Israel and Kibbutz life: first impressions

Arriving in Israel

The view

So here I am, two weeks in since I arrived in Israel, with the Carmel mountains stretching out beside my window, and the cool, blue Mediterranean humming in the distance.  There is definitely something special about the land here. It carries with it a depth of history that seems to echo from soil and relive itself out again with different characters facing the same dillemas as those that preceded them. The landscape here remains motionlessness, inviolable, bearing witness to us – playing the same foolish game of life, making mistakes, feeling, living , breathing and fighting. Countless people must’ve traversed the ancient roads that are now paved with bitumen, traffic lights and railroad tracks. New houses with Mezuzot are built beside ancient quarries that were appropriated by the Romans to build the outposts of their empire – that today only extends outward into museums and history textbooks. That is what makes Israel special. Past, present and future converge as one, here in the crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe. And I feel like I’m in the middle of it, together with everyone else. This is truly history in the making.

Before I arrived in Israel, I always imagined that upon landing, I would suddenly feel something special – like a rush of exctacy to the brain, dilating my pupils with fundamentalist fervour. Needless to say, as I stepped into the terminal I felt numb and sleep deprived – the advertisements in English for McDonalds and Coca Cola seemed to give me the impression that I was in some strange suburb of Melbourne rather than the Holy Land. Western Culture is far-reaching, and fails to discriminate between countries, I thought to myself.

The delayed culture shock only hit me whilst I sat in the taxi from the airport – during the drive northward from Tel Aviv. On face value, the scene was no different from what you would expect in New York or London. There is little difference in the range and quality of cars on the road. Road sings and traffic lights bear resemblance to their counterparts in Oz. The fact that the driver spoke Hebrew didn’t phase me either. What hit me was more subtle: there was a large minority of drivers that completely disregarded the road rules. If changing lanes without indicating was to be the worst offence that I spotted, then I would definitely still be in Melbourne. The perpetual ‘road stress’ that I witness on a daily basis here stems from the ongoing tension of protracted war and conflict. When surrounded by a sea of enemies eagerly waiting for their opportunity to drive you into the sea, every minor formality and road rule pales in comparison. No wonder then, that more people are killed in Israel (during peace time) from traffic accidents, rather than suicide bombings. This is by no means a critique of Israeli society – but merely an observation of a people tired of war and hungry for peace.

This constant need to push and ‘be first’ is indeed, a double edged sword. On the one hand, Israelis may come off as too pushy or arrogant (when in fact the opposite is true) , but on the other hand this unique brand of ‘Chutzpah’ breeds innovation and diligence that is only heightened by the inexorable existential threat. For example, Israel’s high tech sector is the envy of the Middle East (“nicknamed “The Silicon Wadi”), and her economy rivals that of all the surrounding countries, despite having no oil and a minuscule population of only 7 million.

Kibbutz life:

Some of my pre-conceived notions about Kibbutz life in Israel have been both shattered and reinforced. I always imagined the Kibbutz to be a nuclear hub of staunch, sun-tanned idealists, plowing the fields by day, and recounting tales of heroism around a bonfire by night. Needless to say, this is the 21st century, and a life of pure agriculture and neo-socialism is economically unsustainable in the real world. This particular Kibbutz is comparatively wealthy – mostly due to the large plastics factory that exports materials around Israel and abroad (in fact it makes up 80% of the Kibbutz’s income). The old days in which children lived separated from their parents are over. Many sectors of the Kibbutz are privatised, Kibbutz members and their families have their own houses, and the food costs money (although workers and members receive a monthly budget from the Kibbutz to spend in the dining room.)

In many senses, the traditional Kibbutz movement – just like the Romans – is confined to the history books. Today, it is simply an attractive place to live and work. Yes, everybody receives the same monthly allowance in the dining room, and Kibbutz members still vote on matters of importance. However I believe that humans are by nature, acquisitive: we want to own, to have more, to aspire to lead and to buy low and sell high. We are naturally competitive – so it was only a matter of time before human nature trumped over ideology.

From the first day, I was assigned to work in the cowshed. My job consists of collecting cows, trudging through hills of cow feaces and urine, milking the cows, returning them to their barns and then washing away piles of excrement with a high pressured hose. Once I got used to the smell (I would describe it as spending time in an airtight room with an un-flushed toilet, with the smell of hay seeping in from under the door)  the work became more enjoyable. The cows are scared-‘shitless’ (pun intended) of us, and their entire social hierarchy within the barn collapses once a human approaches. Some cows are more eager to be milked. Others take some cajoling. A small minority are purely phlegmatic, and resist milking attempts quite violently. Perhaps once they realize their strength, they might band together like in ‘Animal Farm’ and mutiny against our tyrannical rule. But seriously though, they need to be milked. Otherwise their udders might explode like a blended milkshake.

As I write this, two scenes from the cowshed come to mind:

"The carousel"

1. The cows are milked on a large automated carousel, with tube-like sucking machines that we attach to the udder. The milk is then collected into a large vat, and shipped off for packaging so that people all over the country can enjoy cereal, cheese and coffee. One particular morning, at around 4:30am in the heat of work, the song ‘Aint no sunshine when she’s gone‘ by Bill Withers played through the loudspeakers. The cows remained at their stations cluelessly staring at each other from both ends of carousel, as they slowly rotated around the centre, as the sucking machines emptied their udders. This scene seemed to come straight from a horrible nightmare – the cows placidly bobbing to the music like kids on a merry-go-round in first gear. For some unexplained reason I found this situation quite comical, and I just felt the need to record this moment here for future reference.

2. Washing away the large, clumpy piles of cow-shit from the floor with the hose is a long and tedious experience. In the long stretches of time during this activity, I often become mesmerized by the rivers of “chocolate” and “caramel” foam that stream past my feet and into the drain. When the high-pressured water hits a large build-up, the cow-poo is thrown into the air like a mini-meteor shower, and then gracefully floats down the gooey river upon returning to earth. I once had the unpleasant experience of opening up the hose onto the adjacent wall, and immediately thereafter, the cow-remains ricocheted backward into my face. If I can endure this, then every slimy, sticky or disgusting thing that I will ever encounter will probably pale in comparison. Taking out the garbage isn’t so hard after all, mum!


Boycotting hummus for world peace

Looks innocent right? Wrong.

What is the best way to solve an 80 year old conflict, divided across religious, national and ideological lines? Well Princeton University’s  ‘Committee on Palestine‘ has finally figured out a new solution to the Middle East conflict – an intractable war that has baffled analysts for years. The problem is not land for peace, the status of Jerusalem, a Jewish state or radical Islamism as the media will have you believe. The root, principle cause of all violence in the Middle East, is in fact, Hummus.

Are you tired of all the fighting? Do you dream that one day Israelis and Arabs will walk hand in hand through poppy fields, singing Bob Marley and blowing daisies? Do you want to wake up and see a big headline that reads “True peace, finally”? If you answered ‘yes’ to all the above, then the single, most important thing for you to do, to advance the cause of peace, is to boycott Hummus.

According to Yediot:

Hummus feeding the ‘occupation’? Next week students at New Jersey’s Princeton University will be called upon to prevent Sabra-brand hummus from being sold at restaurants and stores on campus.

Hummus sprinkled with blood, oppression and apartheid

It’s time to throw off the yoke of tainted chickpeas, olive oil and garlic. It’s time to finally recognize this so-called “dip” for what it actually is: an obstacle to the peace process. I don’t care if its tasty. I don’t care that it goes well with Shwarma and Sabich. I don’t care that it’s healthy and good for you. Every time that you sample this bloodied concoction of violence and oppression, you are directly responsible for the deaths of innocent children, everywhere. Take a good hard look in the mirror, and decide for yourself if it’s worth it. Hummus is, according to a very reliable source,  the favourite food of murderers on death row, terrorists, extremists and Sheikh Hilaly.

So, decide for yourself right here and now, will you continue supporting mass-murder, violence and the cruel hummus war-machine? Or will you take the high moral ground and start purchasing Tahini instead?

Being Jewish and criticizing Israel

Being Jewish today is not easy. Not only do Jews have the burden of religious and cultural obligations, but we are generally expected by wider society to be the archetypal role models of ‘morality’, ‘servitude’ and victim-hood. Indeed, in the wake of 2000 years of pogroms and persecutions across Europe and the Middle East culminating in the The Holocaust, The Jewish people have always been considered the mistreated minority: by the left as the defenseless underdogs and the scapegoats, by the right as the stateless wanderers at the mercy of benevolent kings and tyrannical rulers. But by 2011, a mere 65 years after the crematoria of Birkenau fell into their ghostly silence, everything has been reversed. The State of Israel – a country whose rasion detre is to provide a refuge for ‘The Wandering Jew’, is today portrayed as the aggressor rather than the victim. The words Israel and “apartheid”, “occupation” and “Nazi” have become so synonymous, that with the help of the internet, the transition from ‘helpless Jewish scapegoats’ to  ‘vicious Jewish oppressors’ is accelerating faster than ever.

Jewish and anti-Israel: antisemtism?

But amidst the antisemitic barrage of hate speech and hyperbole, lies legitimate criticisms of the State of Israel – her policies, the domestic and social problems, as well as her relationship with immediate neighbours. Israel is generally accepted as  ‘The Jewish collective’ – the single most identifiable symbol of Judaism across the world, so when Israel is criticized legitimately, this can often be misconstrued as anti-zionism or even anti-semitism. What I wish to focus on however, is the curious (and growing unfortunately) phenomena of Jewish anti-zionism in the wider context of Jewish voices criticizing Israel from the Diaspora. Make no mistake, Jews can be antisemites as well as anybody else (Pablo Christiani and Shlomo Sand instantly come to mind), and many of the voices spearheading the attack against Israel from college campuses across America and Australia, are in fact Jewish. The question is – what motivates so many Jews to rise up against their homeland and side with her enemies?

This is a question that I posed to international human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler when he came to speak to us at school. Is it that because so many Jewish children are raised on a steady diet of social justice, they feel compelled to interpret Israel’s actions as a gross injustice? His answer was insightful and interesting. Many of these Jewish anti-zionists have little or no connection to their heritage, and their campaign against Israel is often misguided, because they are ignorant of the facts on the ground. They are perceived by others to have more legitimacy in this issue because they are ‘Jewish’ – and Israel is ‘the Jewish state’ , yet ironically, the only time they publicly display or feel connected to their ‘Jewishness’ is when attacking Israel or siding with antisemites.

As an example, he reminded us that many of the Soviet Union’s most vociferous supporters were (yep, you guessed it) misguided Jews. Despite the fact that 2 million Jews were caged within the totalitarian Stalinist confines of institutionalized discrimination, and that students and mothers were marching on the streets of London, New York and Johannesburg demanding the freedom of Soviet Jewry – overzealous Jewish communists in the West continued to voice their support for the regime: A regime that denuded millions of Jews of their identity and still insisted that the word “Jew” was printed on their passports, so that they would never forget what they were. Today, a growing number of “Jewish communists” wage a similar, misguided battle. The simple fact that their parents are Jewish instantly makes them “experts” – yet they arrive on campus with little or no idea about Israel, Jewish history, culture or tradition. As little as 25% of American Jews have visited Israel. The number that attend Jewish day schools or youth groups is even lower. Every second Jew intermarries. Chelsea Clinton’s marriage to Marc Mezvinsky was hailed as proof that the golden age of the Jews of America is at it’s peak – however in another age such a marriage would have been widely shunned and criticized.

Martin Luther King: "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.”

At the risk of calling Jewish anti-zionists ‘traitors’, I have to admit that I am somewhat ambivalent about being so quick to dismiss them as loonies or useful idiots. On the one hand, I share many disagreements with them. On the other, I’m proud that there is such a wide diversity of thoughts and opinions within the Jewish community. These people may be the ‘black-sheep’ of the family, but they’re part of the family nonetheless. I see this growing trend of anti-Israel radicalization amongst Jewish youth as synonymous with the distortion and deterioration of left-wing politics – which historically assumed support for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. An example is the Guardian newspaper which initially voiced support for Zionism, only to become infected with rabid Arabism over the course of the century.

Indeed, Jews have historically aligned themselves with the left side of politics. The left demanded Jewish emancipation in Europe during the 19th century. Jewish women spearheaded the fight for universal suffrage and feminism. The Bund, Trotsky and the Mensheviks lobbied to bring down the Czar in Russia, and create an egalitarian socialist utopia for all citizens. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched hand in hand with Martin Luther King at the height of the civil rights movement. These are all examples of Jews and left-wing politics working hand in hand to achieve universal human rights and freedom for all. The bad news, is that for the past 30 years, classic left-wing politics has all but disappeared, only to be replaced with a hollow shell of fanatical, ignorant, youth claiming immediate expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict after reading Wikipedia.

Secular Jewish antizionism - misguided

This is essentially what Jewish youth face on university campuses across the Western world. They are immediately receptive to any injustice: Tibet, Darfur, The Congo. They hear soundbites on the Israeli-Arab conflict for the first time, and the magical, idealized picture of the Jewish paradise shatters: Israel isn’t the heroic wonderland of their childhood, but an aggressor fighting in their name! Yet rather than researching about the conflict in-depth to discover its root causes: the existential threat Israel faces on a daily basis – and the democratic and human rights afforded there as the only in the entire region – they immediately jump onto the bandwagon of anti-zionism, further propagating the distorted image of Israel as the chief violator of human rights in the entire world. This view is further compounded by anti-zionist academia and faculty on Israeli, American and European campuses – further forcing brutal images down unsuspecting throats. This is at least one of the principle causes of secular Jewish anti-Zionism. Jewish anti-Zionism on religious grounds from groups such as Neturei Karta demands a separate article altogether, however, they too seek to achieve the same outcome: the destruction of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.

The claim that ‘all critiques of Israel are antisemitic’ is patently false and ignorant, because that would mean that Israel is the #1 most antisemitic country on Earth. There are no secrets in Israel. The Hebrew press uncovers everything and presents the damning allegations to the Israeli public. Does this make Israeli journalists writing in Hebrew for an Israeli audience antisemitic? Of course not! Every one of Israel’s 6 million Jews has something against the government and its policies: the despicable education system, unnecessary bureaucracy, the communities in ‘the territories’ (West Bank), final status on Jerusalem, and so forth. Their anger is neither antisemitic nor anti-Zionism – it is rather constructive criticism by those who love the country so much that they choose to live there. From this we can deduce the yardstick between legitimate criticism of Israel by Jews in the diaspora: if the criticism is directed to a distinctly Israeli audience, then it is most likely constructive criticism, appealing to voters to rectify the problems in their society. If the criticism is directed at a non-Jewish or a hostile audience, then the criticism, whether legitimate or hateful, instantly is construed as anti-Zionism.

Jewish refusenik turned head-of-the-Jewish-Agency-for-Israel, Natan Sharansky presented the famous three D’s to determine whether criticism of Israel is in fact antisemitic:

1. Demonization: portraying Israel as the single worst violator of human rights in the world and the embodiment of evil. This includes claiming that Palestinians are the ‘new Jews’ or that the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are now perpetrating a new Holocaust upon Arabs living in the vicinity.

2. Double Standards:  ignoring other far more serious crimes committed worldwide by focusing solely on Israel and her imperfections, turning a blind eye to Arab incitement and terrorism, and selectively bemoaning the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, whilst ignoring Israeli deaths at the hands of Hamas, Hezzbollah and the al-Aqsa martyrs brigade.

3. Delegitimization:  inferring that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. This includes incorrectly portraying Israel as a vestige of colonialism or claiming that Israel is an ‘apartheid state’. Other examples include using selective quotations from Jewish texts such as The Talmud or Shulchan Aruch to support an anti-Israel agenda. Additionally, citing being ‘Jewish’ as conferring some type of authority to speak legitimately on behalf of other Jews in order to denigrate Israel is antisemitic.

I have a confession to make: I too have many qualms about the Israeli government and the path the country is taking. The correct place for me to air these complaints is in Hebrew on an Israeli newsite – to those who are receptive to such criticism and have the voting right to change the situation. Attacking Israel on non-Israeli sites or arenas is easily misread as anti-zionism and gives fuel for neo-nazis, Islamists and antisemites who don’t understand the nuanced and complicated problems within Israeli society. It is irrelevant that I’m Jewish, that I’m moving to Israel in a couple of months, or that I plan to enlist in the IDF: If my criticism breaks one of the three D’s or is directed at the wrong audience – then I too am guilty of antisemitism, and I hope that I am the first to recognize this. I remember talking to an elderly Hungarian Jew on our way back from a Passover Seder at night. I asked him why he decided to leave Israel, and what his views are on the country in general. He gave me a sharp stare, and then cooled off a bit: “I could tell you,” he answered me, “but I’m here now, not there. I don’t have to endure the hardships of living in Israel. I have no right to speak out against them.” And then we continued on in silence through the deserted streets and flickering light lamps – his droll, heretical wink giving me the answer that I was looking and hoping for.

The “Zionist entity”: conquering the world one postage stamp at a time

What is the single most destructive, oppressive and dangerous force in the entire world? That’s easy: “The Zionist entity.” After hours of procrastination on Al Jazeera and surfing through UN general assembly speeches on Youtube, I came to the conclusion that the name of this vague, evil force, “The Zionist Entity” – is an entity so dangerous and awe inspiring, that one can only mention it using “inverted commas”. Whilst simply mentioning this term evokes horror and rage in the hearts of faithful mujahadeen everywhere, intoning “The Zionist Entity” is not enough to achieve the desired effect. One must pile on adjective after adjective to ensure that if you haven’t experienced your ‘hit-in-the-back-of-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer’ moment, you will be able to recite every synonym of ‘deformed, evil, bastard entity, despicable, deranged, batshit crazy and disgusting’ without a Thesaurus.

But to some, even giving “The Zionist entity” a name, gives it the legitimacy and the attention that it does not deserve. So the next time you attend a terror-fest rally on the streets of Gaza city, make sure that you are well equipped with the many variants to describe ‘the so-called government of the so-called state.’ Indeed, to those that find out that the “Zionist entity” actually exists – and has a name (it is known colloquially by infidels as “Israel” a.k.a The “Jewish” state), it might come down as a bit of a shock, with symptoms including denial, anger, rage and eventually uncontrolled explosions in Tel Aviv kindergartens and buses.

Even Hezbollah has caught on to the trend on it’s official website, because apparently, typing out “The Zionist entity” every second sentence is too cumbersome and tiring – even for a Lebanese dhimmi with a gun to his head. According to the latest piece of propaganda verifiable evidence nicely littered with a touch of irony and scare quotes:

The list seemed to be part of a growing effort by activists, both in “Israel” and abroad, to pursue the pressing of war crime charges under the principle of universal jurisdiction against “Israeli” soldiers who participated in the attack. The three-week offensive launched by “Israel” in December 2008 resulted in the killings of about 1,400 Gazans. The disclosure of the troops’ details also appeared to expose the “Israeli” military’s growing difficulty in restricting such information from being revealed in the internet era, despite the army’s technology-savvy image. Data such as soldiers’ home addresses is not typically readily available to the public in “Israel”.

The term “Israel” was reported only 24 times in this piece, which is a pretty weak effort for Hezzbollah, considering that it managed to kill twice that number of innocent civilians in the Second Lebanon War. This article also bespeaks a tacit ‘understanding’ between those who realize that Israel exists, but that religiously, ideologically and ideally it doesn’t (wink-wink-nudge-nudge), which can often lead to confusing debates at Palestinian reconciliation meetings (“Isra-what?” I thought we were discussing *cue evil laugh* “The Zionist entity”).

Indeed, all of this innuendo not only confuses the faithful everywhere, but it can also cause major international relations slip ups. The sea surrounding “The Zionist Entity” has mysteriously become a graveyard for peace-loving humanitarian flotillas, because well, – it doesn’t appear on any maps. It turns outIHH was trying to deliver aid to the needy ‘people of Gaza’ who are being oppressed by an entity that doesn’t actually exist according to them.

Other grievances which require urgent international aid include: cigarettes tainted with pig blood, chimps running amok, and the Zionist sex gum of death:

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Hamas suspects that Israeli intelligence services are supplying its Gaza Strip stronghold with chewing gum that boosts the sex drive in order to “corrupt the young,” an official said on Tuesday.

Postage stamps: the root cause of the conflict?

Whilst “The entity’s” list of crimes are numerous: (defying the Accounting entity principle is considered by Accountants as the worst), the term “The Zionist entity” has it’s roots in the burgeoning Arab nationalist movement of the 20s, in which Arab leaders refused to recognize a Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East: not even the “size of a postage stamp.” In a twist of irony, Israel’s current landmass of 20770 square kilometers, although the size of tiny New Jersey, can still fit 8.31 quadrillion postage stamps (400 postage stamps per square meter x 1sq km x20770). That means that “Israel” has a success rate of 8308000000000%: pretty impressive for any “entity”.

According to many in the Arab world, the terms “Zionist” and “Jew” are interchangeable. So when it comes to post-Khartoum recognition of the “so-called”, “Jewish” state, one wonders what all the fuss is about? Efraim Karsh hits the nail on the head with his analysis:

“This pervasive denigration of Jews has been accompanied by a systematic denial of the Jewish state’s legitimacy by both the PA and the PLO. Israel is often referred to by the pejorative phrase, ‘the Zionist entity.’ Israel is glaringly absent from Palestinian maps, which portray its territory as part of a ‘Greater Palestine,’ from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.”

So the “Zionist Entity” is a byproduct of the lunatic hallucinations of cave-dwelling, turban-clad, Osamas – reliving their delusions of grandeur with a video camera and a loyal fan-base of robot jihadists – meekly awaiting 72 prizes in heaven. Because in reality, Zionism has been tainted to the extent that it is no longer considered a movement to return the Jewish people to their homeland, but a pejorative to describe everything that is bad in the Arab world. How long before the term ‘Zionist’ is dropped from the “The Zionist entity” – so that one day they will wail “The entity!” and everyone will know what the hell they’re talking about. It seems like “The entity” is here to stay, and many will have a hard time reconciling this fact with their warped worldview. In the mean time, those living inside “the Entity” go on with their lives, living, breathing and building: one postage stamp at a time.

Can you be Zionist and pro-Palestinian at the same time?

Many in my social milieu, have been raised on a steady diet of Zionism and support for Israel. Mollycoddled within the cosy confines of the “Jewish ghetto”, our unequivocal support for our homeland is instilled from childhood and to a large extent unquestioned. However, as we become more exposed to the political realities of the Israeli-Arab conflict, our naïve kindergarten views buckle under the barrage of narratives and sound-bytes thrown at us from all directions.

It is in this context, that I wish to raise the painful but unavoidable facts on the ground:
Israel’s closest allies, including Australia (and many Jews & Israelis too) are pressuring the Israeli government into establishing a Palestinian state alongside it in the West Bank and Gaza (or as some prefer: biblical Yehuda, Shomron v’Aza). The reasons for such a move are numerous, and the pros and cons can be debated until tomorrow morning. Yet as time passes, and Palestinian statehood looks increasingly likely, we must ask the question:

“Can we be Zionist and pro a Palestinian state at the same time? :

In other words, are we still supportive of Israel if we support the establishment of an Arab state alongside it?

Many will argue that if Israel withdraws from the West Bank, it will be used as a launching pad to attack Tel Aviv. Conservative Jewish communities bewail the idea of giving up the biblical lands of the Tanach – the majestic hills of Shomron in which our forefathers modestly herded cattle, or the rolling deserts of Yehuda where King David mounted his attack upon the ancient Canaanites. The half a million Jews living in these areas question the viability of Jew-vs-Jew, Gush-Katif-style expulsions, or conversely, receiving Palestinian citizenship in a new Arab state.

Currently, the ratio of Jews to Arabs in the Land of Israel is roughly equal. Considering the higher Arab birth-rate, there is a strong possibility that Jews may become a minority in their own country. So when demographic realities are taken into account, the answer becomes simple: Either establish a Palestinian state at the expense of a physically smaller Israel – but ensure a Jewish majority (Two-state solution), or force Israel to decide between remaining “democratic” (give all Palestinians Israeli citizenship; i.e. one state solution) or exclusively “Jewish” (an apartheid state with no voting rights for Israel’s Arab citizens).

Indeed, the perpetual dilemma facing the Zionist movement since its inception over 100 years ago, has been the reconciliation between establishing a Jewish state in Israel, whilst seeking to uphold the democratic rights of the local Arab inhabitants. Initially, the issue had been ignored or glossed over with the popular Zionist maxim: “A land without a people, and a people without a land” – portraying Palestine as an uninhabited backwater of the Ottoman empire. But immigration and the Arab womb had other ideas.

Upon capturing the “Yehuda, Shomron v’Aza” in 1967, Israel was faced with an internal dilemma. To annex these territories and so provide their 2 million Arab inhabitants with Israeli citizenship, return them to Jordan, or establish another Arab state. Neither was done. Instead, Israel maintained a military presence in the territories (branded as ‘The Occupation’ by the media), and eventually built Jewish towns and cities on the newly conquered lands.

It is in these cities that today, nearly half a million Israeli Jews now call home. Many of us have visited and stayed in one of the numerous towns, communities and Yeshivot that now dot the landscape. Many of the secular, religious and unaffiliated Israelis call these communities home – communities that form a portion of Israel’s economic, political and social life. But what is more important – a homeland for the Jewish people, or holding on to pieces of land we captured in a defensive war?

Theodore Herzl - founder of political Zionism

In these regions live 3-5 million stateless Arabs. As heart wrenching as it may be, for the ultimate goal of preserving the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic, we must seek a two state solution (albeit with territorial adjustments along the ’67 borders). Anything less would be an affront to the Zionist movement and the Jewish pioneers who paid the ultimate sacrifice to establish Israel.

I say this, knowing that there are many who strongly disagree with the idea of giving back any land. Ultimately, even though the creation of the “State of Palestine” may not end the Israeli-Arab conflict (on the contrary, Iran’s toxic tentacles encroaching ever closer is a more probable outcome) – it will ensure Israel remains a Jewish-democratic state. Our people have always successfully faced external threats when united – and the left-right political divide is tearing Israel apart.

So yes, being Zionist and supporting Israel, in effect makes you in favour of a Palestinian state.
Because unless a Palestinian state is established, Israel will be forced to choose between surrendering it’s Jewish character or abandoning democracy – and that’s a choice that none of us want her to make.

Obama, Israel and where it all went wrong

Obama is a busy, busy, man. The world’s latest celebrity has become the most powerful man on the planet – and for those of you that enjoy regurgitating Hollywood inspired quotes, you may chuckle that “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Indeed, after inheriting a global financial crisis, failing US education and healthcare standards, drugs, crime, oil prices, world poverty, climate change, an un-kempt White house lawn, and oh, two unfinished wars, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be the last thing on Barak’s mind. Guess again.

With the clock ticking towards a nuclear Iran, Obama has been led to believe that finding a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, will ultimately lead to peace in the Middle East and an end to the War on Terror. The solution – undoubtedly conceived following hours of heckling at the recent White House pesach seder – is simple: Israel stops all “natural settlement growth” beyond the green line (i.e. West bank, i.e. Yehudah + Shomron), possibly even withdraws to ’67 borders, then Obama sprinkles a little of his magic pixie dust, and the Jews and Arabs will live happily ever after in the magical Holy land with Charlie the unicorn.

Unfortunately too many people have fallen into this same futile trap, full of preconceived notions, and “missed opportunities” regarding peace in the Middle East. Because the intricacies and inner-workings of the situation are so immense, many a decision-maker (and layman) has found himself focusing on a specific concern, whilst skirting the real issue. In this case, the issue isn’t Israeli settlements, the Gaza blockade or even Palestinian nationalism – if that were the case, this conflict would’ve sorted itself out long ago. The issue basically boils down to this: Arab/Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state anywhere in the ME the size of a postage stamp.

Without even a learner’s-licence worth of experience at the presidency, Obama rushed headlong into the ill-fated “peace process” (it’s much, much more than a “process” – it’s like watching grass grow), promising much, but (as yet) doing little. For this, Israelis have greeted the president with ambivalence. Those on the right – angered that Obama has seemingly sided against the settlement enterprise, and those on the left – angry that Obama has not pulled through with his promises to enforce his agenda upon Israel. The Palestinians are equally wary, because after 60 years of having been entrusted to the care of the United Nations, the Arab League, the PLO, Hamas, the “global community” and now Obama, they get the gist that the new US foreign policy ain’t gonna the standard Tupperware party they were hoping for.

The problem that many leftist leaders and human-rights’ groups encounter when approaching the Israeli-Arab conflict, is that they assume they are dealing with two western societies that share the same values with them, when in fact most of the belligerents belong to the middle eastern society (read: Arab world), where despotic regimes, religious persecution and gender-based discrimination among other human rights violations are the norm. In 2005, Israel learned that appeasement doesn’t work the hard way – when she unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, only to be met with a barrage of Qassam fire. In order to make progress, Obama too, must realize that pressuring Israel (or for that matter, the Palestinians) to make one sided concessions will only make the situation worse, and that when dialogue fails, ‘the way of the sword’ is favoured over ‘the way of the peace process’ in that part of the world.

Israel will face tough times ahead. As the Jew among the nations, she will continue to face microscopic scrutiny from the media and the Western world for years to come. Israel will continue to be butt of all blame in the Arab world for an undefined period of time. And we as Jews in the Diaspora will face the incremental waves of antisemitism that accompany every Israeli government policy that is determined to be ‘undesirable’ by human rights groups and opinion editors. But hope is not lost for the peace process. Palestinian leadership is challenging the rising tide of extremism to become more moderate. Israel’s Likud party under Bibi, for the first time acknowledges a need for two states between the Jordan and Mediterranean, and interfaith meetings are building bridges between Jews and Muslims in the holy land.

Many people complain that the world holds Israel up to unattainable standards. In context this is a blessing. The Jewish state must aspire to reach those standards, that no other country would be capable of reaching.
That is the Zionist challenge of the 21st century.
Obama still has 7 years in office to broker peace in the holy land, and if he can achieve all of his aspirations against all odds, then “yes, we can” too.
It might just take a few Tupperware parties with Charlie the unicorn.