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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, May 24, 2024

Op-ed: One Jew’s view on the problems of Israel and Palestine

The problems faced by Israel and the Palestinian people seem insurmountable, but for that very reason require the utmost patience and self-examination by both peoples.

I know this is overdue — but my hesitation is part of the story. As director of the Tufts program in Judaic Studies, I’ve been puzzling for some time over an appropriate response to the horrific events that have befallen those who live at the juncture of three continents at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. That realm has long been a preoccupation of mine — both in my biblical studies courses and in my film studies courses, where (in the latter, at least) a central preoccupation is what I’ve called the Era of Catastrophe (1914–45), regarding especially the perils of human rights and the plight of stateless persons and peoples.

So, it should be no surprise if I speak of this present situation as a multi-dimensional tragedy. I have, first of all, a deep horror at what’s happened to Israel and my fellow Jews over the past week or so. The blatant savagery of the Hamas attacks on Israeli towns, villages and kibbutzim can’t be excused or beautified in any way, and my heart goes out to those who have borne the brunt of what many have justly called the worst violence against Jews since the Holocaust.

Yet, obviously enough, this is not solely a tragedy for Israel, but also one for the people in whose name Hamas purports to act. I’ve long taken for granted that the Palestinian people are irrevocably a part of Israel itself (representing some 21% of Israel’s population of nearly 10 million, not counting the three million Arabs in the West Bank and some two million in Gaza.) Whatever one’s views of Israel’s legitimacy as a state (which I have supported ever since my fourth birthday in 1947 when my father had convened his fellow physicians for a luncheon in our backyard to raise funds for the nascent state), the multicultural status of historical Palestine, like the Middle East more generally, is a fact of life. To write off the human rights and social needs of Palestinian Arabs is pure folly. And (need I say?) immoral.

I’ve therefore long been in the habit of favoring what’s commonly called a “two-state solution,” even though getting from here to there seems close to impossible. Jewish ultra-nationalists have predictably regarded it with horror, and it has similarly run contrary to the widespread Palestinian belief that 1948 was a “
Nakba” (catastrophe), wholly incompatible with Jewish national aims.

Add to this ideological strife the 101 practical questions of security, diplomacy, foreign alliances, unresolved refugee clusters, international legitimacy, superpower compliance, extremist violence and the day-to-day relations, good or bad, between neighbors across ethnic lines, and you have a conceptual quagmire that seems insurmountable. How do you unscramble an egg? And yet, these difficulties seem, to me at least, somehow a better, more rational alternative to total chaos.

Let me also share a thought voiced by Charles Inouye, the chair of the Department of International Literary and Cultural Studies, in a recent memo, that is, the danger of writing off the needs of yet another people who have been immersed in a bitter war since early 2022; or indeed, as early as 2014: the Ukrainians. I’ve been following news about this war almost daily, and I fear greatly that Ukraine will fall victim to the cynical politics of power that is threatening the survival of open society, democracy and human rights everywhere. Their story is our own. Our fate is closely bound up with theirs.

The common thread that runs through all these reflections is the interconnectedness of us all. It’s all too easy to allow such a thought to slip into cliché, disingenuousness or empty prattle — I pray fervently that I’m not doing so here. Recovering our own humanity, through which we become aware of the humanity of others, is a daily struggle. It requires humility, mindfulness, self-searching and generosity. A curiosity about others and the recognition that one might be wrong.

But please allow me to conclude with words wiser than my own, taken from a key paragraph in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, which Israel’s most recent leadership (prior to the national unity government that now pursues the war against Hamas) seems to have forgotten:

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The State of Israel is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947 [on partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state] and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.”

Joel Rosenberg is the Lee S. McCollester professor of Biblical Literature in the Department of International Literary and Cultural Studies and the director of the program in Judaic Studies at Tufts.