Fundamentally Freund: Atoning for the land

This past week contained two significant anniversaries, both of which underline how we have not shown enough appreciation or love for the holy soil upon which we tread.

311_Army chick praying (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
311_Army chick praying
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It is the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Naturally, it is a time of reflection, a period when each of us is called upon to examine our deeds and confront the reality of our own foibles and failings.
Few of us can claim to be living up to the ideals that we often set for ourselves, as life is often fraught with setbacks and challenges. But our tradition teaches that we must never despair, nor forgo the opportunity to continually strive and improve ourselves.
What is true for individuals is no less true for a nation, and it is time for us to come to terms with an uncomfortable and embarrassing truth: We need to atone for our treatment of this very special land.
Ever since the miraculous events of the 1967 Six Day War, successive governments have turned their backs on various parts of our historic patrimony, treating them as little more than bargaining chips or mere real estate. In just the past few decades, Israel has turned over Sinai, withdrawn from Gaza, retreated from parts of Judea and Samaria and offered to cede control over eastern Jerusalem.
However well-intentioned it may have been, this steady march of capitulation has brought the nation little more than a bitter dose of violence and bloodshed. And it has been an affront, a vulgar insult, to the land itself.
INDEED, THIS past week contained two significant anniversaries, both of which underline how we have not shown enough appreciation or love for the holy soil upon which we tread.
The first was on Monday, which marked 17 years since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, when Israel undertook to hand territory over to the Palestinians. That dreadful deal laid the groundwork for the return of the PLO, and set off a wave of terror and bloodshed that was unprecedented in Israel’s modern history.
Nearly two decades later, we are still grappling with the consequences, which now see a fundamentalist Hamas regime in Gaza and a hostile Palestinian Authority leadership ensconced in Ramallah.
Thanks to Oslo, phrases such as “bus bombing” and “suicide attack” entered into our political and security lexicon, and thousands of Israelis lost their lives.
The deal itself was a watershed event, signifying a fateful attempt by the government to turn its back on Jewish history by ignoring Jewish destiny. Not surprisingly, it brought nothing but disaster in its wake.
But there was another, no less painful, commemoration this week, marking an event that should be seared in the consciousness of everyone who witnessed it. It was exactly 10 years ago yesterday, on the Hebrew calendar, that the IDF withdrew from Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, in one of the most humiliating scenes in the nation’s modern history.
The move came after Palestinian policemen and Fatah terrorists launched a coordinated assault on the sacred burial ground of our biblical forebear. Displaying their customary respect for Jewish holy sites, the attackers had surrounded the compound, strafed it with automatic-weapons fire and attempted to seize it by force.
Rather than standing firm in the face of the onslaught, then-prime minister Ehud Barak issued an astonishing order for the IDF to pull out under fire and surrender territory to the Palestinians as a direct result of violence.
Rarely has a country’s shame been on such public display. Can you imagine the British army abandoning Westminster or the US Marines fleeing the Washington Memorial? That shameful retreat embodied the new-found disregard for the land that has unfortunately taken root among many of our decision-makers. It has continued into the present, whether in the form of freezing Jewish construction, or even discussing the possibility of dividing the land.
BUT IT doesn’t have to be this way. If Yom Kippur teaches us anything, it is the power of repentance, the ability that we have to erase the sins of our past through a series of corrective measures.
We too must now repent, not only for our individual wrongdoing, but for our failure to cherish and safeguard this land. As a first step, let’s stop referring to these areas as “territories” or “the West Bank,” and start using their ancient and historical names instead: Judea and Samaria. That is how the Bible refers to them, and how our ancestors knew them.
And let’s show a greater deal of respect for our natural resources, from forests to water to our coastline, preserving and maintaining their wholesomeness and purity. That, too, is a sign of admiration and reverence.
But perhaps most importantly, we can show how much we love this little corner of the Middle East by filling every available hilltop with Jews and reinforcing our presence here. A good place to start would be with Joseph’s Tomb, where we must right the historical wrong that was done a decade ago and reassert full control.
Doing so will send a message to our enemies that we shall never again retreat, and that we will defend our right to live and worship in this land as we see fit.
Toward the end of Deuteronomy (chapter 32), God promises to “render atonement to His land and His people.”
Sometimes, it would seem, it is through the land that our sins can be expiated, by building, nourishing and cherishing it.
But just as the land atones for us, so too must we now atone for it. So let’s toss aside any ideas of withdrawal, and reaffirm our determination to cling to it.