As the rockets fell, and our forces’ involvement deepened, I wrote one of the “educatees” from my younger youth movement in Los Angeles six plus decades ago, to ask how he and his were faring. He answered with these wonderful words: “For this you convinced me to make aliya?” And then added: “Just kidding.”
After mutual assurances that all were well (in spite of some close calls in Ashdod), he wrote me again: “Land of Milk and Honey and Rockets.”
I am proud of Moti, not so young, and still working in a tourist industry he helped build. I love his sense of humor, alive even in those grim days. So out of respect, I will take his question seriously, even though he was kidding.
First of all, Moti, I may have encouraged you and others to come to Israel – “Make aliya is a barbarism inflicted on the English language – but the young women and men, actually girls and boys, that I worked with then, who built homes and families here, came out of their own deep conviction.
Secondly, Israel was, in the early ’50s, a dream for the future and a memory of the milk and honey of the biblical past. The reality was bad bread and rationed sugar. And hope and happiness that we were fulfilling our ideal of building a Jewish homeland. Did any of us think that six decades later this would be, for most us, a land of milk and honey... and hi-tech? Oh, and recurrent wars as well? Third, Moti, we came because we no longer wanted Jews to be victims. And in spite of the Israelis and Diaspora Jews who cannot shed the habit – the oy veh gevalt! syndrome – and in spite of, and to the chagrin of spokesmen for the anti-Semites in the world from the Left, Right and Center – we are not victims. We are a powerful nation, with powerful friends – some “true friends” and some nations with which we share interests. I prefer friends who also share interests.
To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, two reasons are better than one, for if one fails, the other takes over.
Now, dear Moti, I never doubted that Israel would eventually have peace. Let’s see what you and I and other idealists have learned in our years here.
This is the Middle East. That means it is an area which has seldom seen peace for consecutive decades. It is a conglomeration of tribes and clans, of urbanized, mainly undereducated or unemployed millions, with growing middle, intellectual and scientific classes. And of course, oil wealth. The wars here, since written history began, have been for territory, prestige and religion.
The borders of the existing states are recent: as we have seen in Iraq and Syria, and as we may well see soon in Turkey, are fungible and fragile.
Peace is usually achieved first through a mutual balance of fear – as in the Cold War, when each side realized the atomic potential of the other – or through understanding that mass bloodletting in every generation is inhuman, stupid and degrading. That applies to France and Germany, and possibly – yet to be proven – the European Union. It applies to the Egypt of Anwar Sadat and the Israel of Menachem Begin. This is a key point to understand, and to remember.
Arabs and Jews Probably most Jews, if told they could blink their eyes and the Palestinians would disappear, would blink. Probably most Palestinians and other Arabs, if asked to blink, causing Israel and its Jews to disappear, would do that as well.
Sadat did not join the World Zionist Organization, nor did Begin join the Arab League. They recognized that we had a balance of fear, and fatigue from spilling each other’s blood. They realized that we both are here to stay.
Notice, Moti, I did not say “the Jews” and “the Arabs,” because there are Jews and Arabs who are tired of the bloodletting. But we have false prophets in Israel, who engage in a self-fulfilling prophecy: “There is no partner for peace.”
There is not one partner for peace on the Arab side today. There are many. Again, not because they love us. It is another balance of terror: because of their fear of Iran, of trembling in the face of the Shia advance – (Sunni-Shia bloodshed beginning a few generations after Muhammad has been catastrophic for the Arab and Muslim peoples) – and because of the Islamic State, of Turkish Muslim Brotherhood ambition, of disgust with Hezbollah, and disdain for Hamas. Not least, it is also because President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have diminished US credibility.
Moti, you are from the US. I spent many years working and studying there. We know what a great power the US is. We know that there is mutual military dependence and strategic research interchange, vital to us both.
Israeli leaders must not dis the US and its government.
Agree? Diplomacy is not just leaks to the press and so-called anonymous briefings.
Yes, we know how many Arabs and Muslims have been killed by US and NATO forces. Yes, we know how many Muslims have been killed by Muslims, and how many Africans have either been killed by Muslims or died of starvation.
Yes we are held to a higher standard.
Let us remonstrate, but without self-righteousness and with due modesty. Respect the United States. The American people deserve this. The president and his cabinet officers deserve that disagreements and disputes be handled with delicacy and discretion.
The Middle East is in overwhelming turmoil.
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have proven by commission and omission that they are ready for peace with Israel. The Palestinian Authority, necessarily speaking for the Palestinians, must play that role, though we all know it does not weep for Hamas, but for fellow Palestinians. The European Union, the United States and some Asian countries have helped the PA with nation and state-building projects in many areas of life. President Mahmoud Abbas has taken many risks to come toward us. The Abbas-led PA is a fourth Arab partner for peace.
There is hope, Moti, and we have the strength and brains to do it. We need the will. And in my next column, we can discuss a viable solution. It begins with biblical history and a statement in the Mishna which every starting student in Talmud learns.
So Moti, if I did have a hand in your joining us here, I am proud of that, and of the constructive part we each played in realizing one dream – the return to Zion. Now, let’s dream of – and realize – peace.
Moti Sharon is general logistics manager for a major hotel chain.
Avraham Avi-hai was sent from Toronto to Los Angeles in 1950 to strengthen the three Bnei Akiva groups then functioning in LA. (“Sent” means he was given a one-way rail ticket, and promised a job which never materialized.) Eventually he worked for Israel’s early prime ministers and became a member of the Jewish Agency-WZO executive, as a non-party member, and chairman of World UIAKeren Hayesod.