Temple Mount alone!

There are now many voices speaking out against the Jewish pyromaniacs who have been trying to use the pretext of religious freedom (equal right for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif) to change the status quo in one of Jerusalem's holy places. Bless those rabbis who know how to distinguish between religion and politics! Here are a few links.

Vos iz Neias.com
Alternative News
Sephardic rabbis cited in Times of Israel

Here is Naftali Bennet's (Habayit Hayehudi) response:
jerusalem post

And here is how all this plays in the Palestinian media:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sayyed Kashua speaks with Jeremy Hobson for WBUR's Here and Now

Not sure if humor is appropriate or useful any longer, Sayyed Kashua takes temporary refuge at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The interview linked below took place in Boston on November 3, 2014, where we hosted Kashua for a workshop and a lecture at Boston University.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Don't tinker with the sacred

"You are dealing with flammable material -- It would be wise not to meddle in the business of holy places," Mustafa Abu Sway, an irenic Muslim theologian and Ghazali lecturer at al Aqsa Mosque, is quoted as saying in an article by Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner published in today's New York Times and the Boston Globe ("Israel relents after shutting access to holy site"). Now, there are threats and there are warnings. In this case, I am convinced, that we are dealing with a warning, not a threat. Dr. Abu Sway is not in the business of threats. Then why the dire warning?

In 1982, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that declared Jerusalem the eternally undivided capital of Israel (Jerusalem Basic Law). By passing that law, Israel committed itself to preserving Jerusalem whole, united and under the sovereign control of the State of Israel. It also committed itself to keeping it as the seat of government or capital of the State of Israel. It's a long story why that law was passed. Israel had already annexed Jerusalem, not once but twice. Once, late in 1949, it annexed the western parts of the city when David Ben Gurion reversed course and began to move Israeli governmental institutions from Tel Aviv, the original capital of modern Israel, to West Jerusalem, which Israel had earlier agreed to place under an international regime. This was in defiance of the UN Partition resolution of November 29, 1947, which Israel had accepted. The UN reiterated its views in 1950, after Israel violated that agreement. To be sure, the neighboring Arab states of the time did not recognize the UN Partition Resolution at all, and the Palestinian Arabs of the time had no real political voice, or rather, their major voice was that of the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who was ignored and his return forestalled by a collusion between the departing British Mandate and the incoming Jordanian royal house. The second time Israel annexed Jerusalem was in the wake of the June 1967 war (Six Day War), when Israel captured East Jerusalem and extended civilian administration over an enlarged territory intended to stay under Israeli control forever.

The interesting bit is that, in the Jerusalem Basic Law, the Israeli government committed itself not just to perpetuating the situation created by the Six Day War but also to preserving the status quo at the holy places and provide free access to worshipers of all religions to their places of worship.
As it turns out, these last two provisions are in fact contradictory because freedom of access to members of all religions to the places they regard as holy cannot be granted without violating the status quo at the holy places. How so?

The most sensitive site in Jerusalem is the place Muslims call the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Noble Sanctuary (Haram ash-Sharif) and Jews call the Temple Mount. To maintain the status quo at that holy place means to keep Jews away from what many of them regard as their most holy place, where in ancient times their holy temple stood. In fact, many rabbis regard it as too holy for Jews to step on in a state of ritual impurity (a state that the proper ritual sacrifice of a red heifer can remedy) that they forbade Jews from treading on it. This injunction is being increasingly ignored by other Jews who have been arguing that, given Israel's guarantee of free access to the holy places, it should be permitted for them to pray on the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa. The Jewish desire to access and pray on the Temple Mount has many fathers and mothers, and not every group simply wants to assert Jewish sovereignty, bring about the coming of Messiah, or just stick it to the Palestinians, as Sharon did when he visited in 2000 with a huge police contingent for protection.

Anyone who has visited the Haram ash-Sharif, and I have done so repeatedly over the years, will have been struck by the serenity of the place. I don't really pray much anymore, but I can see why one would want to do so here, no matter one's religious affiliation. It's a beautiful place, well appointed by masterful architects working over the many centuries of Muslim rule, both before and after the place was retrieved from the Crusaders. Palestinian Muslims consider themselves the guardians of two sacred places (harameyn): the Haram of Al Quds and the Haram of El Halil, the tomb of the patriarchs. Both places are also sacred in Judaism and both are contested by Jewish national religious settlers. Both are flashpoints of violence, and the Israeli government, as the sovereign power, has the responsibility of mitigating violence. As Dr. Abu Sway rightly warns, Israel must not give up on its responsibility to maintain the status quo at the holy places. Israel must not tinker with the sacred, but the state is in a bind: because of an overreaching law that has opened the gates to all sorts of reasonable and unreasonable desires for Jewish presence at sites that are holy to Muslims and carry the utmost symbolic value for Palestinians as well. It should be a matter of dignity and respect, but it is certainly a question of prudence.

Dr. Abu Sway issues a warning to Israel because he believes Israelis understand that they have something to lose if they allow Jews desirous of status quo rectification to prevail. And he issues the warning because he knows that Palestinians will not accept it. "The average person is very upset. People are angry, and people are sad." This should be taken as a polite understatement.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Fasting on the Ninth of Av

The Roman-age Jewish historian Josephus notes that the fire that destroyed the beautiful Herodian temple in Jerusalem caught fire on exactly the same day when the Babylonians burned down the first temple. According to the Jewish calendar, this happened on the 9th of Av, which is today. The first temple was destroyed in 586 BCE, the second temple in 70 CE, 1944 year ago. That's a long time.

The reason Jews remember these events is because they are meticulously preserved in our literature, liturgy, and customs. The destruction of the first temple, a primordial political catastrophe, when the great Davidic kingdom of Judah came to an ignominious end, is enshrined in biblical literature. Prophets, historians, and poets did their utmost to prevent Jews from forgetting their past: "If I forget thee, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither," was written down in Babylon, by Jews exiled from Jerusalem, taking a vow to return and rebuild.  And rebuild they did. A mere seventy years after the destruction of the temple, the altar of sacrifice was rededicated and the city of Jerusalem founded anew.

The Roman destruction of Jerusalem was more thorough. The Roman Empire lasted longer and its policies of pacification of unruly Judea were more thorough. Not only did they (eventually) plough under Jerusalem and build a pagan city (a Roman military colony) in its place. They also banished the Jews from living in or around Jerusalem, a banishment that lasted-give and take a few exceptional years-until the seventh century, when the Romans were kicked out of Syro-Palestine by the Arabs. Meanwhile, the Jews--now living anywhere from Mesopotamia (under Sassanid Persians) to North Africa, Arabia, Asia Minor, Italy and Spain--developed a piety based on law and custom that preserved the memory of Jerusalem but left its restoration to the advent of the Messiah, G-d's davidic redeemer and restorer of the great Jewish commonwealth at the end of days. Meanwhile Jerusalem was gradually converted from a Christian pilgrimage city into a typical Muslim city: a place where many nations (people of the book, nominally subjugated but effectively tolerated by Arabo-Turkish elites) cohabited, including a Jewish colony of Rabbanites and Karaites.

Traditionally Jews left redemption to G-d. The best they could do to influence the divine machinery to move from suffering an exile toward cosmic rectification was to keep the commandments. Redemption was to come when all Jews kept two Shabbatot in a row, a pretty utopian idea but not on principle beyond human initiative.  In the modern age, Zionism famously determined that redemption was entirely up to human initiative. Im tirtsu, eyn zu aggadah: Wenn Ihr wollt ist es kein Märchen: If you want it it is not a dream. Thus the redemption of Jerusalem became a political program, patiently pursued. Zionism brought us the State of Israel with Jerusalem as the "eternally undivided capital" of Israel. Why then are we still fasting on the Ninth of Av?

Religious people fast because it is commanded. And they fast because the temple is still in ruins, so to speak. In any case, it has not been rebuilt. There may be other reasons to fast in this day and age. Maybe even perfectly secular ones. For example, fasting to acquire the wisdom necessary to preserve the modern Jewish commonwealth. Ancient Jewish politics brought down the ancient Jewish polity. I am fasting in commemoration of ancient folly and in the hope that we can learn from history.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

And then, there is the occasional glimmer of hope, even in Jerusalem

This is one of them that I came across in my obsessive search for good news, a report on a meeting of bereaved parents, one Arab, the other Jewish, these days in Jerusalem. (See HERE)

Enough already! Now it's time to make peace

Here's what I "get."

Hamas broke its truce with Israel, in place since 2012, and started firing hundreds of rockets at random Israeli civilian targets, proving it can now reach deep into Israeli territory. Hamas (mostly on the initiative of its military wing but certainly condoned by its civilian leaders many of whom are  residing abroad, at a safe distance) did this in response to weeks of aggressive IDF searches for suspected Hamas operatives all over the West Bank, blamed by Israel for the abduction of three Jewish teenagers who long presumed to be alive. As the shooting of rockets continued, the Israeli cabinet, internally divided over the extent and objectives of a military response, conducted aerial assaults on targets in Gaza that were aimed at degrading the weapons capacity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The number of meaningful targets was beginning to dwindle when Hamas fighters emerged from one of the tunnels, disguised as IDF. In response, Israel ordered a ground assault aimed at locating and eliminating these "tunnels of terror." Since then, hundreds of Palestinians and scores of Israelis have been killed and many more have been wounded. The stated aim of the Israeli campaign is to find and destroy the tunnels that have been used to circumvent Israeli and Egyptian control of border crossings to bring in weapons and other goods illegally, store munitions, and to conduct operations such as killing or abducting IDF soldiers.

I also "get" the following.

The situation in Gaza is untenable. Right now it is unbearable. Civilians are being killed, wounded, and traumatized, possibly by both sides and sometimes by mistake, by a surfeit of fire power, by sheer callousness, or for other reasons. The situation in Gaza is unbearable also because a large and impoverished population is kept in limbo by a combination of factors that have prevented their situation from being resolved. Among these factors was the division between Hamas and Fatah, a situation recently rectified by the formation of a Palestinian unity government. Another factor is the hostility between Hamas (an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood) and the current Egyptian military regime on the one side, and the enmity between Hamas and Israel. Hamas was weakened financially and politically when it began its most recent campaign against Israel. The only thing they possessed in abundance was rockets and fighters that have turned out to be well trained. When the fighting stops, will the situation in Gaza be less untenable? Will Israelis be safer? Will Gazans blame Israel or Hamas for the deterioration and deaths?

So this current round of Hamas rocket fire and Israeli aerial and ground assault was triggered by what exactly? Israel's incursion into Gaza is aimed at degrading the military capabilities of Hamas, but that's not the same as saying that it is necessitated by Hamas's military capability. Hamas rockets do relatively little actual damage. They are not a mortal threat. Their impact is nevertheless significant. Air-raid sirens disrupt Israeli lives and keep children in bomb shelters. Israel's vital tourism sector has taken a severe beating, not only by the temporary halt to international air traffic. The Iron Dome defense system may be largely effective, but it is extremely costly. Each rocket fired by the Iron Dome system to intercept a rocket launched from Gaza costs about 100,000.- USD! To be sure these costs appear trivial compared to the human cost to the people of Gaza and the damage to Israel's reputation as a civilized nation. Israel's operation "Protective Edge" does not just affect Hamas but destroys schools, mosques, hospitals, and houses, kills innocent civilians, including women and children, degrades infrastructure installations and grounds the much reduced lives of Gaza's 1.8 million inhabitants (living at a density comparable to that of Boston, Massachusetts) to a halt.

What are the supposed or desired outcomes? Can Israel, can Hamas be indifferent to the human costs? Israel's reputation is severely damaged, no matter how much one might defend the ethical standards of the IDF as compared to those of other armies. It is inevitably enmeshed with the heinous act of revenge killing, the burning alive of sixteen-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Hamas will emerge strengthened in that it once again held its own against an overwhelming force, even though ordinary Palestinians are paying the price. Israel's army, in turn, will seem weakened, its myth of invincibility damaged by the lack of a clear victory on the battlefield. Civilians die, Hamas persists,  and another Goldstone report, commissioned by the UN, will shame Israel for its human rights abuses. Will Israeli hard-liners argue that an opportunity was missed for a final solution to the Gaza problem? Will Israeli society be even more divided between left and right and continue to suffer from a political leadership unwilling to take risks for the sake of peace?

So here is what I don't get. I may be naive but it is my impression that the Israelis had, and perhaps still have, a plausible enough partner for peace in President Mahmoud Abbas and his ilk. There are many Palestinians who, if encouraged and supported, would be willing to settle the conflict with Israel once and for all and accept the partition of Palestine, if not as final then at least for the time being. And even if Palestinians and Israelis may not always love one another, they may articulate their grievances civilly and without violence, as they often do. What I don't get is why the Israeli government is not willing to enter into an agreement with Palestinian moderates. Instead, they provoke a war with Hamas by aggressively blaming Hamas for an abduction and murder they did not commit and by aggressively disrupting Palestinian lives in the West Bank, ostensibly in search of the teenagers. Then they push the IDF into an irresponsible ground operation that will not really eliminate the root causes of the conflict. What is the point of all of this? Is it in the strategic interest of the Israeli government to do precisely what is unfolding before our eyes: does what we are witnessing aim to prevent a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict? If so, this Israeli government would be to blame not because Israel is defending itself against Hamas terrorism, a defense that was widely condoned even by many moderate Arabs who see Hamas as dangerous and its politics as misguided, but because the legitimate defense against Hamas terrorism is merely part of a calculation that aims to keep Hamas alive politically while keeping the Palestinians divided and thus weakened.

I understand that many Israelis today are inclined to think that the conflict should be managed, since it cannot be resolved. But like its predecessor "Cast Lead" (2008-09) and worse than operation "Pillar of Defense" (2012), this war has ratcheted up the meaning of conflict management. Many believe that the self-interest of the Jewish state demands for Israel to do what it takes to keep Palestinians divided and ineffectually militarized rather than allowing them to unite, consolidate, and emerge as a unified player on the regional and global stage, which are political rather than military goals. The hard-liners have different war aims, seeking conflict resolution by means of war, rather than using military operations so as to avoid diplomacy. They are hard-liners precisely because they don't believe in diplomacy. Instead, they want to retake Gaza, drive out Hamas once and for all, and turn those who choose to remain into a colony of docile subjects. At least these hard-liners are not playing political games. They are honest and open about their goals. What is missing here is a viable alternative, or rather it is not missing at all. It is merely being drowned out momentarily by those who believe that war is a legitimate means to ends other than self-defense.

In the absence of an honorable casus belli it is time for a cease fire. More importantly, it is time for both parties to recognize the humanity and human dignity of their enemy. We see what happens if one drags out conflict. It is time to set aside the past and settle this affair now, once and for all. We need to compromise and learn, once again, to co-exist. Lessons in co-existence are now required for both, Israelis and Arabs. For this to happen will require international mediation and resolve. The international community has no excuse. It was the UN that that divided Palestine in 1947. The warring parties must be reconciled by strong and effective international mediation. There is no perfect outcome for either side. But perhaps there are outcomes that both sides can live with, outcomes that are better in the long run than occupation, and certainly better than dying in waves for the sake of doubtful causes. Anything is better than following the orders of so-called statesmen and leaders that are comfortably ensconced in their arm-chairs and  tell us that we must "hit them hard."

Monday, July 21, 2014

A few thoughts on discourse related to the current flare-up of hostilities

People who blog about current events almost inevitably make themselves part of horizontal or lateral propaganda (a useful term I learned from Jacques Ellul). Because of this, I've remained largely silent. I don't trust my judgment and I don't want to be a propagandist for any cause. As a Jew, I know that I should raise my voice in support of Israel's right to defend itself from random rocket attacks on civilian populations. But I find myself silenced by the growing toll of civilian deaths in Gaza. I understand that the Israeli aerial assault, naval operations, and ground invasion aims at degrading the capability of terrorists emerging from tunnels to wreak as much havoc as possible and I cherish recent grudging IDF expressions of respect for the Hamas fighters they've encountered. But I am also troubled by the mounting evidence of blind contempt, hatred and racism among Jews and Israelis that is evident in blogs and reflected in a widely posted program of ethnic cleansing penned by a member of the Israeli Knesset. At the same time I am dismayed by anti-Jewish violence and anti-Semitic slogans heard across Europe. I sympathize with my friends in Israel whose lives are disrupted by air-raid sirens and my heart breaks when I think of the acute degradation and devastation suffered by the people of Gaza. It is hard to find anything useful to say other than, stop!

Any yet, it is difficult not to notice that this of all conflicts takes up disproportionate amounts of our attention; disproportionate because it pales in comparison of what Syrians are doing to Syrians, Islamists to Muslims (and Christians), the increasing threat to the Kurdish regions of Iraq, the intransigence of the Maliki government, the deterioration of Libya, the return to military rule in Egypt, the flailing about for a proper response to what's going on between Russia and the Ukraine, the complete silence on Pakistan's military operations in Waziristan. Not to speak of the ever new assaults on our natural environment, the earth and the resources we all share and depend on.

Jerusalem, I have been told, has largely remained sheltered from rockets fired from Gaza, though there have been protests and clashes since the heinous and hideous acts of killing and revenge that are now almost eclipsed by the new Gaza war that was triggered by these criminal acts. What lessons are Palestinians to learn from all this, what lessons Israelis? How are we to talk about any of this without taking sides and turning ourselves into propagandists, appeasers or war-mongers?

I found a few useful articles that discuss the role of social media in the ongoing propaganda wars. Jodi Rudoren writes about this in today's NYTimes, for example. There was also an interesting discussion of responses to the current situation in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine. But the, to me, best and most pertinent article appeared in The Forward, where Jay Michaelson offers advice on "how to turn down the social media flame."

As to my own reading, I picked up Sari Nusseibeh's very haunting little book, What is a Palestinian State Worth? It is a book on Palestinian statehood by a philosopher, member of an old Jerusalemite family, who wants us to think out of the box. Because thinking within the box merely means more of the same: more hatred and frustration, more killing and revenge, more mutual threats of complete destruction, more war and death. We definitely need to go beyond the slogans. We may even need to think beyond statehood, borders, and flags. Thinking within the box merely reinstates the zero-sum-game of "justice for Palestine" v. "security for Israel." What is at stake here is whether we can rediscover and care for humanity, our own as well as that of the other. This is not just a matter of basic morality or religious faith but of politics, though surely of a new politics, one founded on the principle of coexistence rather than the desire of domination and annihilation.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Remembering the Holocaust today

Today we remember the Holocaust. The term derives from a Greek word used in the Septuagint translation of the Mosaic Torah for a type of sacrifice that was entirely consumed by fire and went up in smoke (to holocautoma; Hebr. 'olah). In Hebrew, this day is called Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laGvura and it is timed to fall half way between the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and Israel's independence day. It is thus a symbolic date, recognizing a large-scale catastrophe, the destruction of European Jewry at the hand of the Nazis and their helpers in Germany and many other countries. When speaking of the Holocaust, images of emaciated bodies and gas chambers come to mind. By means of visual evidence and survivors' accounts, the generations of those too young to remember themselves have acquired a sense of what happened.

We've heard that it is our duty to remember but how can you remember what you have not experienced? You can only remember what you have not experienced if you care about those whose lives have been directly touched by what happened then.

President Abbas, the head of the Palestine National Authority and of the PLO, has joined the ranks of those who care. This was a courageous thing to do. To recognize the suffering of the Jews at a time when Jews are inflicting pain on the Palestinian people is a heroic act, no matter how calculated the timing. Abbas, who once belittled the destruction of European Jewry and questioned its scope, is now cited as recognizing the Holocaust as the "most heinous crime" of modern history. What makes this recognition courageous is that it defies the Palestinian, his own people's, narrative, wherein Holocaust and Nakba are equated. The Nakba, which roughly means the same as ha-Shoah, refers to the expulsion of three quarters of a million of Arabs in 1948 and 49 from what became the State of Israel and the beginning of the plight of the Palestinian refugees. What Abbas says when he recognizes the monstrosity of the Holocaust is that he recognizes the Jewish historical memory as based on something real that defies the imagination. He understands that the trauma of the Jewish past is real and that it fuels Jewish fears today.

We should not dismiss what Abbas has done here as a mere political maneuver, attempting to have it both ways, seeing that he just initiated a reconciliation with Hamas, an organization Israel and the US regard as a terrorist group bent on the destruction of Israel. What Abbas is trying, and it is worth considering it seriously, is to uncouple the past from the present, Jewish victimhood from Jewish statehood. What he says is that one can recognize that Jews suffered beyond measure, while denying that past suffering entitles the Jews today to oppress others. Abbas thereby admonishes us not to politicize the Holocaust but to honor the victims, no matter our current quarrels. But it also says something else. It says that Abbas understands that Israelis and Jews world-wide are hesitant to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians because their past is always before them. Palestinians realize that for Israel to trust the them requires for Israel to leave its past behind, to remember the past without being dominated by it, to honor the victims without projecting the names of their killers onto the faces of their current adversaries. What Abbas is asking of us is to distinguish present from past, Arabs from Nazis, and the Israeli state from the European Jews who were deported, ghettoized, worked to death and exterminated without state-protection and deprived of neighborly solidarity. Abbas understands that he has to face the Israelis as they are, not as the figment of Arab imagination and invective. He is fighting a civilized fight for a dignified and mutually respectful future that no longer denies the other's past. How successful this initiative will be depends on how it will be received on both sides. I think we should welcome it as a step in the right direction.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Overcoming Indifference: A modest proposal

I am not a pundit, nor a political scientist, but a scholar of religion and philosophy. I will not rehearse the reasons why we got here, as this would merely add another narrative to the many already out there. The past is well known, and how we got here is disputed.

I will speak, instead, to what I believe may be the best thing we, as outsiders, can do on behalf of Israelis and Palestinians. We should neither be indifferent to their strife, nor take sides in their political struggle, but rather we ought to strengthen the hand of international diplomacy and mediation. We can do so, as I will suggest, by thinking beyond the resolution of final status issues and by imagining a future that will leave both, Israelis and Palestinians, as winners.

To start with, I take my cue from something Elie Wiesel has said. According to Wiesel, worse than hatred is indifference.

This dictum is not easily understood and it requires careful consideration. Hatred, after all, is devastating. It is bred by resentment. It poisons relationships and forestalls dialogue. It locks us in debates with ourselves and it prevents us from seeing an outcome as satisfactory that does not leave our adversary diminished. Hatred breeds revenge, not coexistence. It obviates self-control. When it explodes it hurts innocents and bystanders as well. It burns us up on the inside. It always puts the one who hates in the wrong. How then can indifference be worse than hatred? What is indifference and how do we overcome it?

Indifference is the attitude of the bystander, and “bystanderism” is dangerous, even evil, because it tolerates evil. An inattentive public leaves government without oversight. It allows decision-makers to do as they please, while turning public inattention into tacit consent. Indifference means that we could care less who lives and thrives. It indicates that we have become inured to the suffering of others. That is why Elie Wiesel admonishes us to take sides, to raise our voices wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Does this also mean that we must take sides in a political conflict?

Many of us take sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, even though we may not be directly affected. In order to take sides, we must have adjudicated this conflict. We must have determined who is right and who is wrong. But how can we pick sides without exacerbating the conflict? We ought not to take sides prematurely if we wish to serve as honest brokers. As we become engaged and take sides in a political conflict we should at least also hear the other side. Audiatur et altera pars! To judge without having heard the other side means to yield to prejudice.

It seems to me that it is crucial that we learn to distinguish between engagement in the interest of resolving a political conflict and simply taking sides. The engaged outsider may have moved from indifference to engagement and advocacy. She is no longer a bystander. But being an engaged outsider can still be problematic. Uninformed engagement is futile and it may be detrimental. We may become addicted to conflict, or worse, we may become zealously desirous of justice without peace.

Addiction to conflict is fed by the media. Our engagement is often that of a mere spectator rather than an actor, a sports-fan in the modern arena of media-broadcast wars that have taken the place of the erstwhile circus of the Roman Empire. Like “Reality TV,” the news has a way of making us shudder, while allowing us to do so from a safe distance. We root for our champions, we want them to win, but it is not our own blood that is being shed in war, nor our own bones that are crushed by the ones we cheer. Meanwhile, we’ve turned into haters from a safe distance.

Worse than the spectator is the zealot. Zealotry is a form of self-righteousness. We must ask ourselves whether our interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is motivated by a genuine desire for conflict resolution and a lasting peace in the Middle East, or whether we simply want to be right. We may have overcome indifference, but we did so at the expense of measured and informed judgment. We may have put on ideological blinkers and replaced indifference with the fanatical engagement of the convert. What motivates that kind of zealotry?

Among the most viscerally effective motives of emotional engagement from afar are tribalism and stereotyping. We may root for the Israelis and we may wish for them to prevail over their enemies (thus reducing Palestinians to enemies of Israel) either because we are ourselves Jewish-affiliated, or because we share the evangelical Christian faith in the election of Israel and the Jews’ divine right to the land of Israel, or because we hate Muslims and Arabs, thus fuelling the conflict by an overwhelming fear of an “other.” Or we may root for “Justice in Palestine” because we see the Israelis as greedy, controlling, dominant, arrogant Jews, thus reinforcing anti-Semitic stereotypes, or because we see the “Zionist entity” as a colonial settler state, established at the expense of a native people, thus pressing this intractably idiosyncratic conflict into a general post-colonial schema that romantically ennobles terrorist violence as legitimate means in a struggle for national self-determination. Here too we may want to listen to Elie Wiesel, who says no human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has absorbed the attention of so many people for such a long time precisely because it plays into many stereotypes, some of which are deliberately exploited by savvy propagandists on both sides. Some of this attention is waning. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the violent dissolution of Syria, and the return of Egypt to military autocracy, the political future of Middle Eastern societies is being renegotiated, in many cases by appalling sectarian violence. In this context the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lost much of its luster in western media attention, which, as some observers have argued, may be an advantage and the main reason why the ongoing negotiations are still ongoing.

There must be a better, more meaningful way of overcoming indifference, one that does not simply identify or descend into unthinking partisanship. Overcoming indifference clearly ought not to mean that we become vocal spectators devoted to the victory of the party we want to win. The call to overcome indifference may ask of us to restore humanity to both, top-dog and underdog, as severally-wronged parties locked in a conflict that defies all easy solutions and that requires more, rather than less, of an effort and a great deal of imagination in order to be resolved. In this case, it requires us to remain engaged despite media fatigue, despite extremely low expectations on both sides, despite the fact that progress will be incremental and the end result might not fully satisfy anyone, and certainly not immediately.

This I believe is what Secretary of State John Kerry has attempted to do and it is what an engaged public, including ourselves, ought to be supporting. This would mean to fight our own indifference toward the tedious work of diplomacy now ongoing. We may be fascinated by grand gestures and telegenic moments, such as the famous handshake between former enemies Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. As profoundly uplifting as that moment was, it clearly did not last. We need more than handshakes between leaders.

What is needed today is public support of the diplomatic initiative and a richly-imaginative approach to move Israelis and Palestinians beyond a zero-sum game to a place where either side can see themselves as having won without having to vanquish the other.

What does this mean more concretely? How can we imagine an outcome where both sides win? The following ideas may stimulate our collective imagination and help us steer the conversation on Israeli Palestinian negotiations in a more productive direction. These ideas are based on the assumption that settling the national conflict is really only the beginning, not the end, of the future of Israel, Palestine, and the wider region.

On the issue of borders:
  • Wherever national boundaries are drawn, borders need to be open for trade and exchange, tourism and labor.
  • Natural resources cross national boundaries and need to be jointly administered.
  • Historical boundaries may not coincide with political borders. In the interest of the future of historical research, archaeological work, and history-based tourism, the region needs to be open and scholars and institutions need to collaborate in securing and displaying the remnants of the regions many pasts.

On Jerusalem and holy places:
  • Jerusalem, a border city, must be open to both its Israeli and its Arab residents and equitably serve the needs and interests of both populations.
  • There is no reason why it should not serve as the symbol and functioning capital of both a Palestinian and a Jewish state in historical Israel/Palestine.
  • At the same time, Jerusalem can serve as a world-heritage site of pilgrimage and a model of green tourism, open to all.
  • The Holy Basin in Jerusalem, the Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron, Rachel’s tomb and other holy places should get joint stewartship and guardianship, based on both historical precedent and pragmatic considerations.

On demography and character:
  • The status and future of Palestinian refugees will entail initiatives and measures of good will on all sides, including the State of Israel and its neighbors. Ideal and reality will not be fully reconcilable here, and part of a restoration of the historic imbalance will entail symbolic and real gestures as in other cases of past atrocities and their rectification. Israel’s official recognition of the Palestinian refugees will be part of this. Though painful, this is not a unique problem. It can be resolved if there is the political will on both sides to resolve it.
  • There will continue to be a lively debate on what it means for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state. This debate can be real and lively only if it gives full voice to Israel’s minorities, including its Muslim Arab minority, which may well be growing. A strong society, especially one grounded in the values of biblical law and prophecy and the Jewish historical experience should be able to tolerate this debate and to tolerate vocal minorities.
  • The idea of a judenfrei Palestinian state is unworthy of Palestinian history and its secular commitments.
  • The future may well depend on the ability of both societies to sustain the form of two separate ethnic nation-states within one historic territory (and in conjunction with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), while simultaneously promoting strategies of trans-national co-existence and co-development.

In a political conflict, everyone is a victim. To overcome indifference here means to take the side of hope. Hope, as Elie Wiesel teaches, is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What does SJP mean by "Justice in Palestine"?

Those seeking “justice for palestine” should be more explicit in what they are talking about.

For example, what does it mean to seek justice, but not peace in Palestine?

The symbol of justice is not the scale but the hammer. To someone wielding a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But you can’t repair a torn fabric as if were a nail. The tools needed to fix what is broken in the Middle East are not hammers of justice, but the finely honed instruments of peace-making.

Why justice for Palestine rather than for the Palestinians? Speaking of Palestine in these terms reduces a complex issue to a simplistic solution, at the expense of historical and, more importantly, humanitarian considerations. Simply put, “Justice for Palestine” wants to eliminate the State of Israel. People pushing for “justice in Palestine” are therefore more extreme than the Palestinians themselves who have long recognized Israel’s right to exist. SJP ignores the reality of the Palestinians and want to replace it with a more extreme program, one that, real Palestinian interests be damned, is only satisfied when Israel has been wiped off the map.

People who seek justice for Palestine at the expense of Palestinians struggling for statehood in historic Palestine are deluded if they think of themselves as friends of the Palestinians. Their ultra-moralistic approach to politics perpetuates conflict rather than helps to resolve it. 

I have tried to engage SJP on the Boston University campus and called up their representatives to ask why they publicly disparage events co-sponsored by innocuous middle-of-the-road groups such as J-Street or One-Voice that they did not even attend. Their answer was that they don’t attend events sponsored by groups who are in favor of the two-state solution. I can’t believe that everyone associated with SJP has drunk the cool-aid, but the leadership is ideologically closed off and unwilling to engage in open debate. As a group shunning debate, SJP fails to live up to the basic ethos of academic life.

While SJP was recently banned by Northeastern University for reasons of their own, they are still active at Boston University. I hope that they will find a way to open up and enter into a genuine dialogue with other groups on campus. We need a healthy and open debate. To have a genuine debate requires that we are willing to have our assumptions challenged. I have my doubts that SJP is ready for this.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Apropos mood: one question, several answers

My friend Tomas sent me the link to a video clip on youtube that leaves me sad and disturbed.

The clip contrasts voices from  Mahaneh Yehudah and Old City, the Jewish and Arab markets. The invisible interviewer asks one question: "What is a just and free world?" Some of the Jewish subjects give a general philosophical answer that elides the political "situation" (hamatzav, a common Hebrew term referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), while all of the Arab subjects immediately and inevitably answer the question by commenting on their situation as Palestinians living under Israeli rule, which for them is characterized by injustice, lack of freedom, and humiliation. The contrast is saddening. The fact that there's no follow-up question (poignantly raised by one of the Arab women: "That's it?") makes the exercise painful. The situation seems hopeless.

I am wondering about the ethics of the exercise. In social science, there are protocols and forms procedures to follow that aim to protect the subjects of interviews from harm. Who is helped by this exercise? Who is harmed? Is it responsible to ask a leading question and then bid one's subjects farewell? Is the product of final editing fair and balanced, or is it incendiary? Are the subjects abused by this presentation? Does the presentation serve the interest of the subjects (of all the subjects) or does it serve the interests of the presenter? What is the role of media, including youtube postings such as this?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The mood in Jerusalem, circa January 2014

While in Jerusalem this January, I tried to get a sense of the mood on the street. It was interesting for me to note that the ongoing negotiations brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry played no role whatsoever in my conversations. No one I talked to was optimistic or expected anything to come of these negotiations. There was practically no interest among people I spoke to and barely any coverage of it in the news, which were dominated by the decline and death of former PM Ariel Sharon. The mood in the Arab shuk eerily resembled that among liberal Israeli pundits: Sharon was the only person who could have made peace or forced the concessions necessary to make peace. On the other hand, I observed a degree of pragmatism and mutual penetration of Arabs and Israelis that went hand in hand with a clear and open affirmation of completely opposed national visions. The Arabs of East Jerusalem are now openly nationalistic, but they know they need to find a way of operating within the system imposed by the Israeli agenda. The prevailing attitude on the Israeli side was summarized by Ethan Bronner when he spoke at BU back in November, namely, conflict resolution has given way to conflict management. The prevailing attitude among Palestinians that I spoke to was that they simply wanted to prevent things from getting worse and finding ways of holding on rather than losing more of their young and of their entrepreneurial middle class to Ramallah, radicalism, or places abroad. In other words, the discourse I encountered, on both sides, was thoroughly focused on making Jerusalem work as an urban environment that, for better or worse, is shared by Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Curiously and without saying so, those who try to pry Jerusalem's future away from the competing national agendas and increasingly fundamentalist trends among Jews and Muslims are returning to the old vision of this city as a space in its own right, a vindication of the erstwhile notion of a corpus separatum.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Inching toward bi-nationalism?

PM Netanyahu's suggestion, reported in today's Boston Globe, that settlers may not need to be moved even if some of the land on which they sit may revert to Palestinian sovereignty, a suggestion rejected outright by Saeb Erekat, seems designed to derail the current negotiations. But what if Mr. Netanyahu is serious? Consider the fact that Israel did not expel all the Arabs from what became its territory in 1949. To this day, Israel includes a sizable Arab minority. Despite all the talk of "transfer," despite their second class status in a what is increasingly felt to be an ethnic rather than liberal democracy, these Arabs are nevertheless citizens of Israel. In recent months there has even been talk about persuading more of the Christians among the Arabs to join the IDF. If that's the case, why then should the future Palestine not include Jewish citizens. Members of Neturei Karta have long expressed a preference for living under Palestinian sovereignty since they regard secular Jewish statehood as blasphemous. And if the settlers want to live in ancient Judea and Samaria, which happens to be the modern West Bank, why should they not find an appropriate place there. It won't be easy and one can imagine why Palestinian society would not be eager to have them, but that's not a reason to not imagine it.

The result, however, would be two states in Palestine: one with a Jewish majority and one with an Arab majority; but neither one "ethnically cleansed" or exclusively populated by just one type of population. Now add to this a joint security regime, which would be necessary to protect these ethnic minorities, joint economic policies that allow for reasonable and beneficial development that is mindful of natural resources (including water) and of the needs of the tourism and pilgrimage industries, while maintaining religious and political autonomy for each of these sectors. Doesn't this look more like bi-nationalism than two states for two people? -- Has Benjamin Netanyahu seen the light? Are we seeing the return of the IHUD, seventy years after its founding? A vindication of Buber, Magnes, and Szold? I am putting some champagne on ice right now.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

In memoriam Moshe Gil (1912-2014)

From Jonathan D. Sarna, on behalf of H-Judaic

H-Judaic is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Prof. Moshe Gil
(1921-2014),  Joseph and Ceil Mazer Emeritus Chair in the History of the
Jews in Muslim Lands at Tel Aviv University, and winner of the Israel
Prize.  Prof. Gil published fundamental work on the exilarch, documents
from the Cairo Genizah and on Palestine under Islam.   English readers know him best for his A HISTORY OF PALESTINE 634-1099 (Cambridge University Press.) A brief Wikipedia entry may be found here:

We extend condolences to Prof. Gil's family.

Jonathan D. Sarna
Chair H-Judaic

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Impasse: Why the current negotiations are going nowhere

1 Solomonic judgment on Jerusalem
Negotiating away part of Jerusalem, especially the sensitive part of Jerusalem referred to as the “holy basin,” is like expecting someone to give away the store. Israeli Jews see themselves as the caretakers of a place that, with its capture from Jordan in June 1967, came under Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the days when the Romans destroyed the temple in AD70. The Temple Mount, though still a Muslim sanctuary and surrounded by the predominantly Arab Old City, has always been the apple of the religious eye of the Jews, and there is no way that Israel can remove itself an inch from this territory without attenuating what—a century and counting after Herzl—has become the raison d’etre of the Jewish state: the redemption of people and land of Israel.

Conversely, the Palestinians are not simply Arabs or Muslims in a generic sense, but their specific identity is based on a millennial guardianship for holy land and holy city. While the naming of elite military guards after Al Quds is fashionable across the world of Islamic resurgence, and while myriads of Arabic satellite television stations pay lipservice to the liberation of Palestine (this absurdly hollow solidarity is nicely captured in the final pun of the exquisite Saudi Arabian movie “Wajda”), Palestinian identity is uniquely based in Jerusalem and Hebron, the twin holy cities that were among the first conquered by the Muslims in the 7th century, making them the rightful guardians of these holy shrines.

Redividing Jerusalem would require no less than a Solomonic judgment. Except this time a modern day Solomon would be dealing with two genuine mothers of the same child. More precisely, he would be dealing with the offspring of two grandmothers fighting over a joint inheritance. (“I was here first!” “All mine!”)

At what point might one of the grandchildren cry “halt!”? To quote former Jerusalem vice-mayor Naomi Tzur, now a green-tourism activist: let the dividing line run where it may, as long as it doesn’t matter.

2 Palestinian pragmatism
The developments of the last twenty years have a) strengthened Palestinian identity in East Jerusalem, and b) eroded Palestinian life in Jerusalem. From a Palestinian national perspective, East Jerusalem should be restored to something like the status quo ante June 1967, though with an eye to Palestinian sovereignty and a diminished role for the Hashemites of Jordan. Moderate Palestinians (those willing to coexist with Israel within the boundaries of historical Palestine) hope for a partial fulfillment—after nearly a century—of hopes instilled by the British Mandate for Palestinian statehood centered in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem’s Arabs are hurting. They are hurting from administrative policies such as housing demolition and the many subtle and unsubtle obstacles placed in their path to prevent them from remaining and thriving in the city.

What would hurt Palestinians, Arab, and Muslim aspirations even more would be a dramatic change in the status quo, such as Arab expulsion or a Jewish take-over the holy places, especially the Haram ash-Sharif. But these are things that only extremists on the Jewish side might advocate, and they are not likely to happen. As bad as the status quo may be from a Palestinian perspective, it is more tolerable than accelerated Jewish settlement expansion. Palestinian interest in compromise is grounded in a pragmatic weighing of the odds.

3 The Israeli bottom line
Israel has been pushing its luck by encroaching on Palestinian Arab territory in and around Jerusalem that, from Jewish historical perspectives and for sentimental and religious-national reasons, are considered legitimately Jewish territories: the ancient city of David beneath the Arab village of Silwan (a case of vertical territorial recovery), the Gush Etzion bloc that had to be evacuated during the War of Independence and that was reclaimed and resettled after 1967, the Jewish heritage of Hebron, and many places of biblical pedigree across Judea and Samaria, aka the West Bank.

While it would hurt Jews and Israelis to give up some of these territories (illegal settlement outposts may be the least problematic, even though they might be fiercely defended by a few; Massadah-type Zealotry happens to be a hallmark of Jewish history), there are certain changes Israel can agree to without endangering itself: Israelis will likely accept the demographic status quo of Jerusalem where Arabs currently constitute about one quarter to one third of the population; they may even accede to yielding part of Jerusalem to serve as the capital of a demilitarized Palestinian state centered in the West Bank (with or without a land-bridge to Gaza). Where then is the limit? At which point will Israel cry halt! before the child is killed?

The bottom line, the casus belli, the true raison d’etre of the Zionist enterprise will reveal itself at that point. Is Zionism truly about keeping Jerusalem the eternally undivided capital of Israel, as the Basic Law of 1982 states, or can that law be dialed back to a symbolic aspiration that can suffer compromise on the ground, e.g., by sharing Jerusalem among its actual inhabitants and their political representatives? Is Zionism truly about redeeming the Land of Israel in its entirety and completeness (eretz yisrael ha-shlemah), i.e., is it about the realization of a maximalist ideal of a restoration of the land to its presumably biblical proportions? Or is it about the safety and integrity of a Jewish state of Israel within militarily defensible and economically viable boundaries in a peaceful and constructive relationship with its neighbors, including the Palestinians within and outside those boundaries?

That’s the decision for Israel today, provided there is a similar moment of truth on the other side and provided that moment of truth reveals the Palestinians to be similarly inclined toward accepting a less than ideal, less than complete, less than perfect reality instead of striving for the elimination of the Jewish state in what used to be Palestine.

4 Mother Palestine
In the Palestinian imagination, Palestine is a mother and the Palestinians are her children. They are a product of the land. Their mother was divided when Palestine was divided into a Jewish and an Arab state. At that time, the people, too, were divided into those who fled and those who remained; another division. One should not be too surprised that Palestinians, many of them refugees, took a long time to resort to violence in response to this traumatic event. Their motherland had been divided and the people became dependents or refugees; a trauma and injustice of numbing proportions.

Historic injustices are not always evened out, especially if they are widely perceived as something people brought onto themselves. Many Germans were driven out of that country’s eastern provinces where they had settled for generations, paying the price for a war they had not sought or chosen. No one expects their grievances to be redressed. When it comes to the Palestinians, no one can expect them to simply give up on the right to return. On the other hand, many people believe that the refugees are at least in part the victims of choices made by Arab leaders who resisted the UN decision to partition Palestine. But then, why should they have agreed? Who would agree to the dividing up of their motherland on behalf of a group of immigrants from another continent?

To accede to the two-state solution requires of Palestinians to reveal themselves as the sympathetic party of a Solomonic judgment. It would say to the great arbiter: you have slain my mother and divided her body; we are willing to accept half (or less) of what remains of her in order not to lose all of her. But we can never stop mourning over this loss. We can not be happy or reconciled with the partition of our motherland as compensation for others on whom you, great arbiter, had wreaked a great evil: whom you murdered, expelled, or failed to help when they were ghettoized, worked to death, or exterminated. You put them in detention camps, not us. The pressure you generated was unleashed on us. We paid the price, and now you expect us to be peaceful and accept the division of our land as a fact never to be rectified. Our villages, fields, and orchards, our ports, cities, markets, schools, and mosques, our communities, histories, identities: you have taken half and you want us to accept it as legitimate and final. And you also want us to tell our grandparents and grandchildren, still living in refugee camps, that they will never regain their ancestral homes.

5 Israelis and Palestinians don’t care about the current negotiations
Most Palestinians would agree that their situation will not be rectified by force any time soon. But one cannot forbid them from dreaming. If the liberation of their homeland is far off, the question is what to do about the status quo. Time seems to be working both for and against the Palestinians, which makes it unclear whether action or inaction is more desirable. Time works for the Palestinians in that they are a young people, in a relatively safe environment, less chaotic than many other places in the Arab world, and with a cause that makes them feel alive and connected. Economically speaking, foreign powers are pouring a lot of aid into the Palestinian territories, making the status quo tolerable, at least to some, though still difficult enough to make it attractive for many of the gifted young people to seek educational and economic opportunity elsewhere. This is why time is working against the Palestinians. After a brief period of enthusiasm, back in the nineties, the territories are now divided and—because of intifada, closures and the wall—psychologically exhausted. Israel is expanding settlements. Facts on the ground are constantly shifting, territories are claimed for development or military security, Palestinians are confronted with the rogue violence of Jewish settlers (“price tag”), and the military courts are making it ever more difficult to get justice. The international community just wants the problem to go away.

From the perspective of the international community, the current negotiations seem to offer an opportunity to put a stop to the further encroachment of Israeli settlements onto Palestinian territory and to keep as much as possible of Palestine for the Palestinians including an equitable land-swap; to create a heaven of sanity and coexistence in the middle of a chaotic and unpredictable Middle East; and to deprive the Arab and Muslim street of the oxygen of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism by producing Palestinian statehood alongside Israel. These are really items of an international or, more precisely, American agenda. The art of diplomacy is to persuade the partners in this conflict to accept this American agenda as advantageous to themselves, as better than its alternatives.

What are the alternatives, if we rule out the maximalist possibilities that would entail extreme violence for which neither side has the stomach? Maintaining the status quo is possibly the only serious alternative. But the status quo is like a very slow erosion of Palestine: brain drain and settlements are slowly erasing Palestine and Palestinians from the map of an Israel that is growing incrementally. The only party that can really be interested in status quo maintenance, and has many arguments on its side, is Israel. The Palestinians will return to arguing for international sanctions and for unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood. Recent developments suggest that there may be increasing support for this strategy across Europe and the US, which acts as a disincentive for Palestinians to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the current negotiations. This explains why neither Israelis nor Palestinians are fully backing the Kerry talks. Rhetorical assurances to the contrary not withstanding, both sides hope that digging in their heels and holding on to maximalist positions will advance their strategic interests more than eagerly investing in the current negotiations to achieve a framework for a final status agreement. This is why no one really cares about these negotiations: everyone knows that they are doomed to fail because neither party in the conflict is fully invested in its resolution. Only the broker is truly interested.