Sunday, February 3, 2013

How Jews Should Relate to Palestine

Yesterday I was speaking with a young graduate student in Islamic studies, an orthodox Jew,  who told me that the question arose in one of his courses, "Where is Safed?" to which the professor replied, "In Palestine."

His story reminded me of the one told by the Palestinian-American, Ahmed Moor, who, when telling a fellow undergrad that he and his family  were from Palestine, met with the reaction,  "Palestine doesn't exist."

Well, Palestine, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river, does exist and will continue to exist, even if the State of Israel is recognized by the entire world -- including the Palestinians themselves -- as a legitimate and sovereign state. And the first people to understand this should be the Jews. For Jews have called the same land that the Palestinians call "Palestine" Eretz Yisrael/the Land of Israel, even  when their communities in Palestine were tiny. For  homeland and political sovereignty are two distinct concepts.

For the Palestinians, the State of Israel will always be at best a political entity whose founding ideology was foreign to Palestine, whose founders conquered Palestine and expelled most its inhabitants, and who allowed the remaining inhabitants to remain as second-class citizens under a military government while their lands were taken away. Israeli Jews at best will be legitimated as Jews of Palestine. And there is historical precedent. Poland remained Poland for the Poles, despite disappearing after it was partitioned  by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. I am not referring merely to the Kingdom of Poland, I am referring to the homeland of the Poles, "the sacred landscape," to use Meron Benveniste's term.

People of good will on both sides recognize that their narrative is not shared by the other. But that does not mean that each should be compelled to give up their narrative. As an Israeli Jew, one sympathetic and supportive of the Palestinian cause, I recognize the continuing existence of Palestine, not on some truncated spots of the West Bank and Gaza, but on the entire land of Palestine. LIke Benveniste, I feel saddened by the Israelis who don't know what they have lost by attempting to wipe this Palestine off the map. Fortunately, that attempt is doomed to fail, as long as Palestine continues to be remembered.

From a purely visceral standpoint, it is sometimes difficult for me to hear references to Palestine, because I was raised to believe that anybody who talked about "Palestine" wanted to drive my people into the sea. That, of course, is rubbish. I don't thing it is wrong or not politicallly correct to talk about Eretz Yisrael, or to treat it as the promised land of the Jews. That has nothing to do with the regime that governs the Holy Land.

As a religious Jew, I believe that the Jew qua Jew has three homes: the state of which she is a citizen; the Jewish community of which she is a participant, and the land of Israel. Jews do not need political sovereignty in an exclusivist ethnic state in order to feel at home in that land. In fact, increasingly I am feeling less at home in the State of Israel, then in the United States.

But I do feel at home in my home in Jerusalem in Eretz Yisrael, and I would like to be welcomed by Palestinians as a Jews, and, yes, as an Israeli, living in Palestine. In fact, I would like both homelands to be shared homelands.

Recognizing the State of Israel, and recognizing the rights of Israeli citizens of that state, does not mean -- should not mean -- relinquishing the notion that the State of Israel occupies part of the historic homeland of the Palestinians. As an orthodox Jew I believe that the West Bank is part of Eretz Yisrael, as is southern Lebanon and parts of Syria and Jordan.But that means nothing with regard to the question of the best political regime(s) for Eretz Yisrael and Palestine.

As for the Zionists, despite all their efforts to wipe all traces of Palestine off the map, and to replace it with the State of Israel, they were successful only in getting rid of mandatory Palestine. Palestine as homeland remains as long as the Palestinians and others honor it in their collective memory.


pabelmont said...

Very good analysis and statement. since both sides hope to continue to exist, both have hopes of some sort of "return" by people presently outside the land (I'd call "The Land" "Palestine", because Mandatory Palestine had borders and today's Israel does not declare borders -- as I understand it -- with Lebanon, Syria, or Palestine, although, as a measure of progress, today's israel does declare borders with Egypt and Jordan.

As to whether the "Land of Israel" is a geographic concept or merely a love object, I recommend the excellent new book, "The Invention of the Land of Israel" by Shlomo Sand, which makes a very complex argument the simplest part of which, as I understand it, is that the modern concept and semantics of "homeland" has nothing to do with how that term was understood even 300 years ago in Europe and less to do with how it was understood in the days of the Greek city states or of the two ancient Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judea, the two located in the Egyptian-named and often Egyptian-ruled larger region of Canaan. IN SHORT, Jews venerated a non-geographically-delimited "homeland" over two millenia roughly situated near Judea; from a purely Biblical perspective, there was no need for modern Israelis to confiscate so much of Palestine for the limited reason of a return to "the" Jewish "homeland". (Of course, there were other reasons.) God's promise -- if any to the sinful Jews -- was not to all of Palestine.

Richard Witty said...

I suffer from typical 58 year-old inability to remember people's names.

"I'll take care of you in your hour of need, my dear friend .... (I forgot your name, how embarrassing)"

It's an important play on the dual meaning of the term "our".

"Our" or "my" can refer to what I claim exclusively, "That woman is mine".

Or, it can refer to what I love most dearly, "That woman is mine."

The question is in the usage. It is an irony when either that claim exclusivity treat the land, themselves, and their neighbors that live on the land with the trivial meaning.

Politically correct often do that as well, apply the trivial and not the substantive.