Arab-Israeli Attack

Jeff doesn’t see why the Palestinians can’t let the Jews have just one state to call their own.

I made no formal study of the Arab–Israeli conflict growing up and no study whatever of the Arab perspective—if there even was one. On some level it didn’t matter; the Jews had been on the wrong side of history for too long. The Crusades, The Inquisition, The Holocaust—the world had done terrible things to us for as long as we had been around. We were the underdogs of history, and now we needed every advantage we could get.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict class I took in college gave me more of the story, enough to realize that the Arabs too had been spurned by history. Britain had promised them a homeland as well; one that they had reason to think would include much of what is now the Jewish State. But it was only during my time in Israel that I began to understand what people meant when they talked about Arab suffering.

Condoleezza Rice: “Har Homa is a settlement the United States has opposed from the very beginning.”

Organizations like Ir Amim offered political tours of East Jerusalem throughout the year. It was on one of these tours that I visited Homat Shemu’el, an Israeli settlement in a predominately Arab neighborhood. The immaculately kept, meticulously planned enclave looked new enough for me to imagine I could still smell the paint. Across the way was Um Tubba—littered, unpaved, farm animals everywhere, men loitering outside shacks in the middle of the afternoon—an Arab shantytown. Were these our feared rivals, I wondered? They had nothing. They could barely provide for themselves, let alone compete with a burgeoning nuclear power.

Arab neighborhood of Silwan, East Jerusalem. Photo: Debbie Hill

The juxtaposition illustrated how divorced yeshivish rhetoric sometimes was from the facts on the ground. According to a 2006 study, though East Jerusalem’s Arab residents constituted one third of the city’s population, they received only 8-11% of the municipal budget. In yeshiva this would never have been on my radar. Of course Ir Amim’s radar was subject to distortions of its own. The Arabs living in East Jerusalem collectively rejected Israeli citizenship when it was offered to them in 1967 and had boycotted municipal elections ever since. There were then very few in Jerusalem’s administration to advocate on their behalf. But granting all this, how many Arabs may have towed the line for fear of Jordanian reprisal and how many of their children may be of a different mind than their parents?

As absurd as the analogy is I can’t help but think of Abraham’s advocacy for Sodom and Gomorrah. Upon learning of God’s intention to punish both cities for their sins, Abraham challenges, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike….Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

I won’t deny the extent to which emotions may have influenced my outlook on this subject. But I’m not convinced that emotions don’t have their place in political discourse, especially when it comes to things like conflict resolution. The Jews have been the underdogs of history, and will probably continue to be for some time. But the Arabs have been underdogs as well. They need someone to advocate on their behalf, just like the Jews do.

– D. Schwartz


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