Do we have the right to live in Israel?

December 27, 2000 (something interesting from 10 years ago!)

As the split within Israel society intensifies over the apparent willingness to the divide the land and appease our Arab neighbors, I would like to proffer the following question to the hard-core proponents of such a division. Do we, the Jewish people, possess any right at all to live in Eretz Yisrael, and if so, where did this right come from? Since our Arab neighbors are convinced of the justification of their cause and are displaying a clear willingness to die for it, perhaps it is time that we start asking ourselves this most difficult question.

Long before the Holocaust convinced the world of any justification for the need of a Jewish state, the early pioneers of the Zionist movement were already here building a country. Despite the irreligious nature of the movement, any honest person today must admit that the justification that they used to start building a Jewish country, specifically on this tiny strip of land, came from Judaism. To think that 100 years ago the early pioneers of Zionism simply looked at a world map and randomly chose this particular piece of land is absolute nonsense. It is clear that the Jewish tradition through the ages, the endless dreams and prayers, anchored in the sacred texts of the Torah and Prophets, was all the justification that was needed for Jews to come to this particular land and start building a country. Granted, their goal was to build a country like any other country and not to build a Jewish country in the religious/spiritual sense of the word, but nonetheless they felt justified to undertake their endeavor here. This endeavor in turn blossomed into the modern state of Israel.

Returning to the present situation, we (or more specifically proponents of dividing the land) should be asking ourselves if the early pioneers were justified in doing what they did. If one says that they were, then the legitimacy of cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rehovot, Holon and Rishon Le-Zion cannot be questioned. However, by saying that they were justified to build such cities specifically here on this tiny strip of land, one is also admitting that the foundation upon which they based their justification (the Torah, Prophets and Jewish tradition) was indeed a valid foundation. Furthermore, if this foundation was valid 100 years ago, there’s no reason to assume that it is not valid today.

If, however, one says that the foundation upon which they based their justification was not a valid foundation, then there is absolute no legitimacy to the above mentioned cities (remember, as stated above, this foundation upon which they justified their cause and upon which the modern state of Israel was built, was the legitimizing factor long before any justification provided by the Holocaust). If this is the case, then returning all of the land and not just dividing part of it is perhaps the proper cause of action. Moreover, if this perspective were to become the dominant view here in Israel, then it should come as no surprise if several hundred thousand ‘Arab refugees’, or perhaps even a million, were allowed to return to live within the ‘Green Line’. Such a move, for anyone who believes that the foundation of the early pioneers was clearly wrong, is only natural in order to make up for the horrible injustice that we committed.

If, however, one believes that the above mentioned cities are clearly legitimate, then by extension, as stated above, one should honestly accept the foundation that provided the justification for their being built. To refuse to do this is to try to ‘have one’s cake and eat it too’. Moreover, proponents of dividing the land who do not question for a moment the legitimacy of the above mentioned cites, yet have the audacity to ridicule others who still believe in the above mentioned foundation and the justification that it provides, is a case of hypocrisy in the extreme. Either Tel Aviv, Kfar Drom, Hebron and Kibbutz Meggido are all legitimate or none of them are legitimate.

Perhaps this hypocrisy and the guilt that it must generate is what motivates some of the leading proponents of dividing the land (known in their circles as the Peace Camp) to both vilify those who still believe in the foundation and to attempt to eradicate any traces of their powerful idealism (unlike the early pioneers, who also had a high level of idealism, the modern day idealists want to live according to the creed of the foundation and not simply to exploit it in order to build a country like any other country). Thus, symbols of this idealism, such as the Temple Mount or Joseph’s Tomb, must be removed. Their continued presence intensifies the guilt by reminding them of the hypocrisy. In fact anything that symbolizes the concept of Jewish uniqueness and our divinely ordained role, and thus flies in the face of being a country like any other country (the ultimate goal of secular Zionism), must be diminished or removed altogether. The real reason for this, however, is not simply because of guilt. Although it is a factor to some degree, the bottom line is that we are talking about two totally separate dreams that cannot coexist.

With this in mind, it becomes clear that ‘painful concessions’ in Jerusalem are only painful to those who still have an attachment to the idealism of Judaism. For others, such concessions are a necessary step in their goal of making us into a nation like any other nation and realizing the ultimate dream of secular Zionism, a dream that happens to fly in the face of the Jewish dream wherein the Jewish people play the starring role (“the light unto nations”) in transforming a chaotic world into a world of peace and harmony. These two dreams cannot coexist at the same time. Moreover, since it appears that this fact is clear to the leaders of the dream of turning Israel into a ‘normal’ country (based upon their words and actions), it is not surprising that they will do what they have to (and are currently doing) in order to realize their dream (similar to the case of the Arabs who are doing what they must in order to realize their dream). The concept of a chosen people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, has no place in the future these leaders are building.

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