Many Jewish Israelis are left with a subtle, non-spoken, sense of trauma, after the recent Gaza-Hamas operation. Four critical national, existential dilemmas that we have swept under the rug and tended to ignore, ‘suddenly’ jumped out from under that rug to harshly stare us in the face.
The somewhat ambiguous ending of the military action and the unprecedented rioting of Israeli Arabs suddenly shoved in our faces the following existential questions:
1) Can there be a real permanent, long term solution to the dangerous, destructive Islamic presence of the Hamas in Gaza?
2) Is there really possible a comprehensive, permanent diplomatic resolution with the Palestinian Arab national movement concerning our one hundred and forty year conflict over Jewish People’s return to the Land of Israel?
3) Will Israeli Arabs really accept and reconcile themselves to the constitutional legitimacy of their unique status in the Israel Jewish State? and
4) Can we maintain the support of, and have a meaningful dialogue with, American Jewry which is becoming Left wing- progressive in its political understandings, particularly with Jews under the age of 45 ?
The recent Gaza war starkly ‘resurrected’ these questions for all Israeli Jews who think. These questions strike at the heart of the existential miracle of our returning and establishing a state in the Land of Israel.
bLet's be honest. They are very scary, depressing questions.
The empty feeling I had reading the commentary of the last few days on the Gaza war of our political and religious leaders and op ed writers
I fully realize that in time of crisis and trauma our political and religious leaders do not want to begin a serious dialogue with the public on national existential questions. And they are probably absolutely correct. Their first, post trauma job is to maintain morale and ‘rally the troops’. Politicians do not survive in a political vacuum and have to score points opposite their opponents. Op ed writers have to write in conformity to the short, brief, militant, black and white, dialogue culture of Twitter and Facebook and the social media. Basically all commentators simply ‘recycled’ previous position papers, and maybe this time in a more post war, militant tone. Yes, I should not complain, they were only ‘doing the job’.
But after reading all these commentaries on the just ended war I really felt empty and sad inside. No commentators convinced me with their semi militant position papers. Much more important, none gave me true emotional support after the real national trauma of the past two weeks. The unsettling, disheartening ‘subtle, soft’ trauma left by the war is very real, and the commentaries all ‘fell short’ in alleviating it for me. They could not really adress the existential confusion created by our short war.
Why did the war create scars of existential confusion? Because deep inside we Israelis understand that all of the above four national existential dilemmas are unsolvable in the foreseeable future
The above four national existential dilemmas are unsolvable in the near future because the Gaza war brutally reminded us that the Israeli-Arab conflict is a conflict of two religious-national movements over one piece of geographically strategic land. There is virtually no room to maneuver. Two or three incorrect steps of compromise and we have fallen into the depths of the deep blue sea.
I am sorry to tell my liberal friends that the Israel Arab conflict has nothing to do with the slogans of ‘oppression, morality or social justice’. By this I mean that each side’s definition of ‘oppression, morality and social justice’ is the direct opposite of the other's. And humanity has not yet revealed any neutral, objective standard of ‘oppression, morality and social justice’ for such religious-national conflicts. It all depends which side are you on, Them or Us.
I will now just cite a few examples of why the Israel- Arab religious, national conflict is irreconcilable.
Hamas and Gaza: Maybe immediately after ’67 the concept of ‘Land for Peace’ was a ‘solution’ that had some reality base, but the Arabs rejected it even then in the Khartoum Resolutions. If you ask Hamas leadership about “land for Peace’ they will not even understand the question. Regaining a certain piece of the Land of Israel does not interest them. They are only concerned with religious commandment to destroy the alien Jewish presence in the Arab homeland. I take them at their word. In Gaza they have built bunkers and rockets instead of civilian infrastructure. Gaza could have become a second Singapore, but instead they decided that the goal of jihad justifies having their people exist in the poverty of Somalia. I think such priorities prove that their driving motivations are religious-national jihad, and not liberal goals of lessening economic deprivation, or creating a civil society based on civil liberties.
And the sad prospect is that replacing Hamas rule will either bring a more fanatic group to power, or create total socio-political chaos.
Concerning the ‘Two State Solution’ Over the last twenty six years the Israelis have learned a very sad lesson, at the cost of much Jewish blood, from the Hamas in Gaza , and from Arafat in Judea and Samaria, and from the Hezbollah/Iran in Lebanon. The lesson is that any piece of land evacuated by the Israeli army immediately, immediately becomes a launching pad for Arab/Iranian attacks on Israel. These are the cold hard historical facts that have convinced at least 70% of Israeli Jews that relinquishing or sharing Israel’s sole military responsibility for security to any Arab or International force is a death sentence to our population.
The Two State Solution ‘got up to bat’ the three times mentioned above and completely struck out. Since the ‘Two State Solution’ has struck out three times, most Israelis now readily agree with Moshe Dayan when he said,” the Arabs can afford to suffer innumerable defeats and continue to exist, while the Jewish State cannot afford the risk of even one defeat, because that defeat would be its Final Solution”.
Coexistence with Israeli Arabs The unprecedented pogrom of Israeli Arabs burning ten synagogues and yeshivot, and over one hundred apartments, and hundreds of cars has truly shocked Israeli Jews. Liberals want to argue, (giving priority to an economic deterministic understanding of human behavior), that the Arabs did pogroms because of economic deprivation and civil discrimination. The economic deterministic argument does not statistically hold up because over the last twenty years the economic situation of Israeli Arabs, and their equal access to social services, has improved greatly.
The civil discrimination argument may be partially correct. Israeli Arabs benefit from more individual civil rights than any other Muslim Arabs in the Arab world. However because Israel is a self proclaimed democratic Jewish State, and not a ‘ pluralistic state of all its citizens‘ Israeli Arabs find it painful to reconcile themselves to what it seems to them to be ‘second class national citizenship’. But this last point just reinforces my argument that the main motivations maintaining the Israeli-Arab conflict are religious and nationalistic, (and not economic or civil) and such motivations are very hard to reconcile.
Dialogue and cooperation between Israeli and liberal American Jews: I will simply address this question by relating my very frustrating family story. While I moved to Israel, and became religious and conservative in my political understandings, all my family has continued to live in America and continue to embrace the identity with which they were which they were brought up, to be proud, well educated American liberal Jews. They have all visited Israel and enjoyed their stay. We are a very intimate family, and truly share each other’s joys and sorrows.
But since the Trump presidency we have lost a shared common language of political discourse on the Israeli-Arab conflict. During the Gaza war they were sincerely concerned for my family’s safety, and are even proud that they have two nephews in the Israeli army. But politically dialoguing on the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict has become increasingly, increasingly difficult. We just do not share a common political frame of reference and language. So basically we continue to share all other topics, but avoid the Israel-Arab conflict. This is good, practical solution for my family, but it bodes very forebodingly for the overall cooperation between American and Israeli Jews. The future seems to be bleak.
Conclusions from this very pessimistic, yet I believe to be very real, analysis
Post modernism in the twenty first century has turned political conflict from one that focuses on economic inequality and civil rights, to conflict that focuses on differing cultural values and different perceived interests based on one’s social cultural self identity. In this vein, Arab religious and nationalistic self identities have become the main cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this in turn has made the conflict virtually impossible to permanently resolve. (The doctrines of cultural Marxism and critical race theory are indeed ‘religions’ for progressive liberals who do not identify with established, theological religions).
So what do we do? :
One, We should admit that being smart in this case means admitting that we really do not know how to truly resolve this religious-nationalistic conflict. This in turn means that the most practical thing is NOT to design big, beautiful sounding plans that appeal to your ideological bias, but have limited basis in reality. But rather we have to humbly internalize that the only realistic option is to continue to cautiously ‘muddle through’.
Two: By muddling through I mean that we accept that there will be ongoing cycles of coexistence and violence, (also between Jewish and Israeli Arabs ) and hopefully keep the periods of coexistence long, and the level of violence moderate.
Three : We should concentrate on the economic development and betterment of all populations involved in the conflict. This should be the main focus of all diplomatic programs.
Four: We can support a degree of Palestinian Arab self rule, as in Areas A and B of Judea and Samaria, which does not infringe on the Israeli army’s ability to go anywhere, and at any time, to thwart all violence against Jews here.
Five: We must have absolute faith in the Divine Providence that we are seeing with our own eyes the slow implementation of G-d’s plan to permanently return His people to our ancestral homeland and to reestablish Jewish sovereignty in the Land. But this road of implementation, like our two thousand years of exile, will seemingly be a long and torturous road, with many, many sacrifices.
In this perspective it is very natural that we with our limited human wisdom should experience emotional trauma after the Gaza conflict, and that we should feel pessimism when we understand that all human plans seem so tragically incomplete and insufficient.
We thus must daily remember and pray that just as G-d preserved us through our long incomprehensible exile, he will guide and preserve us on this long, tortuous road to ultimate peace and sovereignty in our Homeland.
Dr. Chaim C. Cohen, whose PhD. is from Hebrew U., is a social worker and teacher at the Hebrew Univ. School of Social Work, and Efrata College. He lives in Psagot, Binyamin.