Peace in Israel Today

Roger Cohen:

LONDON — Let’s say a few unsayable things. It’s worth doing because no Middle East peace is going to be built on coy evasions, competitive victimhood or wishful thinking.The first unsayable thing is that there is no “right of return” in history. Life moves on; it does not double back.

Turks are not returning to Greece. Greeks are not going back to Turkey. Germans are not going back to Wroclaw and Gdansk. Jews are not returning to Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and all the other Arab cities from which hundreds of thousands of them had to flee after 1948. And millions of Palestinian refugees are not going back to Haifa, Jaffa and the many destroyed villages from which their forbears were driven in Israel’s war of independence….

The land that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River has to be divided between a Jewish and a Palestinian state if the two peoples are to live in peace.

That is what the United Nations resolution of November 29, 1947, called for — the partition of Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish, one Palestinian, with international oversight of the holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Some 55 percent of the territory was to go to Israel and 42 percent to Palestine, with the balance under U.N. trusteeship….

Palestinians are not going away any more than the state of Israel. Endless dominion over a fast-growing Palestinian population will corrode and sap Israel over time. The state will cease to be Jewish or it will cease to be democratic; already the damage of a 45-year occupation shows in a surge of nationalistic intolerance. An Israel that condemns another people to permanent oppression is not the one its founders imagined.

Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begins with acceptance that there is no just outcome, none. Enough Jews and Arabs have died trying to prove the rightness of their cause. Jewish and Arab narratives will never coincide. The Holocaust and the Nakba will always be dueling tragedies. But peoples with different views of history can decide to put the future first. Europeans have learned since 1945 that imperfect compromise was the only way out of the destructive spiral….

Here is another unsayable thing: the one-state idea, aired with ever-greater frequency, is a nonstarter. The notion of a single multi-ethnic Holy Land, a kind of United States on the Med, may sound comforting, ethical and logical. But it would mean the end of the Jewish state of Israel; the Jews are not going to allow that to happen. Trust your neighbor? Been there, tried that, didn’t work….

Israel’s Founding Charter of 1948 bears repetition and deep reflection. The new state, it said, will be “founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace in the spirit of the visions of the Prophets of Israel; will implement equality of complete social and national rights for all her citizens without distinction between religion, race and gender; will promise freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

These words reflect a phrase repeated in the Mosaic books: “You were exiled in order to know what it feels like to be an exile.” Jews, having been strangers in a strange land, having been dispersed over millennia, were required to identify with those on the outside, with those who are different. Or as Rabbi Hillel put it: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary.”

What Israel is doing to Palestinians under occupation is incompatible with the essence of Jewish teaching and experience. What Palestinian leaders are doing by perpetuating the myth of “the right of return” amounts to a betrayal of their children.

It is not easy to say the unsayable, but what the Middle East needs is true leaders capable of doing just that for the paramount cause of peace.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • BradK

    If “[t]he state will cease to be Jewish or it will cease to be democratic” and “[t]rust your neighbor? Been there, tried that, didn’t work” are both true, then a solution will be impossible. It may be overly idealistic, but if the idea of a one state solution is impossible, then a real solution is impossible. Anyone who can read a map can see that a two state solution like what the U.N. partition plan calls for is untenable. Those kind of boundaries do not result in two countries, but rather a mess. It seems that a single state with a constitution guaranteeing certain basic rights, especially including religious freedom and tolerance, combined with two houses of government, one Jewish and one Palestinian, could somehow work. But that assumes that humans can actually rise above history and ethnic and religious differences. Again, it’s probably overly idealistic. But other proposed solutions are as well.

    Maybe it is unfortunate that TransJordan wasn’t part of the partition plan as the part of the Mandate to be given to the Arab people with the current land in dispute given to the Jewish people. That would have been painful initially, but might have prevented a lot more pain over the past 100 years or so…

  • Patrick

    Nice article. Mainly agree.

    Because Muslims see Palestine as holy land, I fear the problem will never go away. Many Jews in Israel are not religious, so they’ll make some compromises. They would not have in 500 BC. That’s how Islamic folks view “the holy land”.

    It really is holy to them. The ground is holy, it was to Jews in 500 BC.

    There’s a story about Namaan the Syrian general. Notice a tiny detail. Namaan loves and worships Yahweh, but, he’s a Syrian so he must leave Israel. What does Namaan ask for ?

    Bags of Israel’s land in dirt form. He takes the “holy land” with him. That’s how Muslims see it now.

    Tough nut to crack there.

  • Dave Leigh

    I have just read two books by Dr. Gary Burge, of Wheaton College, that I highly recommend on this topic:

    Jesus and the Land
    http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Land-Testament-Challenge-Theology/dp/0801038987

    Whose Land? Whose Promise?
    http://www.amazon.com/Whose-Land-Promise-Christians-Palestinians/dp/0829816607

    In my opinion, every Christian should read these books before taking sides in the Israel-Palestine debate.

  • EricW

    Jews and Muslim Arabs will live side-by-side in peace only if their respective countries/states/nations are separated by an ocean.

    True dat.

  • Roger

    EricW #4 and many others who believe Jews and Arabs can’t live together in relative peace….

    1) From the article: Jews are not returning to Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and all the other Arab cities from which hundreds of thousands of them had to flee after 1948.
    Question: How were Jews and Arabs/Muslims able to live together in relative peace in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and all other Arab cities prior to 1948?

    2) We often fail to realize that there are over 1 million Arabs/Muslims living in Israel today (yes, on the “wrong” side of the separation barrier!! They live in relative peace (even as less than first class citizens!) among the majority Jewish population in Israel.

    The idea that Jews and Arabs can’t live close to each other is a self-perpetuating myth. The more walls and settlements are built to separate people who can supposedly never get along the more anger and resentment are stirred and the myth grows more true.

    Speaking of the separation wall, which is credited with stopping the horrible suicide bombings. Has anybody ever explained how it was so well positioned that all the suicidal terrorists are enclosed on one side of the wall (West Bank, Gaza Strip) and apparently not a single one among the 1+ million *Arabs* on the other side (Israel)? Obviously divine inspiration, I guess.

  • EricW

    The reason I said what I did is that in a democratic Jewish-Arab state or in two side-by-side states, there will always be efforts by Muslims to overthrow the Jews, whether by violence or by overpopulating the nation so as to eventually vote out the Jews. Muslim population growth and secular Jewish non-population growth (and the majority of Jews in Israel are secular and atheistic, and abortion is frequently practiced, per an Israeli pro-life person I know) will ensure the end of a Jewish State eventually. Jews cannot give parity to non-Jews and maintain a Jewish State. And Islam contains within itself too much of a jihad against Jews to let them live in peace, as long as there is Koranic Islam. Or so I think.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I think there may be a missing element from Cohen’s analysis which further destabilizes the region, if I’m recalling my studies of Middle East geo-political and tribal situations well. Wherever Palestinians have fled during the various wars and occupations — to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and other places within the Middle East — they have not been fully welcomed, at least when I was studying this until I went to seminary in the 90′s. They weren’t assimilated into local populations. In other words, many have maintained refugee status in semi-permanent settlements. As you can imagine, where one is not accepted as fellow citizen by the locals, the yearning to return to “what was” is all the stronger. The societal displacement does not heal. I recall the “myth of return” as sometimes being used to soothe the unrest in such settlements.
    Can anyone else contribute more info of the current economic/social/political situation w/ long-term displaced Palestinians outside of Israel-West Bank-Gaza?

  • phil_style

    @EricW
    Muslim population growth and secular Jewish non-population growth (and the majority of Jews in Israel are secular and atheistic, and abortion is frequently practiced, per an Israeli pro-life person I know) will ensure the end of a Jewish State eventually. Jews cannot give parity to non-Jews and maintain a Jewish State. And Islam contains within itself too much of a jihad against Jews to let them live in peace, as long as there is Koranic Islam.

    this seems to be based entirely on the assumption that there are only two people groups: 1. Jews, and 2. Muslims. This assumption is false.

  • Patrick

    Dave,

    I share Professor Burge’s views contained in his book.

    My take is if Jews want to live there, it’s up to them to hack it w/o our involvement, same with the local Arabs. Our involvement is causing lots of problems to the Arab body of Christ.

    I was blind to them for a long time, no more.


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