History is a mess. It's filled with bad acts, feeding anger and demands for revenge, as well as lots of myths, half-truths, and just plain lies.
Napoleon provided his share, as well as the line that history was myth that people firstname.lastname@example.org
Jews have been creators and victims.
There aren't many stories that have affected more intense feelings, politics, and violence than what the Jews wrote years ago. At issue are both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, both of them attributed to Jewish literacy. Those who created the New Testament were rebels, but nonetheless Jews writing and acting against a Judaic establishment. The phenomenon has occurred on numerous occasions.. The creation of non-Orthodox Judaisms, as well as the earlier blossoming of Hasidism are part of the same story.
Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament provide us with thrilling stories that believers employ to embellish their feelings about the Almighty and promise personal fulfillment. That details of the text and endless expansions and commentaries defy belief does not minimize their spiritual power. Among the most problematic are the delivery of the Torah in the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament stories of virgin birth and resurrection.
Prominent among the portions that create problems for us all are the Promise of Land in the Hebrew Bible, and the rebels' numerous assertions against the Judaic establishment in the New Testament.
The Promised Land has fed hope for a people persecuted and without a land of their own, but sharing it with others has been a source of violence.
The Book of Judges, the history written by Josephus, and our own experience tells that that the land always been shared.
"Shared" refers only to there being non-Jews close by Jews. The word does not describe any level of accommodation, which we can assume was occasional, perhaps typical, but also with periods of violent confrontation.
The latter day claim that Jews took their Promised Land from others stands as one of the most contentious of issues responsible for its own cluster of violence, still ongoing.
It would require us to work until deliverance, assuming there is anything to that concept, to sort out and settle who did what with respect to where we and our adversaries are currently residing.
People have moved since the beginning of time.
Scholars parse hints in the Hebrew Bible for the creation from a variety of sources of the people initially called Hebrews, then Israelites, and later Jews.
Israel's Jews and those calling themselves Palestinians can find roots somewhere else. Lots of both arrived from other places, beginning in the latter part of the 19th century. Also in the picture is a substantial Jewish community and institutions in centuries past. Who can claim priority bears no greater authenticity than any other ethnic group's claims in any other part of the world.
It is one of history's great ironies that one source of anti-Semitism is what rebellious Jews wrote about other Jews in the first century. Yet we can't blame all of anti-Semitism on the New Testament. Josephus' Against Apian shows the sentiments well established in the first century community of Greeks in Alexandria, most likely before Christians came with their stories.
The label of "anti-Semitism" has its own history. It became popular only in the 19th century, long after the New Testament, the rampages of Crusaders through Jewish communities on their way to the Holy Land, and later pogroms in Europe and the Middle East. It also provides a slippery escape for the current generation's most rabid anti-Semites, who claim that they can't be anti-Semites, because they, too, are Semites.
Noting the flabbiness in ancient documents and their spirituality does not get in the way of an active defense against those who begin from their own myths, and incite themselves to serious threats.
The Palestinian narrative--that they were always here, and that the Jews took it from them as emissaries of European and American colonialists--serves them well among Muslims and among westerners (including numerous Jews) inclined to believe evil about the Jews. Bits of every myth fit more or less with conventional historical research, including both the stories of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, as well as what the Palestinians are teaching in their schools.
Palestinians are no more united than any other group of people claiming common origins. Warfare between extended families resembles the mythic American stories of Hatfields and McCoys.
An Arab friend living in an upscale Arab neighborhood says that he fears going out at night on account of gunfire between neighbors.
People calling themselves Arabs distinguish themselves from Bedouin, Muslims from Christians, Israeli Arabs coming from the north from those who've resided some time in Jerusalem or the West Bank, and all of them from the Druze.
We needn't join the shouting about myths, distortions, and what's true or not in order to justify where we are, and to defend what we have created.
This little place has much that is worthy of defense. Its history up until a minute ago demonstrates that the defense must be active, and occasionally aggressive. We don't have to believe what is said to have happened millennia or even decades ago to be concerned that what happened last week does not occur again or become more destructive..
Israelis tell true stories of coming from misery in Europe or the Middle East to virtually nothing, creating a vibrant democracy and successful economy. Israeli leaders have reached out to competitors for this space with ideas of compromise several times, and have been rejected. Yet we're blamed for the impasse. Respected journalists for the BBC and CBS headline stories about Palestinians being killed, without giving similar attention to the Jews those people were attacking. Arab Members of Knesset join Palestinian leaders in mourning murderers, and honoring them as martyrs. Kids of 11 and 13 set out to kill. Saturday's radio asked the public to help the police locate an angry Arab boy who ran away from home, taking a knife and saying he would kill himself or someone else. The police asked the public to inform about seeing anyone fitting his description, but warned us to take care.
Palestinian officials of the West Bank have wasted so much of the money received from European, American, and Muslim donors that 200,000 of their residents travel daily for work with Israeli employers. Donors have provided only a fraction of what they promised for rebuilding damage in Gaza, at least partly because the Gazans are spending all available resources to rebuild and extend tunnels meant to attack Israel. Thousands of buildings remain unrepaired from the last confrontation, and from those before that.
The sounds of digging tunnels close to or even over the border are prompting Israelis of various political factions to mumble about, and maybe plan a preemptive strike. Should that come, Israelis will find themselves condemned yet again as aggressors, or as making a disproportionate response.
On the West Bank, Israel has so far dealt with more than 30 killings of Jews by the limited means of denying killers' family members (brothers, uncles and cousins) permits allowing them to work for Israelis, destroying the homes of immediate family members, sealing off their town, searching for arms and taking those suspected of helping the killers.
If Palestinians escalate we can expect more from Israelis. Depending on how bad it gets, West Bankers may join the flow toward Europe. If they walk through Syria, their exodus will generate stories to compete with those of ancient history.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem