An old joke tells of two men sitting together, complaining about the many problems in the world. Unable to contain the frustration any longer, one of them bursts out "It's all the fault of the Jews and the plumbers!" The other one looks at him, bewildered, and asks "Why the plumbers??"
So too today, the most striking aspect of the discourse on Israel and the Middle East is not the irrationality and malice of the accusations routinely leveled against the Jewish people, but the extent to which an absurd double standard towards Jews is so thoroughly taken for granted that accusing the Jews is seen as the normal course of things. Consider the astonishing asymmetry that dominates the debate of Jewish versus Arab rights in the Middle East. The right of Arabs to worship at the Muslim Holy sight in Jerusalem, the Noble Sanctuary, is considered sacred (and perhaps rightly so). Yet an affirmation of the equally valid religious desire of a Jew to pray at the same site which also happens to be important to the Jewish faith is looked down upon as an outdated, almost infantile expression of religious backwardness. An Arab walking on the Temple Mount is religious freedom personified. A Jew walking on the Temple Mount is considered a dangerous provocation.
Nowhere is this asymmetry more profound than in the discourse on Israeli "settlements" in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank of the Jordan River). The word "settlement" itself has acquired negative connotations and when used in the familiar formula "Israeli settlements on Arab land" automatically concedes the superiority of the Arab claim to the West Bank. We do not concede this claim; neither does the State of Israel. Thus, we would like to engage in the Middle Eastern debate by attempting to tackle one of its most contentious and serious aspects - the issue of settlements.
The claim of the Jewish people to the entire land of Israel, including the West Bank, is certainly as strong, and arguably much stronger, than the corresponding Arab claim.That some Israeli governments have deemed it politically expedient to propose relinquishing the West Bank and Gaza does not change this. The Jews have a historic claim to the land as there have been Jewish communities in much of Israel (including Hebron, Zfat, Jerusalem, and Shehem) for the past two thousand years. The land of Israel is also central to the Jewish religion - for the past two thousand years Jews face Jerusalem during prayer, and every year at Passover say: "next year in Jerusalem." The Jews have a military claim as well to land they won in defensive war - the single most common justification of possession by any people of any land.
Yet, whereas Arab settlement in the West Bank is considered perfectly legitimate, Jewish communities there are slandered as a "threat to peace," "provocation to violence," "occupation," and many things worse. Often these accusations are constructed with a deliberately evasive or passive reference to the "violence" that the settlements "provoke," in order to deflect attention from the actual perpetrators of the violence. Most Jewish communities in the West Bank are there to do nothing more than cultivate the desert and reclaim the ancient land of the Jewish people. Why is this an affront to Arab dignity? Why is it permissible to advocate the removal of Jews living in the Judea and Samaria settlements? Would it be equally acceptable to call for the eviction of all Arabs living in areas of Jewish majority in Israel for solely ethnic reason? Let us examine for a moment why "the settlements" are such a threat to peace and to their Arab neighbors.
Surely the fact that Arabs lay claim to a particular piece of land is not reason enough to evict every non-Arab (the fact that many Middle Eastern Arabs and most of their leaders claim the entire world for Islam makes this approach difficult if not impossible). Furthermore, given that Arabs have 22 countries on 99.8% of the land in the Middle East while Jews only claim one very small slice of land, any Arab demands for land in Israel, even if they were legitimate, must necessarily be viewed in the context of this significant asymmetry.
Often the accusation is leveled against settlements (especially those in Gaza) that whole divisions of Israeli Defense Forces are needed to defend them. The presence of troops in any area obviously breeds tension - thus the settlements are guilty by association. Yet, the only reason why such a thorough defense of Jewish communities in the West Bank and Gaza is even necessary is because these communities are constant targets of Arab terrorism. What a shame that much of the world community and critics of Israel in particular have come to take for granted the fact that Jewish children in the West Bank have to be bussed to school in bullet-proof vans. Settlements and Israel are routinely blamed for the violence perpetrated against them without even a cursory thought being given to its actual perpetrators and their motivations, as though Arab violence was some sort of natural law, akin to gravity, that one ignores at one's own peril.
It is amazing that in this day and age we consider it normal for the requirement of soldiers to protect Jews in cities with large Arab populations. Walking in Eastern Jerusalem or in Hebron should not be a life threatening endeavor for Jews, even if Israel was (to borrow a line from the French Prime Minister) the shittiest little country in the world. Imagine the public outcry if the tables were turned - if there was an Arab minority amidst a vast Jewish population that was so frequently subject to random attacks inspired by ethnic hatred that hundreds of soldiers were needed simply to prevent them from being slaughtered.
The reason why Jews must "understandably" fear for their lives when amidst a large Arab population while Arabs can walk around downtown Tel Aviv without the slightest care in the world has to do with the difference between the two cultures and what they stand for. Judaism and the Jewish State embody respect for individuality, freedom, and pluralism. A core tenet of Judaism is the idea that Judaism is not the only culture worthy of admiration, that human beings exist in a variety of cultures each of which is worthy of its own dignity and respect. Large segments of Arab Muslim society have, on the other hand, internalized the ideology of totalitarianism -- the idea that Islamic faith and culture is the only one that deserves to exist. Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East has carefully eradicated pluralism, dissent, and freedom from within its midst, while its imperial aspirations have extended not only to Israel but to the entire planet. The incompatibility of this universal or imperial Islam with cultural and ideological diversity has made Israel, a small independent non-Muslim enclave in a region otherwise dominated by Muslims, its most bitter enemy.
The truth is as simple as it is unpopular to acknowledge. Jews and not settlements are offensive to Arabs. A tiny Jewish community on less than one percent of the land in the vastly under-populated Middle East is so abhorrent to surrounding Arab peoples that they have initiated five wars, starved themselves and their children, deprived their countries of even the very basic freedoms of expression and human rights, all this to destroy a tiny Jewish State. While Israeli society is trying to train the next generation of doctors, scientists, and Nobel Laureates; Hamas, Fatah, and Yasser Arafat are training the next generation of suicide bombers.
Why are we so concerned with settlements? Because the settlements are a model for the Arab-Israeli conflict at large - only Arabs can end the violence because it is only their hatred of anything non-Muslim that perpetuates it. Imperial expansionist Islam, an ideology that has for too long been sweeping through the Middle East unchecked and enjoying widespread popular support, must be recognized as a misanthropic ideology not unlike Nazism and Soviet Communism. Such ideologies are not contained by deferring to the malicious demands of their proponents.
Calling for an a priori removal of any trace of Jews in Judea and Samaria might seem like a practical solution that seeks to minimize violence by minimizing the "friction" between Arabs and Jews. However, in as much as this "friction" represents Arabs shooting any Jewish child not protected by a concrete wall and is caused by a demented hatred for Jews taught to Arab children from infancy, removing the source of the "friction" (Jews) will not make a dent in the ideology that causes it. It will only encourage its spread. Suggesting that the proper response to Arab violence is the destruction, or as some euphemistically call it "dismantling," of Jewish communities in the West Bank (or anywhere for that matter) is analogous to a Harvard University president who, in the 1970s, decided to enact quotas that reduced the number of Jews at Harvard citing as justification the rise of anti-Semitic incidents there. It never crossed his mind to decrease the number of anti-Semites.
Imperial Islam is a threat not only to the message of Israel but to all ideologies of tolerance and pluralism, including our own in America. In this sense Israel is the test case for democracy in the Middle East, its last hope and its strongest catalyst. Because imperial Islam is a threat to the very nations which have embraced it, poisoning the minds of their young generations, the success and security of Israel is also the last hope for moderate Muslims. We hope that Jews and Muslims understand that there is no easy solution to the conflict, no Gaza settlement that, once gone, will bring peace. The future depends on the ability of the Jewish State to continue forcefully resisting the ideology of hatred, while asserting its own positive message of Jewish empowerment and self-determination, tolerance for cultural diversity, and freedom.
Daniel Kaganovich is a doctoral student in Biological Sciences and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael Butler is a senior in Anthropological Sciences and can be reached at email@example.com.Both are active members of the Stanford Israel Alliance.
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