The Case for Israel Revisited, Part II
(With apologies to Frank Gervasi)
By A. D. Freudenheim

7 October 2000

In 1967, in the aftermath of the 6 Day War, reporter Frank Gervasi published The Case For Israel. Exploring the aftermath of Israel's three major wars to date, Gervasi sought to position Israel as part of a reality that, by late-1967, the Arab states were only just beginning to accept as permanent. From his vantage point at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Gervasi wrote that if the Arabs were serious in their demands for the return of the West Bank and other territories, "then it would behoove them to move quickly from belligerency to peace."[1]

These days, things look quite different. The belligerence in the region in the last few weeks has been largely the product of the Israelis. It is now they - the established power, no longer a country of struggling refugees in the shadow of the Holocaust - who must move quickly, to achieve and cement peace with the Palestinians. Israel must do this not just in order to provide its citizens with the opportunity to live a life free of war, but in order to achieve, finally, the acceptable moral position that it has asserted since its establishment in 1948.

A nation-state whose existence derived from the belief that in order to have true self-determination, the Jews must have a political entity and land of their own, Israel was established as exactly that: a "Jewish state." That phrase embodies not only the political need for independence, but the religious obligations inherent in accepting the mantle of Judaism. According to Jewish law, these include the responsibility to treat all human life with respect, to treat the strangers in your midst as you yourself would wish to be treated, and an admonition against the abuse of power, both physical and psychological.

For too long, Israel has been allowed to have it both ways, desiring acceptance in the community of nations as a free and open democracy, while brutally oppressing its minorities, and striking out at its neighbors - actions that are distinctly in violation of Jewish law. A truly Jewish state cannot blatantly disregard Jewish law, which makes no distinction between the value of a Jewish life and the value of any other. A truly Jewish state cannot refuse to recognize its power over others, and must accept that it should wield that power only in self-defense. A truly Jewish state must acknowledge its moral responsibilities and seek to lead other nations to peace, not away from it.

Israelis would say now, as they have in the past, that they are only protecting themselves; that they are acting in self-defense; that the Palestinians, given an inch, will instead try to grab a mile; and that the Palestinians do not respect human life or the rule of law. These are poor excuses. Israel must recognize that it is no longer an aggrieved nation. The current fighting began not with a Palestinian attack on Israeli sovereignty, but with a foolish display of Israeli hubris on the part of one of its leaders. It was a deliberate provocation. Today, the Palestinians took provocative actions of their own, destroying the Jewish holy site of Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, after the Israeli's withdrew from the area. Now especially, Israel must resist the urge to retaliate.

That the Palestinians have jumped at the opportunity to "protest" is undeniable. Nor can the Palestinians be absolved of their own moral responsibilities, to respect human life and to seek peace. But for now, Israel bears the greater responsibility because it has the greater assets. It must not be scared of its superior strength: it must acknowledge and respect it. Does it need to send overwhelming force to stop protestors? No one, least of all the Palestinians, doubts Israel's capability for war. Israel should step back from this current round of fighting, making a clear statement that it will not be provoked. It must acknowledge its responsibility for escalating the hostilities and for killing its weaker neighbors. Israel must not only appear contrite - it should be so. For years it has proved itself an embarrassment to the very notion - the very Jewish notion - of "human rights." Now is the time for the State of Israel to acknowledge what that concept means, to strive to live up to the high moral position it has claimed for itself and of which it is not only worthy, but is, in fact, quite capable.

Part I

[1] Gervasi, Frank: The Case for Israel, New York: Viking, 1967. P. 173

Copyright 2000, by A. D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired!