It seems almost axiomatic that regardless of whether the current cease-fire takes hold, the propaganda war between Israel and the Palestinians will continue. Even if the Bush administration succeeds in silencing the guns on the ground, the battle for public opinion will endure on our television screens, with each side trying to paint the other as the primary culprit.
As in any conflict, Israel's defenders will have to consider the tools at their disposal and use them as wisely and judiciously as possible. It is, therefore, perhaps time for advocates of Israel to reconsider an unfortunate taboo that has taken hold in recent years, one that has weakened Israel's position and requires a thorough reassessment: "Thou shalt not mention in public the biblical right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel."
Afraid of turning off various audiences, those entrusted with explaining Israel's position focus their energies entirely on the diplomatic, military and security realms. They spell out why Israel is a bulwark against militant Islamic fundamentalism and explain the need for the West to support the only democracy in the Middle East. They rightfully point out that that the responsibility for the outbreak of the current unrest lies squarely on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's shoulders.
These points are important, and they need to be reinforced as much as possible. But at the same time, Israel is making a grave tactical error by failing to address the underlying question behind the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: Whose land is it anyway?
By turning down the previous government's unprecedented proposals, Arafat made it clear that, in his view, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about boundaries and normalization, but about "us or them." It is a struggle between two entities, the Jews and the Arabs, over one piece of territory, the Land of Israel, and it behooves Israel's defenders and supporters to begin focusing on this point.
That is where the Bible comes into play. Years ago, Israeli leaders, whether religious or secular, would not hesitate to cite the Bible as the source for the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. In 1937, when David Ben-Gurion appeared before the British Peel Commission, established to investigate the situation in the British-controlled Mandate for Palestine, he vigorously defended the Jewish people's right to the Land of Israel, asserting that "The Mandate is not our Bible - the Bible is our mandate." When was the last time you heard an Israeli official speak so forcefully and, pray tell, so biblically?
Opponents of using this argument assert that it would be counter-productive, because not everyone believes in the Bible. Ostensibly, they would seem to have a point, because mention of the Bible can lead some listeners to shift uncomfortably in their seats, worried they are about to hear a mid-week sermon.
But, as any good salesman will tell you, effective public relations requires a person to tailor his message to suit the audience that he is addressing. There are tens of millions of Jews and Christians across the globe who do believe in the Bible and view it as the Divine instruction manual for the world. By ignoring the Bible entirely, Israel's supporters are abandoning one of their most powerful and effective arguments, one that much of the Western world believes in and accepts.
The 20th century is replete with examples of the powerful impact that the Bible has had on Western public opinion. Writing about the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British government reaffirmed the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in Palestine, historian David Fromkin has noted, "Lloyd George [Britain's Prime Minister] wanted his country to carry out what he regarded as the Lord's work in the regionÉ Biblical prophecy was the first and most enduring of the many motives that led Britons to want to restore the Jews to Zion" (A Peace to End All Peace, pp. 274, 298).
American presidents throughout the 20th century have similarly been moved, or at least influenced, by the Bible's vision. Indeed, it has become standard fare in the United States for a president to finish his speeches with the solemn intonation, "God bless you and God bless America." Democrat or Republican, the leaders of the free world have not been ashamed to invoke the Divine when addressing the public. Why, then, should we?
Israel's defenders must stop being embarrassed by the Bible, and start using it to make Israel's case. Military and political arguments must also be made, but in the final analysis, much of the Western world looks to the Bible as its guide.
The time has come for us to do the same. The Jewish people need to state, with unhesitating pride, in a voice that is both loud and clear, that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel because the God of Israel said so.
(The writer served as deputy director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.)
©2001 - Jerusalem Post