Are G-d’s Eyes Always Upon the Promised Land?
REQUIRED READING FOR EVERY NOAHIDE: Fundamental principles and historical highlights explained from the Torah perspective.
Click here to read this book on-line: Eyes Upon the Land
Author: Rabbi E. Touger. Based on talks and writings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Part 1: fundamental principles of the Middle East conflict. Part 2: historical highlights of phases in the regional conflict, the approach taken by the Israeli government, and the relevant Torah Laws and strategic facts which the Rebbe stressed over many years
At The Core Of The Issue
What Risks Can You Be Willing To Take?
Peace For Peace
When Is Peace More Likely?
[Who is it that] Really Wants Peace?
Why Let Terror And Peace Go Hand In Hand?
Why Won’t We Say What The Emperor Is [Not] Wearing?
[The Jews'] Right To The Land Of Israel
Practically What To Do Now
What America Want[ed]
Projecting An Image
Concern That Leaps Over Geographic Boundaries
Israeli Approaches & Suggested Alternatives
The Six-Day War And Its Aftermath
The War Of Attrition
The Yom Kippur War
Courage And Fortitude, But Whose? – The Camp David Accords
Autonomy And Intifada
The Gulf War
What The Future Has In Store
Eyes Upon The Land
Adapted by Eliyahu Touger
A presentation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's views on the Jewish people's connection with the Holy Land, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the so-called "Land for Peace" issue
Our Sages teach that every Jew possesses a portion of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. The converse is also true. The land possesses a portion of every Jew.
For this is “a land which G‑d… seeks out; the eyes of G‑d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” And just as G‑d seeks out the land, so do we.
In recent years, it has become common to think of the solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict in terms of the formula, “land for peace.” Phrasing the question in that manner produces a ready answer, for regardless of our love for the Land of Israel, there is no question that all sacrifices necessary should be made to achieve peace.
In the pages that follow, we will present a different approach to the issues, one rooted in the principles of our Jewish heritage, yet starkly realistic in its appreciation of what is happening on the ground in and around Israel today.
At the Core Of the Issue
Whoever destroys a Jewish life is considered to have destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a Jewish life is considered to have saved an entire world.”1
In Jewish thought, this construct does not serve as merely a theoretical and ethical truth, but as a practical directive. Our heritage is rich in treasured laws and values, but when their application threatens human life, their practice is temporarily suspended.
This concept has resounded within the consciousness of the world at large: the protection of human life has been accepted as the fundamental raison d’être for the existence of governments. As the US Declaration of Independence proclaims, the very first purpose of a government is to provide its citizens with “life.”
To apply this concept to the present situation in the Land of Israel: Although almost 30 years that have passed since the Six-Day War, and despite efforts by all the world powers, there is no immediate sign of peace. Now if anyone wants to stop treading water and make real progress, he has to put first things first, identify his issue of primary concern and make it the focus of his argument.
The question of primary concern to Israel is obvious: What is the course of action that will protect Jewish and for that matter, Arab lives most effectively?
(We mention Jewish lives first. Although all humans are created “in the image of G‑d,”2 and every life must be cherished, the Torah teaches Jews to place Jewish life as the highest priority. And slightly more than 50 years after the world stood idly by as a third of our people were annihilated, no further explanation is necessary. We have learned that if we do not stand up for ourselves, no one else will.3)
Many Americans live far away from tragedy, and we often view a death as a statistic. We react to a report on a terrorist attack by counting the numbers. “They got three of ours, but we killed four of theirs. So we won.” Not only is such an approach callous; it misses the entire point. The question should not be who killed more, but how to prevent killing.
In the pages that follow, we will examine several dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Over and above all, our focus will be guided by the principle stressed above the preservation of life.
What Risks Can You be Willing to Take?
It is hard not to become caught up with the immediacy of an issue. Especially when one is concerned with a subject like peace, there is a natural desire to hastily seek an agreement as soon as possible. Nevertheless, this feeling of immediacy should never be allowed to obscure the priorities involved. If the peace is to last longer than the time it took to hammer out the agreement, we must make sure that it realistically answers the objectives that we seek.
What does Israel want out of peace?
Two fundamental objectives:
(a) that it be secure against attack from the surrounding Arab nations;
(b) that its citizens may rest assured that their lives will not be endangered by terrorist attack.
These objectives are primarily military issues. Therefore it is military experts who should be consulted for the parameters according to which any negotiations should be conducted.
To refer to a parallel: When there is a question of whether the Sabbath laws must be violated to save the life of a patient, the Torah prescribes that one ask an expert a doctor; more specifically, a doctor in the relevant field.4 For a heart condition one consults a cardiologist, not a dermatologist.
To return to the analog: There are many dimensions to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Nevertheless, just as when a person has a heart condition, it is the cardiologist whose opinion is given highest priority, since Israel’s fundamental concerns are questions of security, it is the opinions of military men and particularly, those trained in the issues at hand, that must determine the guidelines and the red lines for negotiations.
When military experts are asked, they explain that it is absolutely necessary for Israel to maintain possession of the lands taken in the Six-Day War. The reasons for this stance are plainly obvious.
The Golan Heights command control of the entire Galilee, Israel’s north. Missiles and artillery placed in the Golan could easily destroy civilian centers and military bases in the Galilee. Moreover, even in our age of hi-tech weaponry, fighting uphill is much more difficult than fighting downhill or fighting on level terrain. Thus, if Syrian troops would attack from the Golan, Israel would be put in a defensive position that would be very challenging to turn around.
Similarly, with regard to Judea and Samaria, on the West Bank of the Jordan: these are hilly regions that overlook major Jewish coastal cities on the other side of Israel’s narrow waist. An enemy army perched there could effortlessly cut Israel in half. It is not without cause that even left-leaning Israelis have called the pre-’67 borders, “the borders of Auschwitz.” And even if there were no danger from an enemy army, terrorists firing rockets from those hills could paralyze the reserve call-ups on which the Israeli military depends, while wreaking havoc on civilian centers.5
Although the nature of warfare has changed, strategic depth is still critical. Even in this age of missiles, the final determinant is what happens on the ground.
Witness the Gulf War. Despite weeks of bombing by planes and missiles, the Iraqis were not defeated until the land war began. Moreover, because of strategic depth, since America limited the extent of its penetration, even when his armies were defeated, Saddam Hussein’s power was not shaken totally.
Maintaining possession of the lands taken in the Six-Day War is necessary not only to prevent attack, but also to protect against terrorism. There is no question that the presence of the Arab population in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza presents security problems. It is, however, far easier to control those problems when the jurisdiction over these regions is under Israeli control. First of all, life-saving intelligence about impending terrorist activity can be gathered far more easily.
Secondly, preventive measures and response to terrorism can be more thorough and more efficient. Even today, before any further “redeployment” has taken place, terrorist killers simply flee to any of the nearby Cities of Refuge in the Palestinian Autonomy, secure in the knowledge that their sympathizers will grant them hospitable anonymity out of the reach of Israel’s security and intelligence personnel.
For these reasons, when considering solely the security perspective, no military expert has ever counseled return of the lands Israel conquered in ‘67. On the contrary, military men from the US and other countries have been amazed that Israel has spoken about making any concessions.
Who have offered such concessions? Politicians, including some military experts who have become politicians.
Why are they willing to consider these concessions? Because they feel that peace will resolve all these difficulties, that once peace is established security considerations will be unnecessary. If these people are asked what is required from a strictly security perspective, they answer that these lands should not be returned. Nevertheless, they explain that they are willing to take a risk for the sake of peace.
When questions of life and death are involved, one does not take risks based on what may or may not happen in the future. How can lives be risked because the situation will perhaps change in the future? Whose lives are being taken so lightly?
How can we know what will happen in the future? Supposing that an Arab leader would be willing to enter into a full and complete peace treaty with Israel. Should security considerations be relaxed because of such an offer?
Absolutely not. The Arab regimes are for the most part totalitarian dictatorships prone to coups and unpredictable changes of heart. What would happen if the leader who made peace fell? Would his successor keep up the agreement? In such a scenario, Israel would have compromised its security, and brought an enemy closer, without having any guarantee of her future safety.
And if this is true when complete peace is being offered, how much more so is it true at present when the Arab leaders have trouble making public offers of even a “cold” peace with Israel?
The future is always uncertain. Weaponry is becoming more sophisticated. What is a slight security risk today may become a major risk tomorrow. Jewish law states that a person should not endanger his own life and of course, not that of others when there is only a possibility that his actions will save the life of another person. By contrast, everything should be done to avoid the possibility of danger arising.
The Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 329:6) states:
When there is a [Jewish] city close to the border, then, even if [enemies mount an attack, although they] come only for the purpose of [taking] straw and stubble, we should [take up arms] and desecrate the Sabbath because of them. For [if we do not prevent their coming] they may conquer the city, and from there the [rest of the] land will be easy for them to conquer.
What is the law saying? That even when an enemy attack does not pose an immediate danger to life, since allowing them control of a border city puts the entire land in danger, we should take up arms to prevent that danger from arising.6
This is precisely the situation in Israel today. Every inch of territory in Israel is like a city on the border; it is vital for her security. Giving it away to the Arabs exposes all her inhabitants to the possibility of attack.
This is why so many Jewish leaders are saying that not one inch of land should be returned. This reason is unconnected with the holiness of the land or the fact that they love it.
Yes, the land is holy, and yes, there are people who love it, but the reason the land should not be returned is not this holiness or this love. Instead, this is a life-threatening issue; the lives of millions of our people are at stake. To sum it up: Security provisions should never be sacrificed in order to achieve what appears as diplomatic success.
Peace for Peace
The proposition of exchanging land for peace is unheard of in the annals of history. Whenever has a nation that won territory in a defensive war surrendered it to the very nations which attacked it?
And will giving back land lead to peace? Let us look at the situation as it is. Never in the history of Israeli-Arab relations have concessions led to an attitude of conciliation and peace. Instead, the initial concessions have communicated feelings of weakness and insecurity that have been exploited by the Arabs and have encouraged them to make further and more excessive demands. Every retreat before pressure has called forth greater pressure to retreat even further.
A pattern has been established: The Arabs make vociferous demands. Afraid of “cutting off our dialogue,” we make concessions, agreeing to at least several of their claims. And shortly afterwards, they demand more, explaining to us and to the world at large that these new claims are logical corollaries to the claims that we have already accepted.
And there is a certain logic to their argument. After all, once Israel has accepted the basic premise that it is proper to compromise its security to placate the Arabs, it is hard to draw red lines. If danger to life is no longer a reason to say “No; no more,” what is?
It is high time we stopped merely reacting, and establishing our policies in response to Arab claims. Instead, we have to be concerned with our own priorities. We have to know that there are certain things that are simply not for sale. They will not be presented on the bargaining table. And this restriction is not prompted by sentimental reasons; it is simply that one does not take risks when lives are at stake.
When is Peace More Likely?
Not only is the land for peace theory dangerous; it has no logic to it. Take for example, the Golan. Despite all the vehement anti-Israeli rhetoric emanating from Damascus since 1974, and even though Syrian troops were involved in the Lebanon War in 1982, there has never been an attack mounted from the Syrian front. Why? For a very simple reason. Situated on the Golan Heights, Israeli artillery is pointed directly at Damascus. The terrain is more or less flat, and tanks and infantry can advance without great difficulty. In such a situation, any Syrian leader will think hard before he contemplates a war with Israel. The risks are far too high.
Consider for a second the situation if that were no longer true, if there were no Israeli guns on the Golan, and Syrian guns were positioned there instead. If the deterrent of fear were removed by Israel’s ceding the Golan, would the likelihood of a Syrian attack be increased or decreased?
Giving away land for peace means exchanging strategic positions for a mere piece of paper. And it is legitimate to question how much that piece of paper is worth. For the Arabs have broken every treaty they ever made with Israel. And, for that matter, they have a sorry record of keeping the agreements they have made among themselves.
Do the Arabs Really Want Peace?
Many times in their internal propaganda, the Arabs have said that their involvement in the peace process is part of their “holy war to liberate Palestine.” Sadat said it bluntly when he explained to the Arabs why he visited Jerusalem: He told them that he paid lip-service to the concept of peace because he knew that in this way he could receive more from Israel than he could ever win in a war. Afterwards, he explained, once Egypt’s position was improved and Israel’s was weakened, he could wage war from a position of strength.
A look at the school textbooks and news media in Egypt a country which is officially at peace with Israel reflects whether or not the Arabs have taken the concept of peace seriously. Their press which is all government controlled seethes day after day with anti-Israeli editorials and anti-Semitic caricatures. At school, in their history classes, children are taught about the imperialistic intent of the Zionist invaders. And Friday after Friday, a message of hatred resounds from the mosques.
Whoever wants a clear picture of whether or not the Arabs desire peace should ask the ordinary Arab in the street. He will respond as has been documented by many polls that he is not opposed to violence against Israel, and that he desires Arab dominion over the entire land of Palestine. Have we forgotten the Palestinians who danced on their roofs with glee when Iraqi Scuds fell on Israel?
Can they be blamed for such an attitude? The average Arab is certainly not responsible for these feelings. These are the values on which he has been raised for years. For him to defy them would mean challenging his society’s entire hierarchy.
But absolving the ordinary Arab from blame should not lead us to ignore the situation which prevails. Even a casual persual of the local7 Arab press and radio communicate a clear message: From the heads of state to the ordinary man in the street, the Arab world’s attitude toward Israel is one of hatred and contempt; never have there been any serious attempts toward coexistence.
Why Let Terror and peace Go Hand and Hand?
Because of this deep-seated hatred, there are many Arabs willing to engage in terrorist activity against Israel. Even were the Arab leadership to totally divorce itself from terrorist activity (something which has not yet been done), there would still be a danger of terrorist activity from individual fanatics.
Unfortunately, however, the danger of terror does not come only from the extremist fringe. Instead, the Arab leadership actively encourages terror, because terror wins concessions at the conference table.
A pattern has been established. First demands are made. Then terrorist attacks create a mood of fear and uncertainty. And afterwards, the Arab leadership clamors that the attacks are justified because of oppression and explains that the situation can be quieted by concessions. An agreement is reached and is swallowed by the Israelis.
What has happened? The Arabs have learned that through terror and through clamor they can win concessions, that the Israelis are willing to sacrifice their security bit by bit to win temporary calm.
And so the pattern continues. From time to time there is an ebb, but never a cessation. First Arab demands, then Arab terror, then escalation of the demands, and finally Israeli concessions.
To counter this trend, Israel must broadcast a clear message: Terrorism will be met with strength; when caught, terrorists and their families will be punished severely; and by no means will terrorism be rewarded by concessions.
Why Won’t We Say What the Emperoris [Not] Wearing?
Why won’t the Israelis face the facts and speak about them openly? Why won’t they acknowledge that from the beginning until the present all the peace process has accomplished is to strengthen the Arab position?
There are two reasons. First of all, it would jeopardize their own credibility. They risked entering into negotiations and/or agreements with the Arabs, and they feel that admitting that the Arabs have not relented, would be considered a failure. If they would say: “Look, the emperor is naked; there are no new clothes; the Arabs have not made any moves toward peace,” they fear that their own garments would also look pretty shabby. They would have to admit that they had endangered the security of their land with a mistaken approach.
So what is done instead? They ignore the danger and try to camouflage it so that others will not see it as well. There were times when terrorist attacks were reported in Western news media before the official media in Israel even mentioned them. On numerous occasions, rather than expose the charade in the Arab peace effort, Israel has reinforced the Arab position by publicly recognizing them as “partners in the endeavor to reach peace.”
But the Israeli difficulty with speaking honestly about the peace process goes deeper than the self-interest of the leaders who have embraced it. Israel has continually chosen to worry first about what other nations will say, and second about its own priorities. Rather than focus on what is necessary for our own security, growth and development, the attitude has always been: What will the Arabs say? And what will the response from Washington be?
Not that there is anything novel in this attitude. Over three thousand years ago, the returning scouts whom Moses had dispatched to report on the inhabitants of the Promised Land debriefed as follows:8 “We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in theirs.” It all begins with our own self-image, how we look at ourselves. When we perceive ourselves as puny, when we cower within, it is no surprise that our enemies will act aggressively toward us. Conversely, when we have self-respect, when without boastful pride we focus on our own priorities and give precedence to our own security, other nations will regard us differently.
After the Six-Day War there was a real fear of Israel and her army within the Arab world. Today, sadly, that is no longer true. Why? Because of our concessions, because of our inability to stand up and claim what is rightfully ours, they perceive us as weak. And a weak enemy invites aggressiveness.
The same applies with regard to Israel’s relations with America. If Israel will not stand up for her priorities, can one expect America to fight for them? If Israel will not protest the constant Arab violation of agreements, why should America be concerned with them?
Even when we need help from other nations, we need not cower before them in fear. America considers foreign aid as an investment. And every investor will be more impressed with a prospective partner who though not boastful or arrogant knows what he needs and wants and is forthright in seeking it.
Our Right to the Land of Israel
There is a fundamental argument that must be dealt with. At the bottom of all the Arab rhetoric lies one basic claim: “You are intruders. This is our land. We had been living here for centuries and then you decided to take it from us.”
Once it is established that the Jews have a valid right to the Land of Israel, then the violence, hatred, and disregard for life that has characterized the Arab position can be judged for what it is. Unless that right is established, the Arabs will always claim that they have a valid goal: reclaiming a land that is rightfully theirs. And once validity is granted to their goal, the debate whether all means are acceptable to attain it or not is one of philosophy.
What is our claim to the land?
G‑d’s promise in the Torah. G‑d told Abraham:9 “I have given this land to your descendants.” For one-and-a- half thousand years the Land of Israel was our home, and ever since then, Jews everywhere have longed to come home to their eternal heritage to Jerusalem, the site of the Holy Temple;10 to Hebron, the burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob;11 and to Bethlehem, where Rachel weeps for her dispersed children and awaits their return.12 Even throughout the two thousand years during which our people wandered from country to country, Israel has remained the national home of every Jew. From the beginning of the exile until this day, no matter how farflung his current host country might be, every Jew has turned to face the Holy Land in his thrice-daily prayers.
So central is this principle to our faith, that Rashi, the foremost of the traditional commentators on the Torah, begins his commentary by stating:
Rabbi Yitzchak said: The Torah should have begun with the verse,13 “This month shall be for you the first of the months…,” for this introduces the first commandment given to Israel.
Why then does it begin with the narrative of creation?…
So that if the nations of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” Israel will reply to them: “The entire world belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whomever He pleased. Of His own will He gave it to them, and of His own will He took it from them and gave it to us.”
From this perspective the entire Land of Israel not only the coastal region, Jerusalem, and the Galilee, but also Judea, Samaria, and indeed every tiny portion of the land is part of an organic whole, an indivisible and sanctified unity. In this spirit, the Kneisiyah HaGedolah of Agudas Yisrael, an assembly of Jewry’s foremost sages in the pre-Holocaust era, declared in 1937:
The Holy Land, whose boundaries were prescribed by the Holy One, blessed be He, in His holy Torah, was granted to the nation of Israel, the eternal people. Any sacrifice of the Holy Land that was granted to us by G‑d is of absolutely no validity.
This explanation is, moreover, the only rationale that cannot be refuted by the Arabs or the Americans. They also accept the Bible and believe in the truth of its prophecies. The Koran does not dispute the Jews’ right to the Land of Israel. And can you conceive of an American president telling his people that G‑d’s promise to Abraham is not relevant? Indeed, the connection between the land and our people is so well established that everywhere it is referred to as “the Land of Israel.”
For this reason, it is important to emphasize that this connection is rooted in the Bible’s prophecies. It would not be desirable to base our claim to the Land of Israel on the Balfour Declaration or international agreements of the present century, for these agreements could be countermanded by other ones. After all, how favorable is the United Nations to Israel today?
Nor is the fact that our people once lived in the land sufficient in and of itself to establish our claim to it today. If the American Indians would lodge a claim to all of America, would it be granted them?
When the Bible’s prophecies serve as the basis for our claim, then many other arguments are effective in reinforcing the position. But when that foundation is lacking, we have difficulty refuting the gentiles’ claim: “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the… nations.”
After thousands of years of exile, our people have returned to our land. Every portion of the land over which Jewish authority is exercised was won in defensive wars in which G‑d showed overt miracles. Now when G‑d grants His people land in such ways, should it be returned? Is it proper to spurn a Divine gift?
Practically What To Do Now
The most immediate step to solving the problem is to settle the entire land. Wherever there is open space in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and the Golan, settlements should be established. There is no need to displace Arabs; there is ample empty land.
This should not be done with fanfare. The idea is not to create an image, but to create a reality. When the land is settled by Jews, it will become obvious to all that we consider this as Jewish land, not theoretically, but practically. Indeed, the fact that settlement is the issue which the Arabs protest most vehemently should make it clear that it is Israel’s highest priority. It is the most pragmatic means at Israel’s disposal to change the balance of power in her favor. Once widespread settlement becomes a fact, it will impossible to turn back the clock. The Arabs outside Israel will appreciate that the borders will not be moved back. And the Arabs inside Israel will understand that their future exists in coexistence with the Jews and not with struggle against them.
Unquestionably, there will be protests at the outset. They must be met with resolution. When this is done, the Arabs and the other nations will ultimately realize the reality: Israel is serious about defending her self-interest; this land will not be given away.
For this purpose, it is important that new settlement be broad in scope. The same clamor will be raised by the Arabs whether a new home is added to an existing settlement, one new settlement is founded, or the entire land is settled. So why hold back?
Indeed, restrictions against settlement invite protest. For it becomes obvious that restrictions are imposed only because in essence there are Israels who feel that they don’t really belong there. Settling the land without restriction, by contrast, broadcasts a message of confident self-esteem. It shows the entire world that Israel is doing everything possible to maintain her security and will not be halted in that endeavor.
What America Wants
It is hard to believe, but it is happening. The primary US interest in the Arab countries has always been oil. And yet today, when conservation programs, solar energy, and other by-products of advanced technology have reduced the world’s dependence on oil, the Arab bias in American foreign policy has grown instead of being reduced.
It does not make sense. There is no question in anyone’s mind that Israel is America’s only reliable friend in the Middle East. No one has forgotten that less than a decade ago Arafat, Assad, and others were openly declared enemies of American policy. Their speeches are on record. All that is necessary to do is open the archives of any newspaper. Indeed, anti-American slogans are so much a part of their rhetoric that even today they occasionally voice them. And yet, in three-way negotiations, they are getting the upper hand.
So what happened? The fundamental difficulty is that Israel has not had the strength to stand up against pressure. What she has won on the battlefield, she has surrendered at the negotiating table.
It is true that America pressured Israel. But America did pressure or would have also pressured the Arabs. When an American president or negotiator sits down with Arabs and Israelis, his intent is the bottom line: that an agreement be signed. He is not so much concerned with the nature of the agreement. He assumes that each party will watch out for its own self-interest. What he is concerned with is that the parties walk out of the room having signed an agreement. And to make sure that objective is reached he will use both a carrot and a stick.
What has happened? Time and time again, the Israelis have buckled under pressure. Even when all the cards were in their hand, they have given in to Arab demands. Take, for example, the Camp David agreements: Carter needed a treaty for his election campaign. Sadat needed a treaty to put himself in the American camp. He had already burnt all his bridges behind him. Who had the strongest position? Begin. And yet he gave in to all the Arab demands.
Of course there was pressure, intense pressure. But if Begin had said “No,” that same pressure would have been exerted on Sadat, and he could not have afforded to say no. Nevertheless, Begin conceded.
This did not happen only once. On the contrary, a pattern was established. When an agreement was necessary, pressure was applied on Israel, and almost inevitably, she conceded.
And so, it became almost a knee-jerk reaction in the State Department: Apply pressure to Israel; it works.
Also, the logical basis for the Israeli position became weakened, for the red lines were always being redrawn. The Americans never really knew what was really not up for negotiation.
The proof of the argument is that on several occasions, Israel has stood firm, and refused to compromise her position; for example (until the rise of the Peres government), on the status of Jerusalem. In these instances, despite the fact that there were Arab demands and American pressure, when the Arabs saw that Israel was firm and would not compromise on these issues, they were removed from the agenda.
Projecting an Image
In a larger sense, the problem with the peace negotiations has never begun at the bargaining table. The Israeli disadvantage always began long beforehand. Even before sitting down together, Israel was put on the defensive.
Israel has difficulty confronting its self-image. Hard as it is to conceive, Israel has difficulty coming to terms with its identity as a Jewish state. For that reason, there is so much rhetoric against the orthodox and the observant. Because of this difficulty, Israel has never come out and said: “This is Jewish land, given to us by G‑d, and necessary for our own security.” Instead, it offers all sorts of arguments to try to justify its possession of the land according to “universal values.”
But this does not work. The international community is solidly behind the Arabs, and even in the US, support for Israel has waned.
Why? Because Israel’s self-image is confused, the external image it projects comes out distorted. Since the real truth is not being said, what is being said is being disregarded or misinterpreted.
Consider: Israel spends prodigious funds and effort for the welfare of its Arabs. Indeed, the standard of living of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria before the Intifada was far superior to that of the average person in most Arab countries. And yet Israel is portrayed throughout the world as a cruel, despotic, and oppressive regime. She bends over backwards to prove herself just and righteous in the eyes of the other nations, and yet continually incurs their censure.
At times, this situation borders on the ridiculous. To cite a case in point: In the midst of the Lebanon War, Lebanese Christians murdered hundreds of Palestinians at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. No Israelis were actually involved in the killings. Instead, this was a case of one Arab taking revenge against another, a time-honored tradition in the Arab world. To prevent these killings from taking place, Israeli soldiers would have had to risk their own lives.
How did Israel react to the killings? She volunteered to take the blame. “Since the Israeli soldiers did not stop the Christians, they are responsible for the deaths,” so certain quarters of Israeli society argued. And so loud was their protest that a Commission of Inquiry was established, which made recommendations resulting in a shuffling of the Israeli Cabinet and Army High Command.
How was this heard throughout the world? That Israel admitted causing the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians. Now, it is true that innocent people did not have to die. But in the world’s eyes, the people who actually caused the murder were not condemned whereas the Israelis were.
There is a need for Israel to put first things first, to clarify to herself what her priorities are and to go out and put those priorities into practice. This will raise her stature in the community of nations.
Why do the other nations condemn Israel so frequently? Because Israel is so concerned with what they say, because the conception of Israel in the world outside and not the country’s own priorities determines Israeli policy. And so when you can meddle, thinks the world at large, why not meddle?
There are many nations including several of the Arab countries so vehement in their criticism of Israel which flagrantly violate human rights and yet they are rarely, if ever, called to account for this by the world community. The reason: These countries simply will not listen.
Israel must also learn to show strength. And in her instance, the strength can come, not from hollow bravado, but from genuine principles, foremost among them being the need to protect the lives of her citizens. And when this course of action is applied resolutely, she will win respect in the world at large.
Concern that LeapsOver Geographic Boundaries
Many readers will probably ask: “Of what practical concern is all this to me? There is no way that I can have an effect on Israeli policy, so why should I become involved?”
There are two responses:
(a) First of all, like or not, we are all involved. Every Jew is bound to every other Jew: a threat to a Jewish community in any part of the world affects Jews all over the world. How much more so is this true when the Land of Israel is involved. For every Jew, wherever he lives, possesses a portion in the Land of Israel.14 And the Land of Israel possesses a portion of every Jew, a piece of our heart and soul.
When (heaven forbid) there is a war in Israel we feel involved and we do what we can to help. Today Israel is being besieged, not militarily, but diplomatically. She is suffering severer losses of territory in the conference rooms than she would ever suffer on the battlefield.
(b) To a large extent, this struggle is taking place in the public media of the Western countries and among their opinion-makers. These media portray the Arabs as an oppressed people, peacefully seeking to regain what is rightfully theirs. Lies and falsifications are repeated so frequently that they become accepted as immutable truths. And this background supports the Arabs when they sit down at the negotiating table.
This is where people in the Diaspora can make a difference by working to set the record straight. Most cases do not call for much convincing. When a terrorist kills a mother and a child, is it difficult to make people understand that an outrage has occurred? When an Arab government ignores its own commitments, shouldn’t a newspaper carry the story? Each of us can do his bit to correct Israel’s image in the community and country in which he lives.
Throughout Part I of this presentation, we have tried to make several points:
(a) Saving and protecting the lives of its citizens is the foremost priority of any government, how much more so when we are speaking of a Jewish government and Jewish life. Therefore:
(b) In the Land of Israel today, security provisions should never be sacrificed in the hope of achieving diplomatic success.
(c) Concessions do not breed an attitude of conciliation and peace. Instead, they communicate a stance of weakness that is exploited by the Arabs for pressing further and more extensive demands.
(d) The Arabs have never yet taken the concept of peace seriously. Any lip-service to the ideal of peace was intended for one purpose alone: to receive whatever they can without fighting.
(e) Israel has constantly operated from an inferiority complex, trying to find favor in the eyes of the other nations, instead of placing her own security as her priority.