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Israel-Palestine: The devil (and the angels) are in the details

Israel-Palestine: The devil (and the angels) are in the details

A Palestinian girl looks out from inside her family's house in the northern Gaza Strip March 20, 2014. | (Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

As an evangelical (Moore) and even as a Jew (Adlerstein), we can easily get behind Dr. Issam Smeir’s (Christian Post Voices, Sept. 18) bottom line: “I do not ask you to stop supporting the state of Israel. Rather, I ask you to expand your hearts to embrace your Palestinian brothers and sisters…as well.” Palestinians deserve the sympathy of their co-religionists — indeed, of all human beings. What his call for understanding should lead to, however, is another point entirely. Here, what Dr. Smeir does not say may be more important than what he does. 

What stands in the way of a Palestinian state is not lack of international empathy, but Palestinian missteps. Many, if not most (the numbers shift after every new terror attack), Israelis want to trade land for peace. The problem continues to be that there is no one to talk to. Can Israel sign on to an agreement when no one will recognize her, or sit down with her?

Hamas in Gaza still openly preaches the destruction of the Jewish State in its entirety, while sending civilians each week to storm the border with Israel, and arson balloons daily to set fire to agricultural areas. Between the balloons, it continues to rain missiles down on Israeli schoolyards.

Nasrallah to the North has called for continued Jewish immigration to the illegal Zionist entity so that more Jews can be killed when Hezbollah wipes it out. 

The Palestinian Authority’s Abbas continues to spurn every repeated offer from Israel to negotiate directly. His PA continues its pay-to-slay policy, cutting the wages of its own civil servants in order to pay millions of dollars a year to families of anyone convicted of killing or maiming Jewish civilians. Under pressure from his European financial supporters to end his brainwashing of schoolchildren, he refuses to buckle under. His newly revised textbooks are still full of hatred of Jews, and arithmetic lessons based on examples of terrorists. The PA continues to insist that no Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount, and that there is no historical connection between Jews and the Land. Jesus, of course, was a Palestinian.

With which party that is pledged to annihilate it or not recognize its basic legitimacy, pray tell, is Israel supposed to deal? Who will not turn it into yet another base for ISIS and/or Iranian expansionism?

Smeir claims that Palestinians are a “marginalized and disenfranchised minority.” Who does he mean by “Palestinians?” If he means the Israel-Arab citizens of Israel, they are a minority, to be sure. Lots of countries, including the U.S., have minorities.

Disenfranchised — hardly.  Arab citizens vote. Their block of elected representatives is the third largest in the new Knesset and may determine who becomes the next Prime Minister. Marginalized? They sit on the Supreme Court and work in every part of Israeli society. They are overrepresented at University of Haifa, relative to Jewish Israelis.  Significantly, they don’t particularly identify as “Palestinians.” When polled about self-identification, 65% included the word “Israeli” in their descriptor of choice. ( 46% defined themselves as Israeli Arabs, 19% as Israeli Palestinians, 22% as Arabs,  and only 14 percent as Palestinians.)


Perhaps Smeir means those who live in areas conquered by Israel in the defensive 1967 Six-Day War, and who indeed have been waiting in limbo ever since — used as pawns by their own leaders and by other Arab governments who have now largely abandoned them? This might work, were it not for the fact that Smeir speaks of those who have “suffered tremendously in the last seventy years,” meaning since the establishment of the State of Israel, not the “occupation,” which began decades later. (Was this an unintended slip that shows his true feelings about the legitimacy of Israel as a sovereign state?)

Is Israel, as Smeir claims, “dominated by one language (Hebrew)?” Israel is bilingual. Every street sign, every marker is in Hebrew and Arabic. (Bilingual education that includes Spanish for the even larger Hispanic minority in California is still not a reality there.) Hebrew signs will not be forthcoming in a future Palestinian state. Palestinian leadership has made it clear that it will not tolerate a single Jew to live among them.

Smeir mourns the shrinking of the percentage of Christians in the Holy Land. He does not mention that this is not the case in Israel proper, where the Christian community has grown! It is also one of the only areas in the entire Middle East in which Christians have built new churches. Yes, Christians have fled from the West Bank — but the primary reason is the pressure from Muslims, not from Jewish Israelis. 

Israel’s political vision, claims Smeir, can be characterized as one of “exclusivism, discrimination and fear.” If he means of Arabs, this is patently false. One of us lives there, and mingles daily with Arab citizens of Israel on shopping lines, in parks, entertainment events, public transportation, medical offices. We share all public spaces — and a common complaint that the government should be doing more for all its citizens. If Smeir means the residents of PA who are exhorted to become martyrs by killing Jews (and given instructional material on how to make stabbings more effective), then, guilty as charged! Israeli Jews have good reason to fear and to deal with those fears defensively.

For all these errors of omission and commission, we still agree with Smeir about working to improve the lot of a Palestinian population that has long been caught between the evil of its kleptocratic leaders who steal its aid from naïve foreigners, and Israel’s legitimate defensive needs. That work, however, should be to get the Palestinians to replace its leaders with those who will work for compromise and peace. Solutions — perfect or imperfect — were found for virtually every instance of competing narratives left behind after WWII — except for Israel-Palestine. Evangelicals should show empathy, but also work to convince Palestinians that going for broke — insisting that “From the River to the Sea/ All of Palestine will be free,” i.e. that Israel will be made to disappear — will simply subject their children and grandchildren to more of the same misery. 

Rev. Johnnie Moore is the President of The Congress of Christian Leaders. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, an Orthodox rabbi, is the Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center

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