Ten days ago, I and several members of Congregation Sherith Israel met to determine how to present programs on Israel. Regarding the Palestinians, we face a challenge. A January 19 New York Times column by Michelle Alexander demonstrates the issue’s difficulty.
Our synagogue—and we as individuals—support Israel’s right to exist. But the question of Israeli government actions towards Palestinians is fraught with emotion and disagreement among congregants and the American Jewish community. Moreover, not only Diaspora Jews express a multitude of opinions.
Israelis do not march in political lockstep. We mostly hear from the far right because the political edges make the most noise. But debate in Israel, as reflected in the nation’s multiplicity of parties—and on issues involving other than the Palestinians—is continuous and often raucus.
American Jew often remain quiet. Two weeks ago, Carolyn visited our son Yosi in Los Angeles. Yosi and his friends are more supportive of Palestinian causes than we are. At dinner, conversation was steered away from Israel. I emailed Yosi that that was unnecessary. Mom and I want to know what he thinks—to listen rather than argue.
When I read “It’s Time to Break the Silence on Palestine” by Michelle Alexander, I did so eager to know what she thinks. I agree that Israeli actions towards the Palestinians are often heavy-handed. There is an element in Israel that despises Palestinians as human beings. But this element does not represent all—or even a majority of—Israelis.
Like the late Israeli writer Amos Oz and Times columnist Roger Cohen, who wrote about their friendship, I believe in a two-state solution. Yet also I get the position of Israeli writer Matti Friedman: Peace with the Palestinians isn’t enough. The Middle East remains a powder keg. A weak Palestinian state could endanger, not enhance, Israeli security. For the record: Oz, Cohen and Friedman advocate treating Palestinians with respect.
Where does Alexander not get it? She condemns Israel for not being willing to discuss a Palestinian right of to return to Israel within the “green line” established before the 1967 Six-Day War. Note that the 1947 United Nations partition gave Palestinians moreterritory than contained within the ’67, pre-war borders. In 1948, five Arab nations and Palestinians attacked Israel after its declaration of independence. Israel won and gained land Palestinians would have now for their state had they chosen peace.
Ms. Alexander opts for considering the simplistic, self-righteous Palestinian position—let the refugees back. But if millions of Palestinian—grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fled or were pushed out 70 years ago—can return, where do Israelis go? “Back” to Russia, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Ethiopia, India? Or must they contract into overcrowded ghettos?
It’s time to break the silence regarding the folly of those who wish the world were perfect—from theirperspective. No nation legitimizes self-destruction. While I believe resolving the issue should produce a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, this represents a trade-off. Palestinians will have to forego a right of return less a few symbolic families. As long as Palestinians and their supporters cling to the delusion that Israel opening its borders is up for discussion, a better life for Palestinians also remains folly.
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