This may be a fool’s errand; an older professor trying to reason with young murderers slashing and shooting innocent teens, commuters, shoppers, pedestrians on the streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere.
But I believe that words matter, ideas count. And, considering that terrorism is violent crime with a political agenda, I am publicly asking young Palestinians who have unleashed this wave of violence against Israeli men, women and children: What are you doing? What do you want? As an American patriot, a liberal democrat and a Zionist, meaning a Jewish nationalist, I understand your frustration. You don’t want to be ruled by Israelis.
You want your own country, your own flag, your own government, your own currency, your own police, your own national holidays. Unlike many of my politically correct colleagues, I see nationalism’s beauty, how it can bring dignity to a people and harness a collective spirit to do great things. But nationalism can also turn toxic, unleashing a collective insanity that destroys lives and civilizations.
My challenge to you, as the future of Palestinian nationalism, as young people who could be embracing inspiring ideals, is: Are you tapping into the best of your national spirit – or the worst? I know it’s not politically correct to say, but your burst of street violence floats on a sea of lies.
There’s the big inflammatory lie that Israel is changing the Temple Mount’s status quo, which started when Israel finally outlawed the groups bullying Christian and Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount.
There’s the Mahmoud Abbas lie that Israel “summarily executed” a Palestinian teenager, Ahmed Manasra, who is alive in an Israeli hospital after critically wounding a 13-year-old Israeli riding his bicycle.
There’s the John Kerry lie that this spate of violence is a response to a “massive increase” in settlements, when there’s been minimal settlement growth.
There’s the Hebron terrorist lie, using press credentials to approach an Israeli soldier.
And there are the media lies, starting with The Independent’s claim that Israelis are suffering from a “spate of alleged stabbings” – if you cut us do we only “allegedly” bleed? Thinking tactically, here’s a reality check. Every person you stab, every bullet you fire, every bomb you detonate, every rock you throw, every innocent life you destroy only strengthens Israel and the Jewish people, making your dream of an independent Palestine the direct victim of your violence.
And beyond your collective future, what kind of present do you want? What kind of Jerusalem do you want to live in? A Jerusalem of suspicion, of fear, of divisions, or one epitomized by the multiplex in Abu Tor, which opened just weeks ago, and welcomes both Arabs and Jews mixing comfortably, easily, peacefully? You are not powerless. Your actions have consequences.
My Jerusalem involves Arabs and Jews mixing freely, commuting on the light rail, eating in the Old Train Station, jogging on the Train Tracks park – take responsibility for the fact that your violence risks ruining all that.
Your violence shows you know nothing about us or our history. We know what it’s like to be beaten, tortured, executed individually and en masse. We have seen it all, endured it all, survived it all. Your strategy of targeting our most innocent at their most vulnerable could not be more counterproductive. It sends us into our trauma vortex, our deepest historical memories that we have sworn never to forget and never to repeat.
Your violence makes us more united, more resolved, more powerful – and, justifiably, less trusting, less cooperative, less open to compromise. Targeting our most vulnerable makes you Amalek, our most hated enemy in the Bible, because these cowards attacked our elderly, our women, our children, not our warriors.
Stabbing and slashing your way through our cities makes you Ukrainian Cossacks and Polish pogromists, rioting with hate in their hearts. Shooting our teachers and rabbis makes you Nazi machine-gunners in the Einsatzgruppen, who killed thousands at a time. And the acrid smell of the explosives you detonate drench you in the stench of Auschwitz.
At the risk of sounding crass, you are pikers in this sick game of Jew-killing. Arabs have slaughtered nearly 25,000 Jews in this century-long deluded attempt to destroy us. That heartbreaking number is less than the 33,000 Jews Nazis murdered in two days in Babi Yar in 1941. You think our love of these lives, our mourning for each lost soul, makes us weak? You don’t understand that it makes us strong, it reinforces our resolve not to be victims, not to repeat history’s mistakes, not to cut and run. Every person I know in Israel who has lost a child, a spouse, a sibling to your bloodlust mourns that lost life intensely but supports the Jewish state’s right to live even more wholeheartedly.
We are not only tired of running, we have nowhere left to run. Europe devoured millions then cheered as the battered survivors left – with occasional pogroms after the Holocaust, reinforcing the Nazi message “Jews get out.” Shortly thereafter, and after the redemptive founding of Israel, Arab and Muslim countries said “Jews get out” too, violently expelling 850,000 Jews from places like Iraq and Egypt, Morocco and Algeria, where we had lived for thousands of years (we could still call them refugees decades later too, but, unlike your leaders, we now call them citizens, helping them integrate and build new lives).
True, there are some welcoming countries like the United States. But during the Holocaust even America was no haven for Jews: that’s the historic role of the Jewish national home, which, I understand, to your sorrow, overlaps with your home too.
So, when you target our bodies you get in response the hard-headed Jew, the traumatized Jew, the steadfast Jew. And many of your leaders, your preachers, your teachers, only choose to see that side of Zionism, making it easier to rile you up, to inspire you to risk your own lives. But those who only see the hard side of Zionism and of Israel are myopic. There’s a soft, liberal, democratic, side too – which your murderous rampages obscure.
Study the Zionist movement. Read Israeli newspapers.
Watch Israelis and their politicians. If you look carefully, openly, without ideological blinders, you will see a way out of our century-long impasse, you will see Zionism’s true welcoming face not just its intimidating mask. Deep within the Zionist movement, and within the Jewish soul, lies a romantic yearning for Arab-Jewish coexistence, cooperation, community.
The Torah, our holy five books of Moses, repeatedly insists that Jews treat others kindly, respectfully, magnanimously remembering how we suffered as strangers in Egypt. In his novel Altneuland, modern Zionism’s founder Theodor Herzl imagined a modern Shangri-La allowing Jews and Arabs to flourish together, with some choosing to live intermingled lives and some living apart in glorious, dignified, mutually-respecting parallel universes.
This duality plays out in a historic pattern that you should learn about in school, instead of being trained to hate and kill and your own chances at a normal life thus destroyed. Again and again, when given an opportunity to compromise, to try normalizing life in this contested area, the overwhelming majority of Jews and our leaders have taken risks for peace. In 1947, Jews accepted a painful partition of Palestine and the internationalization of Jerusalem, hoping for peace. In 1978, Israelis relinquished control of the Sinai to their harshest enemy, the Egyptians, trading a substantial piece of real estate, gambling for peace. In 1993, Israelis turned over control of much of the urban Palestinian population and agreed to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, negotiating for peace. And in 2005, Israelis left Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank, destroying productive settlements built lovingly for civilian use, challenging you to make peace. That most of these compromises and withdrawals, except for the Egyptian peace, resulted in more demonization and more attacks is on your people’s heads, not ours. And even today, despite growing Israeli skepticism about Palestinian intentions – give us a Palestinian Gandhi supported by the Palestinian masses and you’ll get your state.
Recently, on my Facebook page, I saw a picture of a half-dozen Arab and Jewish nurses, in Beilenson Hospital, holding signs in Arabic and Hebrew saying “we refuse to be enemies.” One of those nurses, Edna Avraham, lost her son Benny 15 years ago, when Hezbollah terrorists kidnapped then killed him on Israel’s uncontested border with Lebanon. If Edna’s heart is expansive enough to let you in – is your younger, supposedly more supple heart equally expansive? Despite your narrative of powerlessness and victimhood, you and your peers hold the future of your state in your own hands. The challenge is clear. I ask the same question Israelis and democrats worldwide have been asking you Palestinians for years: are you more committed to building your state or destroying ours? History teaches that if you wish, you could build your state easily. However, no matter how hard you try, our Jewish, democratic state is not getting destroyed.
We’re not going away. Follow Edna’s path, see the true face of Zionism, show a new vision of Palestinian nationalism: it’s time to choose peace and choose life instead of terrorism and death.
The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s which was just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press. A professor of history at McGill University, this is his eleventh book. Follow on Twitter @ GilTroy www.giltroy.com.