By Jonathan Rosenblum
[Friday, July 28 2000 02:40 25 Tammuz 5760 The Jerusalem Post] We are currently witnessing the reprise of an ancient midrash, which relates an argument between Ishmael and Isaac. Both claimed to be the true heirs of the Divine promise of the Land to their father, Abraham. And both understood that the issue revolved around who was willing to sacrifice more for the Covenant.
Ishmael boasted that he had submitted to circumcision when he was 13 years old, not a mere eight days. Isaac replied that he would be prepared to offer himself on an altar. That, says the midrash, was the prelude to the Binding of Isaac. For the moment, it is the Arabs who have accepted the role of Isaac.
At Camp David, Prime Minister Ehud Barak asked Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat what he really wanted in Jerusalem. Arafat replied by describing his vision of traveling unimpeded to Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state. Barak told him to skip the vision thing and get down to practicalities.
Arafat, however, had the last word: "Anyone who does not understand what Jerusalem means to me is an impractical man." Thus did a Moslem leader lecture a Jewish prime minister - descendant of unbroken generations who directed their every prayer to Jerusalem - on the preciousness of Jerusalem.
One could take a cynical view of the importance of Jerusalem in Arafat's eyes. After all, as Daniel Pipes has conclusively shown in these pages, Jerusalem occupies a very minor status, at most, in Islam, and is not even mentioned in the Koran.
But there is something much deeper going on here. The Arabs have contempt for those who have lost all connection to their past, and to the historical sense of their peoplehood. Salah Tamari, a former Palestinian terrorist told Israeli journalist Aharon Barnea of the complete transformation he underwent in an Israeli prison. While in prison, he had completely despaired of any hope that the Palestinians would one day realize any of their territorial dreams, and so he was ready to renounce the struggle.
Then, one Pessah, he witnessed his Jewish warder eating a pita sandwich. Tamari was shocked, and asked his jailer how he could so unashamedly eat bread on Pessah. The Jew replied: "I feel no obligation to events that took place over 2,000 years ago. I have no connection to that."
That entire night Tamari could not sleep. He thought to himself: "A nation whose members have no connection to their past, and are capable of so openly transgressing their most important laws - that nation has cut off all its roots to the Land."
He concluded that the Palestinians could, in fact, achieve all their goals. From that moment, he determined "to fight for everything - not a percentage, not such crumbs as the Israelis might throw us - but for everything. Because opposing us is a nation that has no connection to its roots, which are no longer of interest to it."
Tamari goes on to relate how he shared this insight with "tens of thousands of his colleagues, and all were convinced."
THE severance of connection to a Jewish past is one of the chief goals of the branja (clique), which, as alarmingly described by Yoram Hazony in his book, The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul, dominates Israeli intellectual life, and whose influence is felt in every sphere - education, the military, and the judiciary.
In the eyes of our intellectual elites, Judaism itself has become an enemy, because Jewish history and the age-old Jewish sense of ourselves as one people gave legitimacy to the idea of a Jewish state. And that state, a colonial enterprise, conceived in sin, founded upon outdated concepts of national character and mission, is a militaristic oppressor of indigenous peoples.
For members of the branja, giving back Judea and Samaria is not a painful step necessitated by the desire for peace, but a welcome thing in its own right, for it destroys our link to some distant tribal past. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they recognize the connection between the Land of the ancient kingdom of Judea, and Judaism and our identity as Jews.
Everything that binds us to our past must be destroyed. Thus Shulamit Aloni, as education minister, vehemently opposed trips to Auschwitz for Israeli high-school students, lest they foster feelings of national identity. One of the chief architects of the Oslo process told US Senator Daniel Moynihan six years ago that Israel would have to prepare its people over the coming years for painful concessions - the abandonment of settlements, Palestinian statehood and control over areas of Jerusalem.
That, our leaders have done brilliantly.
Over the past six years, there has been a massive shift in public opinion: the Likud position of today is the Peace Now position of six years ago. Had Ehud Barak spoken openly a year ago of making the kind of concessions he was apparently prepared to make at Camp David, there is no question he would have been defeated overwhelmingly.
But, said the Oslo architect, the other side also needs to prepare its people. They must know that there will be no recognition of a right of return, no Palestinian sovereignty over the Old City, and they must recognize Israel's right to exist.
The danger, he said, is that only one side will undertake its responsibilities while the other will continue to educate its people that all its maximal demands are within reach, while preparing them for war. And if that happens, the side that failed to educate its people in the necessity of compromise will view its adversary as having surrendered, and will thus be emboldened by the prospect of eventual victory.
That is precisely what has happened. Barak went to Camp David with compromise offers that would have been unthinkable mere months ago. But Arafat held fast. And then came the American bridging proposals, which started from the point of Barak's offers and required Barak to offer yet more.
Yet Arafat stood firm. He has reached the same conclusion as Tamari: the Jews are surrendering.