Why an American Jew Supports Palestinian Statehood
Is the Palestinian-Israeli dispute about land or about religion? Isn’t that the question?
If it’s about religion, I don’t want any part of it. I may be a Jew, but I’m first an American. I am grateful to the point of tears that our Founders let anyone—including people a lot more religious than I—practice any religion, or even atheism, as long as it doesn’t involve human sacrifices or break other basic laws.
Religion is a personal thing. If the Crusades and the several hundred years of bloody wars between Catholics and Protestants have taught us anything, they should have taught us that. Try to force your religion on others, and you condemn yourself to perpetual, senseless war.
If we insist on everyone worshipping the same God we do in the same way, we can kill each other off until our species goes extinct. Now, with nuclear weapons, we have the means as well as the motive. No doubt other intelligent life in the Universe would be happy to be rid of us if we think that way.
But in my view, in reality, the dispute is about land. The crux of the matter is a bit of unfortunate history.
After we Jews dispersed, they persecuted us for centuries. Oddly enough, they hated us for precisely the same reasons that many Americans now hate Muslims. We dressed differently. We wore funny (to the majority) clothes, including the tefillin (fringes), kippah (yarmulke) and sideburns. We kept our own customs and traditions and our own way of life.
And for that the majority accused us of killing Christ, killing Christian babies, and other calumnies too horrible to tell. So the Nazis could easily demonize us and slaughter us in the Holocaust.
The Israelis are children of the Holocaust. They are its Darwinian survivors. They are tough as nails and self-righteous as priests because of what they or their ancestors endured. They believe only their God and their religion let them survive.
These tough, visionary people didn’t think that anyone in the world would accept them. So they dreamed up the idea of returning to “Zion,” a place their ancestors had lived in two millennia before.
That was a beautiful, compelling idea. Leon Uris captured it dramatically in the classic novel Exodus. When I read it as a kid, the sheer beauty of it brought me to tears. It was an historic coming home.
But there was only one problem: other people—Arabs—were living there, too. The Arabs living there were no match for the Jews who had survived the Holocaust. They were not as smart or as tough. There were not as worldly wise and politically sophisticated. They did not have behind them the guilt of a world that had acquiesced in the Holocaust.
So they lost in international politics. And when the UN and the US declared Israel a state, they lost in the battle that they started.
So they fled.
But does that mean they have no rights, no dignity? Does that mean they are not people, just like us? I don’t think so.
The Nazis, too, thought they were tougher, smarter, purer, better and more “efficient” than the rest of us. Maybe they were. But did their “superiority” give them the right to rape, kill, starve, imprison and burn us Jews or anyone else?
The Second World War, I thought, answered “no.” Fifty million people died to prove the point. Being “better” than others creates obligations, not rights to trample them. Isn’t that what World War II was all about? Might doesn’t make right; it makes responsibility.
Although I’m a Jew and a sometime Israeli partisan, one thing always stuck in my craw about Palestinians. Like African-Americans in our own country (before Dr. King and President Obama) they “didn’t get no respec’.”
Why not? Aren’t they people, like the rest of us? When you prick them, do they not bleed?
When I listen to people like Hanan Ashrawi or Mahmoud Abbas, I hear well-educated, reasonable people just like me. I like them. I respect them.
Do I want to marginalize them? Do I want to dispose of them? Do I want the same thing to happen to them as happened my own people in the Holocaust, or to the Armenians, to the Rwandans, to the Albanian Kosovars? Hell, no.
As I am Jewish and remember the Holocaust, I want no more genocides, no more ethnic cleansing, and no more oppression. Ever. Period. Not of us or anyone, including Palestinians.
So when Mahmoud Abbas stands up in the United Nations and requests statehood for his people, I ask, “Why not?”
He’s a reasonable man. He’s already proved his ability to provide some security for Israelis. His people have lived in their territory for as long as Israelis have lived in theirs, maybe longer. Does he not deserve to stand before the world as leader of his people? Does he not deserve a state?
Unlike his Hamas rivals, Abbas is no demagogue. He doesn’t talk about driving Israelis into the sea—when any attempt to do so would cause unthinkable suffering to both sides. He just wants recognition for his people, living on their land, so he can bargain as a sovereign and end this nightmare of conflict that has split the world into warring camps.
Let’s give it to him. Let’s acknowledge that his people, just like the Israelis, have a right to exist and to live and to bargain with the Israelis to settle this controversy.
All reasoning minds want and expect a two-state solution. So let’s set up the two states that can negotiate the end game.
Abbas may not be Nelson Mandela, but he seems genuinely interested in peace and security, which poll after poll shows 70% of both sides want. Isn’t it time to end Apartheid and bring that long-suffering region into the twenty-first century? After 63 years of endless conflict, what the hell do we have to lose?