By Moshe Klein
For the Mitzpeh
Recently, renowned Israeli author and peace activist Ari Shavit came to speak at the University of Maryland Hillel. He spoke of the importance of the Jewish narrative, especially regarding the Jewish indigenous claim to the land, the Jewish obligation to universal human rights – including Palestinian – and the importance of seeing the conflict through more creative, non-binary, outside-the-box paradigms. I was completely enamored. I loved it. Nuance and complexity are hard to find on often polarizing college campuses, but this was the type understanding I was looking for.
I finally found someone who understands how the current military occupation in Judea and Samaria oppresses Palestinians on a daily basis, and who, at the same time, believes in the Zionist dream. I finally found someone who believes in the idea of Jewish indigeneity. In the idea that Jews are not simply colonizers in a foreign land, but that the Jews, after being exiled for two thousand years, have finally returned to their homeland.
Someone who understands that Palestinians have legitimate rights to their homes as well. I finally found someone who, in the words of famed psychologist Stephen Covey, isn’t afraid to think “win-win,” and change the seemingly binary paradigms of the conflict. I finally found someone who is a true Jewish humanist, a person who believes in the rights of all people to morally and fully live their people’s true aspirations regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs.
I was listening to his encouraging and optimistic recipe for peace when he began to talk of his pragmatic steps. I was shocked. The exact ideals he listed in his introduction were thrown out the window. His steps contradicted his very own beliefs. These steps involved ending all settlement construction in the West Bank and a commitment to a “two-way” solution. Yet, he advocated for a fulfillment of the Jewish narrative.
Now, I am no radical, and I believe that it is never morally justified to kick out people from their homes. I also believe it is never morally justified to infringe on another’s rights for the sake of one’s own. However, regardless of one’s personal opinion on the settlements, historically, resettling the land of the Judea and Samaria is an integral component of any Jewish narrative.
When I asked him about this, he attempted to make the case that resettling the land outside the West Bank fulfills this narrative, however, that answer simply ignores historical context. Shavit attempts to make the case that Zionism started in the building of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Yet, when we look throughout Jewish history in Israel, an overwhelmingly significant portion of it occurs in Judea and Samaria.
If anything, Jews have more of a narrative in Judea and Samaria than in Tel Aviv or Haifa. While Tel Aviv and Haifa are incredibly important aspects of the modern state of Israel, to the point of recognizing them as Israeli, but not Hebron or Beit-El, is to recognize Zionism as a form of colonialism. It is to say that the Jewish claim to the land is only based off the last one hundred years of history. If Zionism is based only on the building of the modern state of Israel, then Israelis are just Europeans who colonized Israel. According to Shavit’s approach, Europeans would no longer be considered colonists of the Americas after the 1600s because they had been there for a hundred years. That is simply false, and the European colonists were considered foreigners in a different land for many centuries after. Many Native Americans today still consider Americans European colonists.
Shavit was adamant that he firmly believes that Zionism is not colonialism, and that Zionism is the return of an indigenous people to their land. Yet, he advocates for a “two-way solution.” He calls it “two-way” in an effort to distinguish it from the binary two-state model, but in reality his pragmatic solution is not much different. It is simply a two-state solution with a moderate democratic Jewish state and a moderate democratic Palestinian state. Again, his insistence on a “two-way” model reinforces the Zionism is colonialism idea.
The two-way model implies that Jews and Israelis do not believe they have the right to half the land, never mind the half that is the heart of the country. The concept of true ownership is so universal that it is expressed in the Bible with King Solomon. Two women once came to King Solomon both claiming that a baby was rightfully theirs. How did King Solomon know which mother was telling the truth? He asked that the baby be cut in half. When he saw how one woman was fine with it while the other was absolutely mortified, he knew which one was the real mother. Here too, if Jews claim to be Israel’s mother, being indigenous to the region, then offering a “two-way” solution simply contradicts their claim. This does not mean that Jews are the only indigenous people in the land, and respecting those that have lived there for generations is also important.
It is important to note that a two-state solution does not mean that Jews and Israelis don’t value their Jewish indigeneity, but that they value life more. However, unfortunately, giving up the heartland of the Jews only cements a colonialist narrative. If it is really important for Shavit to express that Zionism is not colonialism, then he must support a Jewish narrative that supports the idea of indigeneity. Even though it starts as an attempt to save Jewish lives, it results in only furthering a conflict that is perpetuated by the notion that Israelis are colonialists.
Therefore, denying that Judea and Samaria are an important aspect of the Jewish narrative shows a misunderstanding of Jewish history and the Jewish narrative. Shavit simply cannot claim that he truly believes in the fulfillment of the true Jewish narrative and Zionism while taking steps in the other direction. He cannot talk about Jewish Zionism and indigeneity while he advocates for actions that show the opposite. He has a beautiful and optimistic recipe for peace, yet it seems like he himself does not follow it.
One response to all these allegations is that he is just being pragmatic. This is absolutely true. His approach is one of the more nuanced options in current Israeli discourse. However, if he is realistic he needs to alter his ideals. When his approach directly contradicts his very own ideals, then the ideals he proposes are pointless. If he was really thinking outside the box, as he eloquently claims is so important, then why not find a way to realize his ideals pragmatically. Is that not the whole point of reframing the issue outside of a binary perspective?
When I asked him about this, he said that we must forfeit the claim to the Judea and Samaria in order to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. He claims, and rightfully so, that according to demographics, if Israel were to integrate the West Bank as part of the land, Palestinians would capture half of the Knesset. However, this simply exemplifies his lack of outside-the-box thinking. Shavit encourages non-binary thinking, yet the only options he expresses are a one-state democracy or a two-state democracy. He himself is trapped in binary thinking.
I do not claim to have the answer to the conflict, nor do I claim that I have a comprehensive third option. However, Shavit’s own advice is about breaking away from this binary mold. Shavit would advocate for seeking outside-the-box third options, and would encourage people to keep looking for win-win solutions. If Shavit truly believed in paradigm-shifting thinking, he would not be trapped in this lose-lose paradigm in which we either forfeit land or lose the Jewish state. If he truly believed in alternative peaceful solutions that acknowledged that failings of both the left and the right, then he would seek possibilities that enabled all people to fully live their narrative.
I hold the utmost respect for Shavit, but in this case, his ideals and advice work against his actual solutions. He fails to follow his own recipe. Hopefully, using Shavit’s formula, we can truly construct a harmonious vision, and use his optimism to find alternative ways to make peace in Israel truly possible without having to disenfranchise anyone. Some may call me delusional, but I am just following Shavit’s own advice – I’m finding new ways to look at the conflict.