Middle Israel: Who is targeting the JNF?

There was a time when Middle Israelis honestly believed in the imminent emergence of a New Middle East.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Like the rest of my circle of Israelis who have seen war as kids and soldiers, and then as undergrads attended peace rallies before establishing families and joining the middle class, I too assumed that Israel's Arabs were part of the solution. We met them on Mount Scopus, in classes and at the dorms, and they seemed like reasonable people, eager like the rest of us to graduate and make the most of themselves. In fact, they reminded us of old Tewfik Toubi, the longtime Knesset member from Nazareth, who once said that his life's tragedy was that his people were at war with his state. The state, he made it plain, was his, warts and all, and such was the consensus among most Israeli Arab leaders. Until September 2000. That month, Israeli Arab mobs stoned passing cars and torched cars, trucks, bus stops, banks, post offices and traffic lights across Galilee. Not only was all that carnage accompanied by the most virulently anti-Israeli rhetoric, it happened while beyond the Green Line the Palestinians were launching the uprising that would later bring half-a-decade of suicide bombings in the thick of pre-'67 Israel. For a moment, Israel was seeing its worst strategic nightmare come true: war from within and without. Israel's response was harsh, and according to the Or Commission excessively so. Yet that's exactly where the real debate, the one involving not the JNF but Israel's Arab minority, becomes so frustrating, for this is where Israel's detractors conveniently change the subject from "why" to "how," from the Israeli Arab plot against Israel to Israel's war against that plot. THE CRUX of the debate is what Israel's Arabs make of the very idea of a Jewish state in the Jews' ancestral land. And our conclusion since fall 2000 has been - as the famously dovish TV journalist Amnon Abramowitz put it at the time - that while pro-Oslo Israelis were devising two states for two peoples, their interlocutors, on both sides of the Green Line, were devising two states for one people - the Palestinians. Tragically, the more we waited for the emergence of prominent Israeli Arab leaders to publicly apologize for their flock's joining an external enemy's attack on the Jewish state - the more we realized such a leader no longer existed. Yes, there are such individuals, perhaps even many, but they refuse to lead. To be leaders, they must take to the town square and confront the fanatics, the way we Israeli moderates have been responding for decades to Jewish zealotry. Instead, the assault on the Jewish state was fully joined by the Israeli Arab community's elected leaders, while down in the field Israeli Arabs increasingly participated in terror attacks, including driving suicide bombers to their destinations and in some cases performing the bombings themselves. Israeli Arab lawmakers have routinely applauded the Palestinian "struggle" against the "occupation," two euphemisms that, as we mainstream Israelis have long learned, mean challenging the Jewish state's right to exist within whatever borders, and backing this aim's promotion even through violence. From here, of course, the road is short to the rest of the trappings of the effort to hammer at the Jewish state, from demanding the abolition of the Law of Return to seeking the alteration of the national anthem and hiding behind a seemingly innocent apron like the quest for a country of all its citizens. As MK Ahmed Tibi put it earlier this decade, "We maintain that the Jewish character of the State of Israel must be abolished." (For a detailed study of the deterioration in Israeli Arab attitudes toward Israel see Dan Schueftan, "Voices of Palestine: The New Ideology of Israeli Arabs," Azure, Winter 2003) The tactics deployed in this well-crafted assault are as simple as they are cunning: diversion and deceit. The diversion is in the systematic changing of the subject from the real aim, which is Israel's extinction, to issues that Jews care deeply about like freedom of expression, right of ownership or equality before the law, and the deceit is in that all this crusading energy disappears once one leaves Israel's borders. Not only do Tibi, Abdul Malik Dahamshe, Muhammad Barakei, Taleb a-Sanaa et al. fail to demand the rest of the Middle East accord its Arab majorities even a fraction of what they demand Israel accord its Arab minority, Tibi even worked formally as Yasser Arafat's adviser while the PLO leader was oppressing and embezzling from his own people. In other words, Israeli Arab leaders hail Western values only when it helps undermine the Jewish state. This is also the context in which the attack on the Jewish National Fund comes. FOUNDED IN 1901 as the Zionist Organization's arm for purchasing real estate in the Promised Land, the JNF epitomized Zionism's unique blending of vision, pragmatism and diligence. The respect with which it treated even a toddler's penny, the enthusiasm with which it embraced even the most forlorn acre of wasteland, and the resourcefulness with which it forested barren mountains and irrigated parched deserts has long unified Jews and inspired environmentalists - and perplexed Arabs. After all, any forest the JNF plants, reservoir it builds or park it develops shows what wonders could be done throughout the Middle East had its leaders been as inspired as the JNF's foresters, hydrologists and landscapers. Sadly, like the bully in the kindergarten, their way to deal with other people's achievements is not by learning from them, but by attacking them. This is why the JNF's portrayal as part of the problem is absurd, as plausible as blaming Pearl Harbor on the provocations of the Delaware Girl Scouts. Never mind that the JNF focuses on land development rather than distribution, which is the Israel Land Administration's task. Never mind also that there is no law in Israel discriminating among its citizens when it comes to land purchases. The JNF is a voluntary organization whose raison d'etre is indeed to make the land of Israel available for Jews. As long as the current Israeli Arab leadership is waging war on the very idea of a Jewish Israel, the JNF's original mission remains morally valid and strategically imperative. There was a time when Middle Israelis honestly believed in the imminent emergence of a New Middle East, one where people, goods, capital and ideas would transcend borders as naturally as they do in North America and Western Europe. We have since been disillusioned - by Middle Eastern despotism, by Palestinian violence and by Israeli Arab deceit. The day when Israeli Jews can roam the Middle East as freely as Italians, Frenchmen and Germans roam Europe, and purchase real estate in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or Syria as freely as New Yorkers do in Ontario, has yet to arrive. In fact, what land we have is under attack. That is why we must continue to physically clutch every inch of what the United Nations said should be ours, and Israeli Arab leaders think should be theirs. And when it comes to clutching this land to the Jews' bosom - no one is better than the JNF. Good thing it's still around. www.MiddleIsrael.com