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  • samchris51

The only resonable option

The news from Israel continues to confuse me and bring me to tears.  News of people dying in Gaza because of the actions of the IDF, people in Gaza having to survive with inadequate food and water, women giving birth under circumstances that put them and their newborn children in danger of dying, people dying in the West Bank because of IDF action, Palestinians and Arabs in Israel being afraid of everyone, anti-Netanyahu demonstration resuming in Israel.    I used to scream, “Make it stop!” at the top of my voice at I am not sure who, and I could feel the anger in my body when I saw the images from Gaza or read the stories of what was happening.  Now, I no longer scream, nor do I feel any anger. I just feel the tears streaming down my face.  Tears for the young and not-so-young IDF soldiers who are witnessing and some among them committing horrific acts believing that they are protecting their beloved Israel, and tears for the victims in Gaza, the West Bank, and inside Israel’s political borders.  And I keep my fingers crossed that the protests will achieve a cease-fire, the release of the hostages, and a positive change in the Israeli government. 

How unsafe Israel had been was tragically revealed on October 7th, when 1,139 people were killed, and Hamas took 248 hostages.  Since then, 527 Israeli soldiers have given their lives in Gaza fighting Hamas, and 2,602 have been injured.  About 370 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, and about 6,000 have been arrested since October 7th in the name of keeping Israel safe. In Israel, hundreds of Arabs and Palestinian Israelis have lost their jobs and been harassed, and some have been arrested on suspicion of supporting Hamas.  This, too, is being justified as measures necessary to keep Israelis safe.  In Gaza, 25,105 Palestinians have been killed while another 62,681 have been wounded, according to the Health Ministry.

Despite all these deaths and all the suffering endured by Israelis and Palestinians, most Israelis do not feel any safer.  In part, this is because their delusionary bubble that held that they could treat Palestinians as if they were buttons on a GO board, which could be moved around with impunity to suit the territorial ambitions of Israel, burst.  Now, instead of taking a step back and reflecting with curiosity about how it finds itself in this situation, Israel is doubling down on the strategies they have used almost from the beginning of the Zionist enterprise.

 What if those who came from Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, in search of a place where they could practice their religion and live according to their ideals without fear of persecution, would have tried from the outset to live in harmony with those who were already on the land.  Most of the newcomers were socialist idealists who wanted to establish egalitarian, self-sufficient agricultural communities in a place far from European Antisemitism.  They did not come to exploit or oppress anyone.  They revived the Hebrew language, restored the depleted soil, and cultivated self-reliance. Some among them were Zionists committed to recreating the Judean Nationality that the Romans had destroyed in AD 70, and it was the Zionists who had the resources to fund and support the agricultural communities. The Zionist vision did not include the Arabs or the Palestinians already on the land. It was focused on establishing a Jewish Majority state, believing that this was the way to ensure that Jews would never again have to fear persecution.  So, beginning with Ben Gurion, Israeli leaders have tried to find a way to remove the Arabs from the land they have claimed for themselves.

Ben-Gurion, in an address to the central committee of the Histadrut on 30 December 1947, stated, “In the area allocated to the Jewish State, there are not more than 520,000 Jews and about 350,000 non-Jews, mostly Arabs. Together with the Jews of Jerusalem, the total population of the Jewish State at the time of its establishment will be about a million, including almost 40 percent non-Jews. Such a [population] composition does not provide a stable basis for a Jewish State. This [demographic] fact must be viewed in all its clarity and acuteness. With such a [population] composition, there cannot even be absolute certainty that control will remain in the hands of the Jewish majority…. There can be no stable and strong Jewish State so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60 percent.” 

On July 12, 1937, Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary about the need to expel the Arabs from the lands he envisioned for Israel: “the compulsory transfer of the Arabs from the valleys of the projected Jewish State…. We have to stick to this conclusion the same way we grabbed the Balfour Declaration, more than that, the same way we grabbed at Zionism itself.” 

The same Ben Gurion also recognized that “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs…They see but one thing: we have come, and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”

“Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … politically we are the aggressors, and they defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country...”  He saw the conflict clearly and articulated it precisely.  For that, I can respect him.

Israel has been committed to the course of action delineated by Ben Gurion in 1937.  Conditions on the ground have changed.  In 1948, Israel was surrounded by hostile states that invaded it immediately upon its declaration of independence.  Today, Israel has diplomatic relations with most of its Arab neighbors: Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco.  In 1948, Israel had a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of some $5,000 in today’s currency; at the end of 2023, the official estimate for Israel's GDP was $431 billion in purchasing power.  By the end of 1948, the Israel Defense Forces had 88,033 soldiers, including 60,000 combat soldiers.  Today, the IDF has 169,500 active-duty soldiers and 465,000 reserve personnel.  As of 2023, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has an annual budget of around $23.6 billion. This is more than the combined military spending of Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, and Jordan.  

According to Wikipedia, “The economy of Israel is a highly developed free-market economy.  The prosperity of Israel's advanced economy allows the country to have a sophisticated welfare state, a powerful modern military said to possess a nuclear-weapons capability with a full nuclear triad, modern infrastructure rivaling many Western countries, and a high-technology sector competitively on par with Silicon Valley. It has the world's second-largest number of startup companies after the United States and the third-largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies after the U.S. and China.  American companies, such as Intel, Microsoft, and Apple, built their first overseas research and development facilities in Israel. More than 400 high-tech multi-national corporations, such as IBM, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Facebook, and Motorola, have opened R&D centers throughout the country. 

Yet Israel persists in clinging to an outdated narrative about itself as a weak power in eternal existential peril from its bigger and stronger neighbors who wish for its demise.  Indeed, Israel is currently fighting nonstate actors Houthis from Yemen and Hezbollah from Lebanon, both aligned with Iran on top of Hamas in Gaza.  This is not sustainable and will likely result in Israel continuing to lose international support for its fight while the Palestinian cause gains support.  In addition, there will be economic consequences as an ever more significant share of the Israeli economy is dedicated to defense, and the number of investors willing to come to Israel will decrease.   Ultimately, it may be that Israel will again become the weaker, poorer state, but at that point, I suggest it will have a great deal of difficulty recruiting allies to its cause and may very well find itself in an existential dilemma. 

It is time Israeli leaders recognized that there is only one way forward that ensures a thriving, prosperous, democratic state in Israel, and that is acknowledging that the future of Israel is inextricably linked to the future of Palestine.  There seems to be no shortage of global and regional supporters for an Israeli initiative that would help identify and support a credible, legitimate, and effective Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate on the rebuilding and subsequent governance of Gaza and the establishment of an autonomous Palestinian state.  Yes, the latter could take time, and during that time, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders should work together to build support among their populations for such a compromise so that when the time came, there would be majority consent among Palestinians and Israelis. Frankly, the alternative is too awful for me to spend much time considering.

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