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Fortress Israel is Not the Promised Land
4 May 2002
In 1945, my father nearly moved to Israel. He was a 25-year-old who managed to survive six war-torn years in Eastern Europe. As the war ended, my father found himself alone in the world, without a home, a family, a nation to call his own. In the end, he decided to move to this country.
Sometimes I wonder what would have become of my father had he chosen to settle in Israel instead. Would he have been happier surrounded by other Jews, and indeed a whole nation, that was also beginning anew? Never again would Jews be victims. Never again would they have to live with fear and packed suitcases. With a nation of their own, they would be transformed into proud, productive citizens.
These days, as I mourn the loss of my father, I also mourn the loss of his vision of Israel. Of course it was an vision that was always founded on illusions - the illusion that the land was barren, devoid of water and people, the illusion that Jews could speak with one voice, and the illusion that nationhood would bring safety and freedom from fear. Today, as the Promised Land becomes Fortress Israel, a nation under siege that is besieging others, these illusions are more difficult to hold onto.
Israel must defend itself. People can not live in constant fear. But Sharon's current policies are likely to produce more rage, more suicide attacks and a state of permanent war, alternating between low-intensity conflict and fiery clashes of the sort that are now taking place.
Even if Israel succeeds in the short run, repression in the occupied territories will bring about repression at home as dissent is stamped out in the interest of "security." Those Israelis who can withstand it will stay, along with those who are too poor, sick or old. The rest will create an exodus of a new kind, a Jewish dispersal unmatched since the end of World War II. The Jewish state, in turn, will be shunned, boycotted and become ever more isolated and despised abroad.
This is not the land that my father dreamed of, nor the land that the early Zionist pioneers envisioned. It is neither a safe haven nor a safety net for Jews in the Diaspora. It will breed anti-Semitism in a world that needs little reason to hate Jews.
The signs are already here: at a recent pro-Palestinian rally at my alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, students chanted "Israel is an apartheid state," "Stop Your Tax Support for Israeli state racism," and in a crude revision of an anti-apartheid slogan that I myself chanted years earlier, "Divest from Israel." To add insult to injury, the rally took place on Holocaust Remembrance Day. And at a peace rally in Berlin, of all places, protestors charged Israel with genocide - while vicious anti-Semitic attacks rage in Germany, France, and Belgium, among other countries.
Europeans, in particular, should consider the role they played in creating this mess to begin with. By oppressing, expelling and exterminating the Jews among them, they set into motion a yearning for Zionism, for a safe haven. My father's Zionism, for example, was very much an outgrowth of the unimaginable hate he encountered as a boy in Poland, and later fleeing from the Nazis.
Clearly we must reject simplistic condemnations of Israel that fail to understand the context in which it was born. But we should also reject simplistic Jewish calls for solidarity that brand all criticism of Israeli military aggression as disloyalty at best, or as collaboration with the enemy at worst.
At a moment when the fate of Jews in Israel and around the world seem more intimately tied than any time since WWII, we desperately need a just resolution to the Middle East conflict. It seems increasingly clear that this resolution will entail dismantling West Bank settlements and establishing a viable Palestinian state, buttressed by a "Marshall plan" for Palestinian economic and political development; and international guarantees in the form of peacekeepers and binding agreements from neighboring Arab states. Rather than see this emergent nation as a potential new threat to Israeli sovereignty and safety, many of us are beginning to see it as Israelšs only hope for survival.
It will take visionary and assertive international leadership to broker this solution - something that seems to be short supply these days. But the alternative is too scary to contemplate.