Our link to this land

Can the Twitter generation be tempted to exit cyberspace, put on walking shoes and head out to an archaeological dig?

KKL-JNF (photo credit: KKL-JNF)
(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
Can the Twitter generation be tempted to exit cyberspace, put on walking shoes and head out to an archaeological dig at the site of an ancient Israelite city or visit a museum that documents the ingathering of our people after nearly two millennia of exile?
Can these young virtual explorers be expected to disconnect from the borderless universalism of the Web and reconnect to the cultural particularism and territoriality of their own history and nation?
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government seem to be convinced that teaching the leaders of tomorrow to appreciate their connection to the Land of Israel is not only an educational obligation, but also an existential necessity. We agree.
Symbolically, Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting took place at Tel Hai, the site of a battle 88 years ago during which Joseph Trumpeldor, the Russian Jewish military veteran and indefatigable Zionist, purportedly (new historians shed doubt on this) proclaimed, “Never mind, it is good to die for our country,” before dying of wounds sustained while attempting unsuccessfully to beat back a contingent of Beduin marauders who had come to destroy the fledgling Jewish presence in the northern Galilee.
The centerpiece of Sunday’s meeting was approving a six-year, NIS 600 million plan (one-third of which is to be funded by private philanthropy) called “Strengthening National Heritage Infrastructure.”
The money will be used to refurbish existing historical sites like Tel Hai and to put into digital form a vast body of written, recorded or filmed documentation of national culture to make it more accessible.
Netanyahu had explained the rationale behind the program – which seems at first glance to be difficult to justify from a strictly fiscal perspective – in a speech earlier this month at the Herzliya Conference.
“The guarantee for our continued existence here,” Netanyahu told the conference, “depends not just on advanced weapons systems or the strength of the armed forces, the economy or our ingenuity... It depends on our ability to explain the justness of our cause, to make our ties to this land undeniable, first for ourselves and afterward for others.
“We must remember that if this feeling of direction and purpose is lost, if the wellsprings of spiritual strength become cloudy, our future will be cloudy as well.”
IN THIS post-modernist, post-Zionist era, Israel’s enemies are frighteningly aware of our Achilles heel. Unsurprisingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad consistently ignores the Jewish people’s deep ties to the land of Israel.
“The illegitimate Zionist regime is an outcome of the Holocaust,” he said last year in Teheran on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. “... A political and power-seeking network... ruled that the survivors of this particular group of victims must receive compensation and part of this compensation was to establish the Zionist regime in the land of Palestine.”
But even Israel’s true friends avoid affirming, or forget to affirm, the Jewish people’s deep ties to the land of Israel.
US President Barack Obama, in his speech in Cairo in June titled “A New Beginning,” respectfully detailed the illustrious history of Islam, expressed his firm commitment to Israel,  detailed the history of Jewish persecution in exile culminating in the Holocaust, but failed to mention a central motif in Jewish history: Throughout those long centuries of exile, dispersed among the nations, the Jewish people yearned to return to its land.
Zionism is incomprehensible without acknowledging this. Pre-Holocaust Trumpeldor is just one example.
Another real friend of Israel, Italy’s Prime Minister SilvioBerlusconi, insisted during a visit to Israel earlier this month that“Israel is a part of Europe.” He too mentioned the Holocaust (“after avisit to Auschwitz I said to myself, it is impossible not to beIsraeli”) but nothing about the Jewish people’s historical ties to theland.
Perhaps it is the west’s justifiable feeling of guilt for allowing theHolocaust to take place that pushes it, often, to tie Israel’s right toexist solely to this tragedy.
But another problem, which the government plan aims to remedy, is ourown unfamiliarity – and not just among the Twitter generation – withthe rich cultural, religious and historical heritage tying us to thisland.
And if we are not aware and convinced of our right to return to ourhomeland, how can we expect this from our friends, no matter howwell-meaning?