Two Articles by Boris Shusteff: LOVING ZION & BACK TO THE GHETTO
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity
Today, the competition between Israeli newspapers predicting the size of the next withdrawal from the lands of Yesha resembles haggling at the market. "America won't accept less then the two digit withdrawal," predicts one. "It is going to be only 8%, David Levi's departure is worth 2.5% " argues another. "No, not more then 6%," a third insists. It is incredibly shameful just to listen to this haggling. Would we discuss in the same manner the decision of a big family to give their children to a foster home just because the head of the foster care facility wants it? Would we argue that it should be six, four or two children that must be given away? How can we talk in this way about abandoning the lands of Yesha?
On December 16, 1998 Limor Livnat said in New York that "Judea and Samaria are the heartland of our country. The knowledge of that fact must be the basis of any negotiations. We may have to compromise somewhat, but we are compromising on our land, not someone else's land which we are holding onto for security."
It is very difficult to explain why so many Jews are ashamed to admit that they love Eretz Yisrael. For two thousand years, several times a day we were expressing this love in prayers. "The prayer became a dream; the dream a passion, a duty, a dedication. There is a covenant, an engagement of the people and the land. To abandon the land would make a mockery of all our longings, prayers, and commitments. To abandon the land would be to repudiate the Bible." If it is permissible for Englishmen to love England, for Frenchmen to love France and for the Americans to love America, why is it "politically incorrect " for the Jew to love Eretz Yisrael? Why do we have to look for excuses and explanations? Why do we constantly have to prove that Jerusalem, Hebron, and Sch'em are the places we dreamt about for so many years? Isn't our incomparable devotion sufficient proof in itself?
Why do we have to cite security concerns as reasons for keeping our land? The "reciprocity" should be used in our relations with Eretz Yisrael. Not only will we make Israel stronger and more secure by keeping Yesha, but by settling in Yesha we will secure it further. The land was violently taken from us, but we never ceased to "assert our right and our title to the land of Israel. This continuous, uninterrupted insistence, an intimate ingredient of Jewish consciousness, is at the core of Jewish history, a vital element of Jewish faith. Our very existence as a people was a proclamation of our link to the land, of our certainty to return."
Our return to Zion after so many years of exile has no parallel in history. Our relations with the land are unique. Amos Oz wrote that it is incomprehensible to say that we came to colonize the land. Colonization meant the robbery of the colonized country, while we returned to a devastated and forsaken land. We returned to bring to it thousand times more than one could have expected to extract from it. We left the "fleshpots" of Europe to settle in the sands and to drain the swamps. Like at the time of Nehemiah the unbelievers said, "What do these miserable Jews think they are doing? Do they intend to rebuild the city? Can they make building stones out of heaps of burnt rubble?" (Nehemiah, 4:2).
We made them. We made building stones, we built cities, we recreated the state. However, then something happened. We have been beset by a case of spiritual amnesia. We forgot the daring, the labor, the courage of the seers of the State of Israel, of the builders and pioneers. We forgot the pain, the suffering, the hurt, the anguish, and the anxiety which preceded the rise of the state. We forgot the awful pangs of birth, the holiness of the deed, the dedication of the spirit. We saw the Hilton and forgot Tel Hai. The land rebuilt became a matter of routine, the land as a home was taken for granted.
When the Jews from Tel-Aviv, Rishon Le Zion, Herzlia, etc. located inside the "green line" are ready to abandon the lands of Yesha they must be reminded that their cities were also built by settlers. There is no difference between Tel-Aviv and Barkan, both of them are indispensable parts of Eretz Yisrael. During the War for Independence we had a chance to return to Judea and Samaria. We did not do so. Maybe we were so arrogant that we tried to test God, to test His promise: "I will bring my people back. I will plant my people on the land I gave them, and they will not be pulled up again" (Amos 9: 14-15)? He fulfilled His promise. In 1967 the heart of Eretz Yisrael and its people were reunited. It is not a coincidence that this tiny piece of land is the only territory in the world where, legally speaking, sovereignty still remains unassigned. By the same token it is the territory where Jews are legally encouraged to settle. "There has been a mysterious power in Jewish history which again and again came to crush occasional indifference to Zion and Jerusalem. Whenever we tend to be forgetful, history sends us a reminder."
There is nothing strange in the fact that the Arabs also want to live on our land. As long as they are not hostile they may stay put there. They may stay as residents of Eretz Yisrael. Avi Erlich wrote in Ancient Zionism, that their "claim to lost fields cannot be elevated to national status. They should not inherit Jerusalem for the same reason that Jews failed to inherit Baghdad: Jerusalem stands for Jewish ideas and Baghdad for Arab ideas."
When the Arab political leaders declare their attachment to the land, they show that, contrary to the majority of the Israeli public they are diligent students of Zionism. Just listen to what Abd Al-Aziz Al-Rantisi said on December 27, 1997 at a Hamas rally in Gaza: "The land of Palestine is an Islamic Religious Endowment (Waqf). No individual, no group, no people, no state nor any generation is permitted to relinquish even one inch of it." Apparently Rantisi knows by heart the words of David Ben-Gurion at the Basle Zionist Congress, in 1937: "No Jew has the right to yield the rights of the Jewish people in Israel. No Jew has the authority to do so. No Jewish body has the authority to do so. Not even the entire Jewish people today has the authority to yield any part of Israel. It is the right of the Jewish people over generations."
We shouldn't abandon Yesha. Numerous invaders passed through our land but no one built a state or shaped a nation on its soil. The land rejected them. It waited for us. If we abandon it we will only bring tragedy upon ourselves. All of our history confirms this. When the "pikuah nefesh" argument is used to advocate retreat from Yesha it is simply misinterpreted. Nothing is as holy as the act of saving human life, and it is Eretz Yisrael that "attained a new sanctity through saving her children, having offered a haven to more than two million Jews - many of whom would not have been alive had they remained in Poland, Russia, Germany, and other countries." We are saving lives not through retreating from our land but through settling in it. For two millennia the hope of the return was the bond that tied us to the land. To abandon this bond is to deny our identity.
"The relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is itself a living history. .The love of the Jewish people for the land is an ongoing, powerful being together even when living at a distance, a real link, a being at home spiritually, an embrace that never tires, a hope that never ceases." Keeping Yesha is equivalent to an admission of love for Eretz Yisrael.
(All quotes that are not specifically identified are from Abraham Joshua Heschel's, Israel: An Echo of Eternity)
Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies. 01/14/98
"We ask you not to be swayed by the empty threats of those who cannot understand the dangers that Israel would face by expanding its concessions to the PA. We recognize this danger, and want you to know that Congress would support you on this critical issue." (Letter from twenty American Congressmen to Prime Minister Netanyahu, December 17, 1997)
In her book Every Individual, A King Raphaela Bilsky Ben-Hur wrote that Zeev Jabotinsky "perceived the history of the Jewish people in exile more as the record of what was perpetrated upon the Jews than of what the Jews had done." For twenty centuries we were like leaves driven by the wind. Deprived of land, country, and army, we exerted very little control over our fate. This lack of control made our lives extremely dangerous and difficult. Just as we would settle in one country, we were forced to abandon it and to look for another place of refuge. Uprooted from our homeland, we were never able to gain any stability in foreign lands. All our efforts were in vain. Our devotion to the countries where we sought asylum was useless. Exile became our destiny. We were expelled from England, France, Hungary, Austria, Spain, Portugal... . This list can go on and on. We were utilized and thrown out, then invited again, used and again disposed of. We were defenseless. We accepted our fate and quietly dragged the burden of exile. Then Zionism was born. In 1862 we were awakened by Moses Hess' appeal,
March forward, Jews of all lands! The ancient fatherland of yours is calling you. ...March forward, ye sons of the martyrs! The harvest of experience which you have accumulated in your long exile, will help to bring again to Israel the splendor of the Davidic days... March forward ye noble hearts! The day on which the Jewish tribes return to their fatherland will be epoch-making in the history of humanity.
We took our destiny into our own hands. Our mentality started to change. We realized that only through a return home we would be able to stop our eternal wandering. We understood that only we could help ourselves. Zionism became that driving force which completely changed our lives. We began to act and stopped being dependent on others. We crushed all the barriers in our way and restored our state. We alone were now responsible for our future.
We knew what was good for us, and we did what was good for us, regardless of external threats and pressures. Against the condemnation of the whole world we announced Jerusalem to be our eternal indivisible capital. In 1967, abandoned and deceived by false promises, we defeated our enemies, just five minutes before they unleashed a war of annihilation against us. We made the tough decision to destroy the Osirak nuclear reactor, swallowing the accusations of aggression and pariah status from the United Nation General Assembly. We behaved like a sovereign state, like a free people in a free country.
It is hard to say when the erosion started. Was it when the demonstrations were organized by the leftist forces during the operation "Peace for Galilee"? Or maybe it was when we betrayed Yamit? Or it happened when we sat wearing gas masks in sealed rooms during the Gulf War. We did not notice how the old galut mentality returned, how it culminated in the Oslo agreement when we allowed a terrorist organization to become responsible for our security. Instead of developing the lands of Yesha to make the country stronger and more attractive we suddenly turned back toward the ghetto. The proponents of the Oslo deal advocated a policy of separation from the Arabs through abandonment of ancient Jewish land and through building fences behind which they expected us to be safe from the hatred of the enemies who surrounded us. The idyllic picture drawn by them included "an 80-kilometer long, one meter high barrier along the Green Line" to prevent car-thefts and a big fence encircling the country to stop terrorist infiltration. The Oslo agreement was supposed to be the lock to put on the ghetto gate at night to prevent the Jew-haters from entering the ghetto.
We lost faith in ourselves. The Israeli media completely forgot that the Jewish state was supposed to be an independent one. The press did not discuss what measures we had to take to correct the disastrous situation caused by the Oslo trap; instead it returned to the favorite ghetto theme -- what others would say about us. Instead of listening to our own instincts we began to pay to much attention to what the others wanted us to do. For the Israeli press Israel became a "banana republic." Just take recent newspapers. Yediot Ahoronot (12/18/97) is concerned with "what the prime-minister will tell the Secretary of State Madeline Albright at their meeting." Maariv (12/18/97) is nervous that "Ariel Sharon's 'map of national interests' does not have a ghost of a chance of being accepted by the Americans" and warns that "Americans are tired of Israel's procrastination." After a meeting between Netanyahu and Albright the same Maariv (12/21/97) is ecstatic that, "the Americans gave Netanyahu a month's extension in order to get organized in advance of a withdrawal" and now the prime-minister "has to decide...how to retain the trust of the Americans, the Arabs, the Palestinians." The government itself abandoned one position after another. Moshe Arens wrote in The Jerusalem Post (12/21/97) that "Israel's proposals to its Arab negotiating partners have never before been submitted to the US for approval." One should recall that the Oslo agreement itself was brought for America's approval too, as if the Labor/Meretz government, which was fully responsible for this suicidal document, wanted to shift the consequences onto the superpower's shoulders.
We have arrived at an absolutely shameful situation. Now, as Arens said, "the United State determines for Israel which territories we must transfer to the Palestinians." The Jerusalem Post reported that, in a conference call, on December 19, 1997, Albright told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that "she will evaluate the credibility of an Israeli redeployment plan not only in terms of the percentage of territory involved, but also the quality -- where the land is and whether it is contiguous to other self-rule areas -- and timing for withdrawal." Each new step along the Oslo road makes our dependence on others greater. The recently agreed upon, security cooperation plan between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), already has three cosigners -- PA, Israel and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Now, when the PA wishes to release terrorists from its prison it will submit the document to the CIA representatives who subsequently will relay it to Israel. According to Yediot Aharonot (12/19/97) "Israel will have the right to protest the release of prisoners, though the ultimate decision will reside with the CIA representatives." It is so touching for the newspaper that the biggest Democracy in the world respects the free speech rights by giving the Jewish state "the right to protest"
On December 21, 1997, Ilana Dayan on the Israeli Channel 2 Television Network weekly "Fact" program interviewed the Israeli Prime Minister. When Netanyahu said that he plans to skip the third redeployment, Dayan without embarrassment, matter-of-factly asked, "Do you think the Americans will let you do it?" "What do you mean, let me?" he retorted and started to explain how Israel has honored all her Hebron commitments and, therefore it is the PA's turn to fulfill theirs. If Netanyahu believes that Arafat is going "to honor" his commitments, as the Hebron agreement was cosigned by the Americans, he is heading for a big disappointment. Arafat will do what he considers good for the Palestinian Arabs. The United States will do what she thinks is in her strategic interests.
On December 23, 1997 The Associated Press reported that US President Bill Clinton participated in the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle. When the candle was lit, children from a Jewish school in Washington
played the dreidel game. After observing the game for some time Clinton said, "Nobody can take everything. No matter what the game says. You have to split it." This incredible specimen of the "socialist" mentality should become for Netanyahu the straw that will break the camel's back. All his beliefs in America's evenhandedness should be shattered by this statement. It does not matter what the game -- the Hebron agreement -- says. If America thinks Israel has to give Arafat the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, she must give it. She has to split them. It does not matter that Arafat and the PLO want to destroy the Jewish state and they need a bridgehead in the "West Bank and Gaza" to do this. Israel should give it to them. Nobody can have everything. Eliyahu Tal in his book Whose Jerusalem? quotes Rabbi Stephen S. Wise: "Zionism is a half-conscious instinct of a people integrating past and future together into the totality of the will to live and to be itself and only itself." It is time for Israel to listen to her instincts.
In order to live and to be herself she should do what is good for her and not what will satisfy desires of other countries and other people. There is no reason to follow the suicidal Oslo route only to make others happy. Israel cannot afford to give a single extra inch of Yesha lands.
Surprisingly enough, sometimes one can obtain good advice from one's enemy. On December 24, 1997 at a Hamas rally in Jenin, Sheik Ahmed Yassin said to his followers, "Any government in the world rejects external intervention in its affairs, otherwise it loses credibility as a national authority which protects its people's interests." It is doubtful that he had the Jewish state in mind when he said this, although it is vital for Israel to heed this advice. Actually we do not even need to listen to our enemies. On December 16,1997 in her address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israeli Communication Minister Limor Livnat said the following,
I would repeat today what Prime Minister Meir told then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger after the latter lectured her for an hour and a half about what Israel should do "for her own best interest." Golda, after listening patiently, responded, "Don't you think Mr. Secretary, that it is up to the Israelis to decide what is good for them, even if you are right?"
At least, to Golda's words, we can safely lend an attentive ear.
Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies. [12/25/97]