During my annual book review for the Sisterhood of Temple Concord, I reviewed a work written in the 1990s, “From a Sealed Room” by Rachel Kadish. The novel, most of which took place in Israel, ended on an optimistic note since a peace treaty was signed shortly after the events took place. Looking back more than 20 years later, I realized how that optimism was not exactly unfounded, but rather never fully realized.
As I write this, a peace plan by President Donald Trump is being revealed. I don’t plan to talk about the specifics because I haven’t looked at them closely. I do know that some are praising the plan, while others condemn it. That’s actually to be expected. Everything our current president does raises emotions – good and bad. I would actually love the plan to succeed because what matters is not whether you are a fan of the president, but that the endless waste of life on both sides ends.
I won’t feel optimistic about this or any other plan, though, unless they take into account a fundamental problem: two groups of people claim the same land. Please understand that I am a Zionist and a supporter of the state of Israel, even when I disagree with the politics of any particular administration. But it came to me as I was reading commentary on the Bible portion Shelach Lecha (Numbers 13) that the Israelites who left Egypt faced a similar problem when they approached the Promised Land. The Israelite spies thought they would never be able to conquer Canaan. Why? Because they were afraid of the inhabitants of the land.
What struck me about this is that those spies recognized something that the original Zionists did not: That the land was inhabited. Not only were people already living there, but that they had been living there for generations, and loved and felt as connected to the land as we Jews have. I am not denying the Jewish attachment to the land: the cry “next year in Jerusalem” at the end of the Passover seder raises great emotion in many of our hearts. That land is our holy land and I feel a religious connection to it. And throughout the centuries, there have always been Jews living in what is now called Israel; the various expulsions did not force every Jew from their home.
However, I also recognize that many non-Jews – Muslims, Christians, Druze, etc. – who called Palestine their home found it hard, if not impossible, to accept that their land was now going to be part of a Jewish state. I don’t want to argue about what these people should be called. After all, before 1948, no one was called Israeli, so I’m fine with a people’s self-definition as Palestinian. Something new began in 1948, something I consider a miracle – a safe place for Jews if they are persecuted or expelled from their homes, something that has happened far too many times over the centuries.
But I also understand that others didn’t rejoice when Israel became a state. Until we find a way to change the way they feel about Israel, I fear there won’t be peace. Jews over the centuries seemed to accept exile, but, as the state of Israel shows, the desire for a homeland remained. The desire we feel is not unique to Jews. So, no matter what proposal is made, I fear that it will not result in peace. I so, so hope that I am wrong. I hope and pray for the day that there will be peace across the globe – across Israel and for all the inhabitants of every land. May we see it in our lifetime.