There Is No Moral Justification for Israel’s Self-Destruction
The recent surge of Palestinian attacks on Israelis — using knives, guns, and, most recently, remotely detonated bombs on buses in Jerusalem — is an extension of the long history of Arab rejection of a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. The question, both in the past and now, is how should Israel respond.
Amos Oz, one of Israel’s greatest writers, addresses this issue in his memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Published in 2004 and translated into 29 languages, the book describes the writer’s life as a boy growing up in Jerusalem in Mandatory Palestine, the trauma of his mother’s suicide, and his decision, at age 14, to change his name (from Klausner to Oz) and join kibbutz Hulda.
Hulda is located in central Israel, close to the West Bank. Between 1948 and 1967, there was no “occupation,” and no Palestinian state. Gaza was administered by Egypt and the West Bank was a part of Jordan. Yet there were frequent cross-border attacks on Israelis, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries.
Toward the end of the memoir, Oz describes a conversation he had with a fellow kibbutznik, Ephraim, while on guard duty during the mid-1950s. When Oz refers to the raiders as murderers, Ephraim replies “Murderers? What d’you expect from them? From their point of view, we are aliens from outer space who have landed and trespassed on their land… Is it any wonder that they have taken up arms against us?” But later, Ephraim adds, “…I am carrying a gun so they won’t kick me out of here the way they kicked me out of everywhere else.” And “Where is the Jewish people’s land if not here? Under the sea? On the moon?”
Oz was widely recognized as a leading Israeli peace activist, a founder of Peace Now, and a chief proponent of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Yet he was no pacifist. He recognized the need for self defense in cases such as attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as the need for a separation wall.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is little difference between Oz’s views and those of one of Israel’s most celebrated soldiers, Moshe Dayan. In 1956, Dayan gave the eulogy at the funeral of a young member of kibbutz Nahal Oz, Ro’i Rotberg, who had been killed and whose body had been mutilated by marauders from Gaza.
The eulogy has become an iconic part of Israeli history. In it, Dayan says, “Yesterday with daybreak, Roi was murdered. The quiet of a spring morning blinded him, and he did not see the stalkers of his soul on the furrow. Let us not hurl blame at the murderers. Why should we complain of their hatred for us? …we have made a homeland of the soil and the villages where they and their forebears once dwelt.” He added, “The millions of Jews, annihilated without a land, peer out at us from the ashes of Israeli history and command us to settle and rebuild a land for our people. But beyond the furrow that marks the border, lies a surging sea of hatred and vengeance…”
Like Amos Oz, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a leading 20th century Jewish-American theologian and civil rights activist, was a promoter of peace and social justice. Yet, on the topic of Israel and self defense, he said: “We have a right to demand, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ We have no right to demand, ‘Love thy neighbor and kill thyself.’ There is no moral justification for self-destruction.”
Some Jews, and many non-Jews, blame the recent attacks by Palestinians on the occupation. Which occupation? Not Gaza. The Israelis disengaged from Gaza in 2005 and it led to Hamas’ rockets. A withdrawal from the West Bank would surely lead to the same.
Israel is fighting for its life; it’s time that the world recognizes that.
Jacob Sivak, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, is a retired professor, School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo