God's Politics

Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper continues his dialogue with Virtual Talmud bloggers, this time responding to Rabbi Eliyahu Stern’s post titled, “Mr. Halper, Please Respond to the Facts.”

I’ll start responding to Rabbi Stern by registering my disappointment with the sneering, self-righteous and downright offensive tone of his response to me. I don’t know what “ilk” Stern comes from, but I had always been told that “rabbi” means teacher. I’m a teacher, an Israeli professor of anthropology. If I ever responded to my students or colleagues in the manner of our “scholar-in-residence,” they would tell me exactly where to go, and rightly so.

Why Stern considers Dershowitz’s polemics “facts,” I don’t know. Did Jews really live in Hebron longer than Arabs? I wonder who Abraham bought the Cave of Machpela from? And if I recall my Bible (Genesis 25:9), didn’t Ishmael, Abraham’s beloved son, attend his father’s funeral in Hebron together with his brother Isaac? And just what Arab countries were “tens of thousands of Jews” expelled from?

I would love to respond to every “fact” Dershowitz raises. Unfortunately, in a short blog entry, that’s impossible. Slogans are much more economical than nuanced discussion. But let me raise discussion on one of the issues, which Rabbi Stern has surely encountered in Berkeley. The PLO accepted the two-state solution in 1988, even before the Oslo peace process. If we place ourselves in the shoes of the Other (a talent rabbis are supposed to have – or is that only with other Jews?) we could ask: Why in the world would the Palestinians accept the 1938 Peel Commission Plan to partition the country? Palestine was Palestinian; the Palestinians had every right to expect that their country would revert to them after the colonial powers left. The Jews at that time were maybe a quarter of the population. We might think we have exclusive claim to the Land of Israel and expect everyone else to accept it, but why should they? To say “Palestinians rejected this proposal because Arab leaders cared more about there being no Jewish state on Muslim holy land than about having a Palestinian state of their own” shows an appalling insensitivity to the rights of an indigenous people and ignorance of the historical process of de-colonization.

Going back in time isn’t very productive, nor is assigning blame. The central issue is: How do we help Israel get out the mess it’s in? The problem, I would submit, is not with the Arabs. The Palestinians have accepted the two-state solution – but a real two-state solution, not one where Israeli settlements truncate it and Jerusalem is “Judaized.” Even the mean old Arab League offered Israel peace, recognition and regional integration in return for the Occupied Territories. It is not security that holds Israel back, it’s the prospect of giving up settlements and territory. Our occupation, unintended as it may have been in 1967, has ended up with a half million settlers who foreclose forever the possibility of a viable Palestinian state, and with that any hope of peace.

The point is that Israel is the strong party, the occupying power, and the only one who can bring a just peace. It’s telling that none of the three learned rabbis who responded to me even mention the word “occupation.”

Together, we Israelis and you Diaspora Jews have got to start taking responsibility for our actions. Support for occupation, apartheid, and the oppressive policies they spawn erode the moral fabric of the entire Jewish people, as evidenced in Stern’s remarks. And please, a little humility, a little derekh eretz and a LOT more learning, critical thinking, and self-criticism.

Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), based in Jerusalem.

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