“‘We refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state”

Well, OK, then. If the Palestinian Authority sticks to this position, the current partition talks will go nowhere (like all previous iterations). The question of recognizing the character of the state is, as Ari Shavit (a self-declared leftist, by the way) put it some years ago, “the core of the conflict.”

From Haaretz on 20 December:

According to [former PA negotiator Muhammad] Shtayyeh the declaration of Israel as a Jewish state implies the prevention of Palestinian refugees from returning to their homeland, opening the door to the expulsion of Palestinian citizens of Israel from their homes and the imposition of the Jewish narrative on the history of this country, thereby rejecting the Christian and Muslim narratives.

Yes to Shtayyeh’s first point if “homeland” means within what would become the recognized borders of Israel, but no to the second. I am not aware of any but the farthest-from-the-mainstream actually advocating expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens. On the other hand, as best I can tell, it just assumed that Jews will be expelled from the proposed Arab state of Palestine and, of course, would have no right of return (and should not have) to the part of their homeland that becomes outside the borders of Israel.

As for Shtayyeh’s “narratives” point, as far as I know, the Christian narrative–if there can be said to be one such narrative–does not deny that the land in question is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. If there is indeed a single “Muslim narrative” that denies this historic fact, then it is not an equivalently legitimate narrative.

The idea of a partition is that each of the people with competing claims to the territory being divided gets its own state. I do not see how an agreement can be signed that does not recognize each state as the state of one of those peoples. Ideally, it should also grant protection to the minority, who would be allowed to remain within the borders of the other people’s state. However, Shtayyeh may be right about one thing: a partition could open the door to migration of Arabs out of Israel (less likely to be through “expulsion” as through choice amongst perceived-to-be bad options). Most (all?) partitions are accompanied by population transfers. And that is why a partition process is not really a “peace process”. Partitions, and especially population transfers, are not typically peaceful.

Note also that Shtayyeh’s references to narratives refers to religions. Although some tendencies within the State of Israel blur the lines, the Jewish state is not about a religion, it is about a national group’s right to sovereignty–national liberation, in other words. This is not a small semantic matter, though it gets elided regularly by all those who have an agenda against the existence of an ordinary “secular” and democratic state in the ancestral home of the Jewish people.

Vineyards on the hills of Samaria, mosques in the hills of Galilee

For the haftarah reading ((Reading from the historic or prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures, always paired with a reading from the Torah (Five Books of Moses).)) of the second day of Rosh haShannah ((The Jewish New Year holiday, which was last Thursday-Friday.)):

Again you shall plant vineyards
On the hills of Samaria;
Men shall plant and live to enjoy them.

This is from Jeremiah 31:5.

Yes, Samaria. And, yes, this was written during the Babylonian exile, more than 2500 years ago. Not after 1967. Or 1948.

I point this out not because I believe that if the Hebrew scriptures say the land of the “West Bank” is ours, then it must be. In fact, it’s the other way around: the Hebrew scriptures say things like this because the writers were residents of the Land of Israel, including Samaria and Judea.

This important point is too often left out of the narrative about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Or it is left only to the religious Zionists, and other opponents of peace, to point out. It is not that Jewish “settlers” have to evacuate “occupied Palestinian land”, but that Jews must find a way to share with another people the very land on which our people was forged in ancient times.

I’m not a negotiator, or even a student of negotiations. But the narrative should be more like the one in the bold text than the one we normally see in the media.

Meanwhile, in these Yamim Noraim, ((Days of Awe, the days between Rosh haShannah and Yom Kippur, which starts at sundown tonight.)) a terrible crime was committed in Tuba-Zangaria, an Arab town in hills above Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). A suspect has been arrested. ((Not incidentally, the suspect is from Samaria.)) However, Judaism teaches that all of us are responsible as a community for the acts of any. This attack, during the Yamim Noraim, bring great shame to us all. What is an appropriate Teshuvah? ((Turning, as in finding the correct path. Often translated “repentance” but I don’t think that really captures the Jewish spirituality of it.))

Somehow we have to find a way to share the land. Mosques in Galilee and (Jewish) vineyards in Samaria are equally “legitimate”. May the coming year be the year we (at least start to) learn to live to enjoy them together.

gmar chatima tova


(Substantially extended from the original, with some personal observations from having lived in and walked around this general area.)

Confused by the Shepherd Hotel controversy that has burst (back) into the news this week? You should be. It is a confusing situation. Certainly not as simple as most of the voices in the media (of whatever position) make it seem.

If you want to cut through the confusion, read Yaacov Lozowick’s “virtual tour” of the area.

I know this area, although by no means intimately. But the maps and satellite views Yaacov posts include the area where I lived for about three months last year. One of the things that most struck me about this area, which is over the Green Line, is just how intermixed it is. The neighborhood in question, Sheikh Jarah, as well as where I stayed, French Hill, were both in the Jordanian-occupied zone from 1948-67 and are typically, if misleadingly, referred to in the media as “East Jerusalem.” In French Hill, the population is mostly Jewish (including a substantial community of post-1967 immigrants from English-speaking countries, as well as academics and staff at Hebrew University), but there is a large minority of Arabs. Both the Jerusalem municipality bus lines and the Arab East Jerusalem bus lines course through the area. (Yes, there are separate bus lines; one sees Arab passengers on the Jerusalem buses, but evidently not Jews on the Arab buses, and the company running the latter does not appear to have a website in either English or Hebrew, only Arabic.) A short walk southwestward from the Student Village in French Hill, where my University-provided accommodation was, one passes by Arab-run falafel shops and Arab houses, with some consular residences mixed in. Other apartment complexes in the area are mostly Jewish, including some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). A walk towards the east takes one past Hadassah Hospital, at the entrance to which there is an Arab-run kiosk (cigarettes, ice cream, etc.) and a series of mostly Arab-populated apartment complexes on one side of the street and more HU student housing on the other side. The University student population is itself quite mixed. Sheikh Jarrah and French Hill blend in to one another, although Sheikh Jarah is clearly mostly Arab-populated. Right between these neighborhoods are the National Police HQ and several other government buildings, as well as some international hotels (where the staff seems mostly Arab) and consular facilities.

It is far from an ideal “integrated” set of neighborhoods, and tensions in Sheikh Jarrah have been high for some time. But my point (and Yaacov’s) is that it is misleading to see a sharp division between the “Jewish” and “Arab” cities of Jerusalem, as most media accounts suggest.

The idea of drawing a border through this region as part of a “peace agreement” mystifies me. I can’t see how it could be done, honestly.

The comment form is open–I think, and for how long, who knows.

Loyalty and states

The Israeli government is close to passing a bill that is a watered down version of one of the demands made by coalition member Yisrael Beiteinu (led by Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister in the government): to establish an oath of loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state. The oath would apply only to non-Jews seeking citizenship in Israel.

I think the oath is wrong-headed. However, I am also persuaded that there will never be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue if there is no formal recognition by the proto-state of the Palestinian Arabs that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. It is, as Ari Shavit put it in Haaretz, the core of the conflict, and thus the conflict can be resolved only by this formal recognition. But requiring individual would-be citizens to swear loyalty does not put us any closer to solving the conflict. It is exclusionary, and contrary to civil rights of the non-Jewish citizens of the state of Israel.

If one wants to know why recognition–not by prospective citizens, but by the prospective neighboring state–of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is a core issue, one need only look at the following statement about the proposed loyalty oath from the Palestinian Ministry of Information. The oath would be, the statement said:

An open invitation to expel the Palestinians, upon whose bodies, lands, and dreams the occupation state was built in the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba.*

It is generally assumed in the West that when Palestinian spokespersons refer to the “occupation” they mean the territories within the former British Mandate of Palestine that were seized by Israeli forces from Arab armies in the 1967 war: The West Bank and Gaza.

However, the statement could not be more clear: All of Israel is the “occupation state.” By further implication, all of what was Palestine under the British Mandate up to 1948 is still Palestine. Ipso facto, there can be no Jewish state.

The conflict will not be resolved, and the “peace talks” (if they are resumed again) will go nowhere, as long as this is the sort of interpretation put out by the Palestinian Ministry of Information.

* Transcription of the English voice-over on Mosaic TV one day during the past week. I am not sure of the original Arabic source of the broadcast, but I think it was Al Jazeera.

Golan Heights

When you stand anywhere in the western side of the Golan Heights, you understand why these Heights gave the Syrians such a great view with which to target Israeli towns and kibbutzim in the Galille’s Hula Valley below (despite the summer haze).


This view is from Nimrod Fortress, a remarkable Crusader-era Muslim defensive position (see more Nimrod photos at the Flickr site). From various hillsides around this region, one can see remnants of positions from which Syrian forces regularly shelled northern Israel between 1948, when the modern state of Israel was founded, and 1967, when Israeli forces captured the Heights.

Given the view from up here, and the relentless attacks of the period of Syrian control, it is easy to see why there is limited enthusiasm within Israel for returning this territory in any future “land for peace” deal with Syria. This is not the Sinai–distant from either side’s population centers. The Golan is not only close to the Galilee region; there is also a distance of a mere 60 km from the current eastern border to Damascus. So even if controlling the high ground is less important in an era of missile warfare than it once was, being able to threaten a quick counterattack on Damascus in the event of a future conflict remains strategically valuable for Israel. Besides, the Golan has water. And skiing. And apples and cherries. Israelis love it, for good reason, even if relatively few have settled it–it is striking how empty of people the region is–and even if it has comparatively little Biblical value to the religious Zionists* (in stark contrast to other territories seized in 1967).

Unfortunately, aside from the photos of Nimrod, I took relatively few photos as we drove through this region in late July. We were too rushed to get to the Witch’s Cauldron and the Milkman for what proved to be, even without photo-op stops, a very late lunch (and a sumptuous one, by the way, with great local goat cheeses). So I am thankful to Michael Totten for his recent post, “Above the Killing Fields of the Galilee,” which includes photos of abandoned Syrian positions and a bombed-out mosque, of the big boulder piles that the Israeli segments of the road from Damascus detour around, of the minefield warning signs, and of a memorial to war dead from 1973. All sights that impressed us as we drove by, yet we did not stop to photograph. We did, however, stop by another disused mosque near Banias. That was after lunch.


In addition to the photos, Totten relays some interesting interviews he had with Golan settlers, and they most certainly are not anything like the Judea and Samaria/West Bank settlers in their political views! The few Israeli settlers of the Golan have more in common with the early, secular and leftist, kibbutzniks than with the dominant strands of the settler movement of the other territories.

All in all, the Golan Heights are a fascinating and beautiful region. A trip there provides real insights into one aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I see the Shugards–quite a similar name!–also have posted photos of the Golan, including the Witches Cauldron and the Milkman restaurant.

And, while we are on the topic of other bloggers posting photos of places I have recently been, Yaacov Lozowick was as taken by the Che store in East Jerusalem as I was. His post runs a good deal deeper than that, however (pun very much intended).


* Even if there are several ruined ancient synagogues in the area, attesting to past Jewish settlement (from the post-Second Temple period).

Mamilla cemetery

In my (almost) daily watching of Mosaic TV, I saw some familiar street views yesterday morning–a street corner I was on just a couple of weeks ago. The controversy over the Mamilla Cemetery has flared again, as described in the JPost:

Despite what city officials have called “clear and indisputable evidence” of some 300 fraudulent tombstones that were discovered – and subsequently demolished – inside an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem in recent weeks, a handful of demonstrators arrived at the burial site on Wednesday morning to protest what they labeled the city’s “desecration” of the cemetery.

However, the news item I saw this morning did not indicate that there was any question over whether the demolished “graves” were real graves in the actual Mamilla Cemetery. The news item was from Al Jazeera Arabic (dubbed into English). It took it at face value that the Jerusalem authorities were destroying historic graves.

At the conclusion of the report, the narrator referred to the “occupation of the city in 1948.” The Mamilla Cemetery is not in East Jerusalem (which indeed has been occupied by Israel since 1967). It is located west of the “Green Line,” which defined the de-facto border of Israel after the First Israel-Arab War of 1948. That is, on the Israeli side of the lines that are supposed to be the basis of the final borders to be negotiated with the Palestinian Authority, if the currently talked-about talks somehow ever lead anywhere. So one can only conclude that Al Jazeera’s reference to “occupation” refers to all of Israel, or at least to all of Jerusalem.

Before I started watching Mosaic some years ago, I did not really understand the claims by some of the more outspoken Zionists of media bias against Israel. But one need not watch a lot of Mosaic to get it, by seeing what is reported to the Middle East itself.* And, as always, there is nothing like having set foot in the contested land and surveyed it with one’s own eyes (and endeavoring to keep the eyes and mind as open as possible) to crystallize one’s understanding.

I only wish I had realized just where I was standing–and wherever one is in Jerusalem, one is standing somewhere significant–when I looked across the disputed site. While I was aware of the controversy (google “Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance” for a somewhat ironic introductory lesson), I wish I had taken the time to tour the site itself. Next time…

* I still think claims of bias in the Western English-language media, such as BBC, are much exaggerated, but that is a topic for another day.

Educating Palestinians about the Shoah

This is a great program, as reported in Haaretz.

Growing up in the West Bank, Mujahid Sarsur knew next to nothing about the Holocaust and saw little ground to sympathize with a people he saw as his occupier.

But thanks to an Israeli roommate overseas, the 21-year-old Palestinian student learned about the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews during World War II and discovered a new understanding of his Israeli neighbors.

Now he wants other Arabs to do the same. Sarsur heads one of a handful of Palestinian grass-roots groups seeking knowledge about the Holocaust.

On Wednesday, he led a delegation of 22 students to Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.

During Ramdan, no less.

Still, one young participant said, “I am not giving them legitimacy to come here and make their own country, but I get their point of view.” Progress, I suppose.

Having just visited Yad Vashem a little over a week ago myself, I can attest that it is a phenomenally well presented set of exhibits. Not exactly an easy visit, but a must-see. However, unlike many Israeli museums, there are very few signs in Arabic; Yad Vashem does now have websites in Arabic (and Farsi), as noted in the Haaretz article.

The suburbs of northern Jerusalem

With all the fuss about the Ramat Shlomo decision by the Israeli government, announced as a (likely deliberate) slap in the face at Vice President Biden, I thought it was worth a little perspective–geographic perspective.


One hears over and over in the news that this is an “expansion” of a “settlement” in Occupied East Jerusalem.*

That’s Ramat Shlomo there at the top (north) of the image (which is from Google Earth), circled. Down in the lower right, you will see the Temple Mount, in the rectangle. (Click for a larger image.)

Clearly, Ramat Shlomo is not in East Jerusalem–at least not in any geographically meaningful sense. In fact, it is north and west of the heart of Jerusalem. It is indeed on the other side of the Green Line (which for some reason Google Earth depicts as a red line). That means it was in the part of the former British Mandate of Palestine that was occupied territory on account of the Jordanian army having seized it during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.

Whatever one might think of the presence of Jewish communities on the other side of the 1948 armistice lines (they are not “the 1967 borders,” as often stated in the press), no one can realistically expect that established suburbs such as Ramat Shlomo, on the northern edge of Jerusalem, are going to be evacuated as part of any potential two-state solution.

I have taken a personal interest in this controversy, erupting as it did so soon before our departure for Jerusalem. In fact, the apartment where we will be staying while I am a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University is in French Hill (marked by the yellow pin). As you can see, French Hill is within the formerly Jordanian-occupied portion of the former British territory of Palestine. The Mount Scopus campus of the university itself is in the “island” on the right of the image that was already under Israeli control before 1967.

It just so happens that we arrive in Jerusalem two days before Yom Yerushalayim, which should be interesting.

* All three words capitalized because that is how it is almost always stated in media accounts, as if Occupied East Jerusalem were the place name.

Electoral results: American delegation to World Zionist Organization

Jewschool has posted the results of the World Zionist Organization election.

Hatikva-Meretz obtained 5 of the 145 seats in the American delegation (down by one from the previous election) on 3.31% of the votes. That gives it an advantage ratio greater than 1.00, whereas the leading slate (ARZA-Reform, of course) had an advantage ratio of slightly under 1.00. ARZA-Reform’s 55 seats on 38.1% of the vote is six seats less than in the last election.

I have voted for parties or candidates who won under 5% of the vote before, but I think this is actually the first time I have ever voted for my sincere partisan choice and been represented. Quite democratically liberating, actually. Even the Green Zionist list was represented, with 2 seats (up from 1) on 1.3% of the vote!