In recent days, after the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah union, Israel was quick to announce new building projects in Jerusalem and Judea. Immediately, this was interpreted as revenge and punishment for Palestinian misdeeds.
A New York Times headline screamed: “Israel expands settlements to rebuke Palestinians,” and the article itself was even harsher: “Israel says it is moving ahead with the planning and construction of hundreds of Jewish settlement homes, as retaliation against the Palestinian government... By presenting the new building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a punishment over the newly constituted government of the Palestinians, who regard that territory as theirs for part of a future state, Israel set itself further apart from international consensus and drew criticism from foreign allies, including Britain, France and the US.”
So the three key words that describe Israel’s building efforts are “rebuke,” “retaliation” and “punishment.”
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel’s own comments concerning the matter were cited as supposed proof that Israel is building just to spite the Palestinians. Ariel said: “I congratulate the decision to give a proper Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian terror cabinet.”
Now, did you hear Ariel say “rebuke” or “retaliation?” Did he present the building as a “punishment?” No, he said “proper response” (in Hebrew, teshuva holemet). But response does not mean punishment! For example: are first-responders, first-punishers? When a child is waiting for a response from a parent, is she waiting only for a punishment? What Ariel meant by “proper response” is simple: Just as the newly empowered Hamas wishes to destroy the Jewish state (“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it” – Hamas charter) Israel’s answer to that challenge is to keep building, and keep living.
Instead of punishment, the term “proper response” in this case was meant to be a life-affirming reaction, and the rest of Ariel’s statement makes that clear: “The right and duty of the State of Israel to build across the country in order to lower the housing prices is unquestionable, and I believe these tenders are just the beginning.” Does lowering the price of apartments sound like a punishment, retaliation or rebuke? Obviously not, but that was somehow missed by The New York Times.
This may seem like semantics, but underneath these semantics lies the very heart of the war against Israel.
To impute motives of retribution for Israeli building is to subtly undercut and distort the real motivation that Jews have in the Land of Israel in the first place. Israel is not building houses and kindergartens, getting married and having babies, as a punishment for any action or non-action of any other country, people or entity.
We are having babies and building in our capital city, Jerusalem, and in our ancestral highland, Judea, because, for us, it is the most natural and organic thing to do.
Recently, on Jerusalem Day, I saw myriads of young people descend on the Western Wall Plaza. This display always fills me with hope and I commented to my wife how amazed I am every time I see the sheer number of young Israelis. My wife shared my feeling and threw out: “We have not had the opportunity to procreate like this in a very long time…” I thought about that comment and realized how very true it was. We are finally home, and feel at liberty to have children, build houses and spread out – all in the safety of our land, our language, our culture, our army and our state.
Not everyone sees it that way, and fewer still are willing to portray it that way. Instead, the challengers of Israel attempt to create a sinister narrative, one which replaces the organic connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel with, in this case, a petty drive for rebuke, retaliation and punishment of Palestinians. Not unlike those classic anti-Semitic cartoons which show Jews as conniving Shylocks, this New York Times article depicts Israel as a bloody, vengeful land-grabber.
A similar attempt to undermine the true motivations of Jewish yearning for the Land of Israel was attempted by former US president Jimmy Carter, who wrote in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid: “‘Apartheid’ is a word that is an accurate description of what has been going on in the West Bank, and it’s based on the desire or avarice of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land.” Avarice, of course, means greed and thus, according to Carter, there is a minority of greedy Jewish conniving Shylocks who want to steal Palestinian land.
So forget the biblical connection, forget King David, forget the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Western Wall, forget the uninterrupted presence of Jews here, forget the constant yearning for the land, forget the last 500 years of resettlement in Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron, forget San Remo and the League of Nations that recognized Israel’s right to the land, and of course, forget the wars that were forced upon Israel. Carter wants us all to believe that the real reason Jews desire to live in Jerusalem is greed.
At first blush, it is easy to argue that these are merely transparent propagandist efforts that have no hold in reality.
To depict the Jewish people as having no other motivation but greed is nonsense when you take into account our historical connection to the land, and at the same time take into account the vastness of the Arab world – 22 countries in this region – as opposed to Israel’s one small parcel.
It is also far-fetched to depict building in Jerusalem and Judea as rebuke, retaliation, and punishment, because it is merely healthy natural growth – which, by the way, benefits the socioeconomics of Arabs, from builders to service providers, to the simple real estate value of neighboring Arab communities.
So can we just forget these ludicrous barbs? Not so fast. When Israel’s leadership embraces the two-state concept, the Jewish people’s claims to the land suddenly ring hollow. This is because to the Middle Eastern mind, land is everything, and if one is willing to give up land, there could be only two reasons: he is either a thief or a coward. If the Jews are willing to negotiate on land, it must be that its not really theirs, and if it is not really theirs, then why do they claim it? Because of greed, because of punishment.
Indeed, in a world saturated by media, you better have your narrative straight.
Be wishy washy, and the haters will poke holes in your message, and rebrand it as proof of your hypocrisy and lying. They will then take their skewed message to the world and splash it all over The New York Times. When a young Jew or gentile riding the New York City subway reads the headline, “Israel expands settlements to rebuke Palestinians,” he will then believe it.
That is why I lament Housing Minister Ariel’s words – only because they could be misinterpreted and misrepresented.
Building in Jerusalem is not a “proper response” to “the establishment of the Palestinian terror cabinet.” Building in Jerusalem is simply the healthy natural act of a sovereign nation on its ancestral land, and it will benefit Jews and Arabs, and all those who actually want to live in peace.
There is no small-minded tit-for-tat in the rebuilding of the long-awaited Jewish state, and we must strive to make the message of our organic relationship to this land resonate louder.
The writer is Israel’s only English-language talk show host on broadcast radio (Galey Israel FM), the director of programming at the forthcoming Voice of Israel broadcast network and a graduate of the Cardozo School of Law.