Archive for ‘Jerusalem’

April 24, 2012

Judaism’s New Holidays: Zionist or Not, Jews’ Religion are Increasingly Affected by Israel’s Celebrations

by Gedalyah Reback

Four new holidays, all in the span of a month, have smacked the Jewish calendar in the past two generations. One of them applies universally but has monumental impact on Israelis: Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Ha-Shoah). Commemorating those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, it is a somber day in Israel and a day to be marked in Jewish communities around the world. It rests adjacent to Israel’s national holidays on the calendar, preceding them by a week.

This week marks the next two. Their are fundamentals for the modern Israeli: Memorial Day and Independence Day. Growing up in the United States, not only are the two days separated but they are treated the same way. Neither has as much emotional significance anymore, both are barbecue festivals and both are days you’ll get good deals on furniture. This is wear religion has played a nuanced role even for secular Israelis. Judaism, as I’m sure is very true about many religions, is careful to play to the themes of the subjects its holidays commemorate. While the Israeli Rabbinate is a thorn in the side of even many religious Israelis because of its bureaucracy and political patronage, it has played a significant role in the regulation and scheduling of Israeli national holidays.

For these two days, the oft-cited theme in religion of going from darkness to light is overt. The day before Independence Day, Israelis remember their fallen soldiers and officially the civilian victims of terrorism. Jewish consciousness extends that memorial to Jewish victims of terror who never carried Israeli citizenship, recognizing the intertwined fates of Jews and Israelis who have been targeted over Middle Eastern politics. Additionally, it reflects a true timeline. The day before Israel issued its Declaration of Independence, 38 civilians were killed defending Gush Etzion, a small group of towns south of Jerusalem. The Jordanians, who had already invaded the territory of the former British Mandate for Palestine before Israel declared independence, massacred those men in an incident that the Jordanians have never denied was an indecent act. It resonated throughout the Jewish population and was fresh news in the minds of everyone the next morning when the State of Israel was declared. Today, Gush Etzion has been rebuilt, but only after its land was recaptured in the 1967 Six Day War.

Reading that headline, Israelis went with heavy hearts through the light at the end of the tunnel to declare independence within 24 hours of the tragedy. But perhaps more symbolic is placement of Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom HaShoah, a week before both holidays. In 1945, after the Allied Powers had conquered Germany, the full scale of the disaster for Jews was still unimaginable. Survivors faced humiliating or impossible decisions, to move back to homes surrounded by anti-Semitic neighbors or to leave for greener pastures. Many chose the idealized guilded journey to the Land of Israel, facing three years of British actions against new immigrants and Holocaust survivors. Local Jews picked up the pace smuggling survivors into the country by boat and from the harbor. Thousands were jailed on British military bases on Cyprus. Eventually, the Jewish population doubled from about 300,000 before WWII to 600,000 on the eve of independence.

That week can symbolize those three years of adjustment. With no clear end to the plight in sight, Yom HaZikaron hits the Jewish mindset – intentionally – at a time when the community is still coping with the anxieties, humiliation and ruins of the Holocaust. But Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, has a very different atmosphere. While it seems to be an additional day of mourning and despair, the tone includes one of work left to be done and accomplishments yet to be achieved. The soldiers memorialized, many of them Holocaust survivors who picked up the pieces and settled in Israel after the War, died fighting. Israelis visit cemeteries even if they have no loved ones buried there. Many Jewish seminaries, Yeshivas, take the day off from classes and bring students to see the throngs of people visit memorial parks, events and loved ones’ final resting places. The most popular sight is Mount Herzl, Jerusalem’s local military cemetery which has taken on a de facto status as the national cemetery similar to the American one in Arlington, Virginia.

Independence Day

That’s the atmosphere that precedes Independence Day for Israelis. It is a truly religious experience in one of the most nationalist, patriotic countries in the world. In a mentality of utter darkness, there is suddenly a burst of light. Fireworks and barbecues light up the country. Schools empty across the country like the day before with kids streaming into the streets of cities and even small towns dressed in blue & white. The narrative of the country’s survival is ever present and effervescent when you walk down the streets. Teenagers, soldiers and Yeshiva students wrap the Israeli flag around themselves like a cape screaming and hollering in euphoria.

But it’s not Israel’s only Independence Day. Three weeks later, Israel celebrates a second. It isn’t celebrated by everyone because of the political implications people read into it, but Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, has had a much larger significance for modern Judaism than any other newly marked day on the calendar. The reasons have to do with, on the one hand, the city’s vitality to Judaism itself. The second, though, has to do with the emotional rollercoaster I described above. The day incorporates all the feelings the other three exemplify and project.

Jerusalem Day & Preventing another Holocaust

Jerusalem Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the third day of the Six Day War when the city was captured. It’s intent was to be a day to celebrate winning that war without any other meaning attached to it, but the gravity of that war was too immense not to take on further meaning. In the three weeks preceding it, Arab radio made waves of it threats to do away with Israel and literally throw the Jews into the Mediterranean. The implication was there would be mass massacres and total annihilation of the institutions the Jews had created in Israel. Quite literally, some grim newspapers urged the last Jew standing to “turn out the light.”

So when at 8AM on June 5, 1967, the Israeli Air Force caught the Egyptians on guard duty lazily making a shift change, it combined the ingenuity of the military, preparedness and incredible faith to reverse the situation and mentality completely. In one swoop, a funeral turned into a birthday. Egypt’s and Jordan’s air forces were decimated on the ground, and the most incredible preemptive strike in modern military history re-declared Israeli independence. The sweeping UN condemnations of the Israeli action have enshrined Israeli distrust of the organization, considering it was the UN’s monitors who abandoned guarding a buffer zone between Israel and the advancing Egyptian army. Gamel Abdul Nasser never recovered, dying of a heart-attack three years later. Syria saw another coup before the Yom Kippur War six years later. Jordan never again went to war with Israel.

Religious communities, even going beyond the pro-Zionist ones, have had difficulty playing down the miracle that Jerusalem Day celebrates for Jews worldwide. Anyone with Jewish parents who were living in communities at the time – Brooklyn, Long Island, New Jersey, California, etc. – can learn from them that the jubilation of Israel’s survival combined with such an epic return to the capital city of Judaism has been unmatched in the younger generation’s lifetime. Not even the panic that gripped Jews worldwide when Israel was attacked on Yom Kippur, just six years later, could match the ecstatic electricity that channeled through the Diaspora when it was reported Israel had conquered Jerusalem on the third day of the war.

For these reasons, Jews in Israel and in many Modern Orthodox & Conservative communities today celebrate Israeli Independence Day as a religious holiday, fulfilling a religious obligation to thank God whenever surviving a threatening situation or obtaining something wonderful. In this case, both. More so in Israel but also abroad, Jerusalem Day gets its religious share more emphatically. Even Haredim, that is Israeli Ultra Orthodox Jews usually standoffish of Israeli national holidays, celebrate the redemption of the day and are overwhelmed by significance of recapturing Jerusalem. The title might seem controversial if you see the world through politics, but its significance for Jews and Judaism is much broader than even the threat Israel’s conquests might be given away to another, non-Jewish country.

Israeli newspapers are littered with religious ideas about Israeli independence, linking the event to the week’s Torah and Haftarah readings (recent example: here).

April 21, 2011

What are Israel’s Priorities?

by Gedalyah Reback

Netanyahu Looking Like a Wreck

This has dragged out too long. Just shut down the settlement expansion.

I have to admit, I am a Religious Zionist. Not all RZs support settlements, but most do . . . and but I do. The settlements actualize the imperative to settle the country. If the land is bought from a private owner, there is nothing stopping me from celebrating it.

I am also a realist. They give Israel some more breathing room territorially and reach at the negotiating table . . . that is until now.

Diplomatically, the comfort zone the country has had building them was probably going to decay – eventually. I think that point has come. The extra cards it gave Israel in negotiations do not mean anything if the world does not let you negotiate. This is not judging the settlements as legal or illegal under international law; nor moral or not; nor conducted while respecting private property or not. There is simply too little breathing room these days. Shut down the enterprise. Shut it down.

The prospects of international isolation are very real. While Jews worldwide and Israelis especially think the situation with the Palestinians as much more complicated than issues of independence and self-determination, the rest of the world simply does not agree.

The world simply prioritizes Palestinian independence over Israeli security. There is little Israel or the global Jewish community can do about it. We will, by majority, disagree with the planet on this. Public relations and negotiating tactics are out of step with global opinion. The country simply has been caught off guard by the drive toward Palestinian independence. With that, Israel ought to go with the flow and change its approach to the Palestinians. Allow the West Bank and Gaza Strip their independence, merely with the stipulation that border and refugee issues have not been finalized, and that goes doubly for Jerusalem. Just outright support it – just ask for some time to design a withdrawal plan.

I expect Netanyahu to say something like this soon. But as of now, he does not have the political foresight to out-pace this situation. The UN will recognize Palestine as an independent state. Even if the Syrian protests turn into a civil war and the world allows Israel more leeway in how it positions the IDF (i.e. in the West Bank), the pressure is just going to come back.

Building the settlements was the right idea. It expanded Israel’s physical territory. No one knew how far it would eventually go before it became too much of a problem. Given the situation, I am guessing this would be a time to consolidate what Israel has gained and re-focus on other issues. Israel has no vision for its future.

Everyone has been running too scared to choose the country’s path. What preparations have been made for Palestine actually becoming an independent state? What does that mean for the priorities of the Jewish State in such an event?

As for the country’s identity, what would be Israeli policy toward a Palestinian state; goals of Zionism; security and religious interests under Palestinian rule; and settling the Galilee & Negev?

The lack of priorities has left Israel unprepared for the “diplomatic tsunami” that seems to be headed toward its pristine Mediterranean beaches.

Will Israel try to get a million new Jewish immigrants? Will it expand its economic power? Its cultural influence? Settle disputes between Jewish denominations in Israel and reform civil law? Write a constitution? There are simply no goals. There is no clarity.

AND as for Religious Zionists: the West Bank and Gaza are still holy land – it’s not going anywhere – it will just be under Palestinian government. It cannot constitute a priority compared to Jerusalem on the one hand or domestic stability on the other. But when was the last time you heard a settlement leader talking about the Temple Mount instead of a less significant hilltop somewhere south of Hebron? Religious Zionist leadership is out of step with reality and has no vision for its community and its religious goals. Of all the priorities that are contorted, twisted and far from straight, theirs seem to be the utmost.

April 13, 2011

Jerusalem Needs to Expand

by Gedalyah Reback

This is going to have to be accepted by policymakers worldwide if the city of Jerusalem is to avoid the economic decline of Berlin in the event of a sudden rupture by war or abrasive politicking in the United Nations. Jerusalem has too many interests to be left to a simple municipal government. In many ways its politics make its status as important as New York City. Michael Bloomberg has the de facto status of a governor in the American media (he might be more important than the Governor of New York anyway). So too, the mayor of Jerusalem should be balancing the multitude of interests in such an important city as if it had five bureaus itself – and maybe it should.

The city is crippled by a number of domestic and international factors. The lack of political options has reduced the municipality to politically clumsy home condemnations in areas targeted for development, alienating the local Arab population.

According to the left-wing non-profit Ir HaAmim (City of the Nations), the master plan announced for Jerusalem in 2009 inadequately answers the concerns of East Jerusalem residents. They periodically point out that no plan has ever really addressed development needs in Arab East Jerusalem. While they might be correct, the political context and diplomatic stopping short by Israel’s Western allies and Arab ambiguity about negotiations has created a protracted Catch 22 in Jerusalem vis-a-vis its Arabs: if Israel builds, it alienates states supporting negotiations with Arab states; if it doesn’t build, it alienates Arabs within East Jerusalem.

The fact the plan severely under-addresses the likely housing needs of East Jerusalem is only part of what is lacking. The plan makes no preparations for alternative realities – i.e., the city splitting between two governments.

The analysis of the right-wing Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs brings up the issue of land registration in East Jerusalem, though with different motives than Ir HaAmim. While Ir HaAmim complains that subjecting local Arabs to contract law in order to prove ownership of property, the JCPA complains that the lack of that information prevents the Jerusalem municipality from planning to develop areas (and deciding what land to buy from private owners. As their analysis states:

However, the policy of refraining from resolving ownership on most of the land in eastern Jerusalem substantially contributes to the illegal construction there, and severely damages the property rights of the individual, allows for dual registrations and the implementation of contradictory transactions, and does not allow for mortgaging innumerable properties whose exact boundaries are not known.

Basically, East Jerusalemites are screwing themselves.

Neither approach clearly gives us a way forward. There is clear politicization in both analyses. The city is snarled by traffic and perpetually in shortage of housing for the lower and middle classes. Tourism is below possible numbers and the possibility of conflict leaves the city in perpetual stagnation.

Building in Jerusalem is necessary in all neighborhoods for the general health of the city, accommodating immigrants and spurring job growth. It also encourages de-congesting traffic – the indisputable molasses to Jerusalem’s economy.

In my opinion, conceiving a durable development plan that can be adjusted easily as political realities shift, is the only responsible maneuver. Nir Barkat’s plans are simply unoriginal and sub-par. He might be less a fiend than Ehud Olmert (when he was mayor of Jerusalem), but he does not seem to be ready.

April 13, 2011

Jerusalem and (some Minor Reasons Why Palestinian Independence will not End the Conflict)

by Gedalyah Reback

Not Actual Photo

This September, the Palestinian Authority will attempt to gain recognition as an independent state via a vote in the United Nations’ General Assembly. It is taking a a page out of the playbook of the Zionist movement and the leadership of what would become Israel. This time, the Arabs will support a resolution that partitions the land into two states. In a lot of ways, it is a big vindication of the Zionist Movement and the State of Israel. After 63 years, the two state solution wins.

That does not resolve the conflict though. Even if Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu stops fighting this political move by Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister, Israel will not withdraw from all of the West Bank – and especially not Jerusalem.

There are a plethora (awesome academic term) of political questions about the past, present and future of the city. Will it be divided along the 1949 armistice lines? Why did the European Union pass a policy resolution last year demanding East Jerusalem be the capital of a Palestinian state, but its members refuse to recognize even just West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Would Israel and Palestine share control (and government) over certain areas; that is to say, the Temple Mount?

And the last question is why we are far from seeing Israel and Palestine enter into a peace treaty. The negotiating teams have failed to discuss the issue with seriousness. Either 1) one side refuses to talk about it – as it seems Tzipi Livni refused to do (in a meeting with former Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat; check out the Palestine Papers released a couple months back by Al-Jazeera), or 2) the proposals simply do not reflect the complicated and unique reality that two sets of religious law have to be analyzed in order to find an elaborate way for Jews and Muslims to share the spot.

How to Negotiate over the Temple Mount

Despite what we think we know about Judaism and Islam, neither religion has a simple outlook on the location. But it is safe to say that the spot is much more significant to Jews than it is to Muslims. A former big shot in the Israeli security services recommended some months ago that the Temple Mount be the center of the negotiations unless we want to see this whole thing drag out any longer (or explode into another Israeli-Palestinian war).

What needs to be considered is that for two groups the Temple Mount is vital, crucial and indispensable: 1) those Jews who interpret Jewish law as obliging us to not let non-Jews control the Temple Mount, or requiring us to build the Temple ourselves and 2) those Muslims who maintain the sanctity of the current buildings on the Mount.

Well, how indispensable is not clear. The reality is that Jews and Muslims see the whole location as holy, but for very different reasons. FEW PEOPLE REALIZE that Jews and Muslims do not agree on which part of the Temple Mount complex is the central, holiest spot.

While there is no dispute the entire area has deep, legal and/or traditional significance to both religions, the Jewish focus remains on the spot that housed the Holy of Holies, roughly where the Dome of the Rock stands today. The Al-Aqsa mosque on the other hand maintains sanctity as a mosque, something disputed regarding the Dome (some Muslims say the entire Temple Mount plaza is considered a mosque) .

I am not implying coming up with something would be easy – it will be creative – but I am pointing out that what we think is set in stone and impossible to resolve isn’t necessarily so.

The Conflict Once Was National and is Now Religious

One of the mistakes which the above-mentioned security dude alludes to is thinking we can leave religious groups out of the negotiations of the conflict. This is also the view of Rabbi Michael Froman of the West Bank Settlement Tekoa. he is unique not just because he has met Muslim clergymen tied to Hamas and befriended them, but has even pledged he would stay in a Palestinian state if it were created. Aside from these absurdly interesting issues he brings up, his basic premise stands that Religious Zionist Jews and groups like Hamas have to consider their own interests just as important during negotiations.

I cannot pretend that all Religious Zionists or Islamists think this way – many of them see this as an all-or-nothing war or all-or-nothing political game. But I know Religious Zionists who would find what I am saying at least interesting. I doubt there are no Islamists who might think the same way. Having a political, empowering ideology for one’s religion does not preclude being pragmatic or even kind of liberal.

Personally, as an Orthodox Jew, my concerns are about the immediate future of the Temple Mount and Jews’ physical connection to it. The Western Wall is not the object of our affections and duties, but what lies behind it.

March 30, 2011

Palestinian Land Day – A Day for Arabs AND Jews?

by Gedalyah Reback

In Lod yesterday, Israeli Arabs and liberal Israelis demonstrated in commemoration of Land Day – an Israeli Arab and Palestinian day to protest the seizure of private Arab land by the Israeli state. But it has taken on more significance this year. That is not because of the protetss sweeping the Arab world, but regardingthis week’s passing of the citizenship law sponsored by Yisrael Beitenu. What was unique about the demonstration was the presence of effigies – images – of a certain politician. In particular, Avigdor Lieberman, whose face was set alight on the posters carrying his punim.

Two years ago, J Street released an ad immediately after the Israeli elections that condemned Avigdor Lieberman as a staunch nationalist and a racist. His statements have not been so far removed from those of his coalition partners – even members of the opposition! But his actions and the actions of his party have backed up this view. His party has sponsored a bill that has just passed, allowing citizenship to be revoked from anyone found guilty of treason or espionage.

At the same time, Lieberman has personally advocated his own version of a two-state solution that recommends trading Arab towns in Israel for Jewish towns in the West Bank. In the context of other statements he has made, this seems to be born more out of distaste for Arabs than strategic thought. In fact, it contradicts historic, traditional Israeli strategic thinking. Since the West Bank juts into Israel in such a way that Israel’s north and southern regions are only connected by a thin strip of land, there has always been worry invading Arab armies would aim for that thin strip in order to cut israel into two during a war. It was in fact Iraqi strategy during the War of Independence (when Iraqi troops were stationed in Nablus, the northern West Bank.

Arab Areas in Israel by Proportion

Land Day though is significant. It has become an annual day of protest, but it is relatively young. The Israeli state has been expropriating land since the state’s inception, particularly in the north. Land Day though goes back to 1976, when a specific attempt to implement eminent domain led to mass protests.

Up until that point, the Arab minority of Israel remained relatively passive to current events. In fact, Arabs in Nazareth are known to have thrown flowers at Israeli troops heading to the Golan front during the Yom Kippur War.

In my very humble opinion, private property is more of a factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than experts let on – or realize. It plays on both sides of the aisle – Jewish and Arab. Despite what you might think about settlers, the reality is settlers often purchase land either from the Israeli government or from private Palestinian owners.

When claiming government land, the state uses the same legal precedents as did the Jordanians (when they controlled the west Bank 1948-1967), the British (who controlled it from 1917-1948) and the Ottoman Empire (out of commission by the end of World War I. It usually means that the land has not been cultivated or built on in at least three years, making the land hefker – owner-less.

Palestinians do sell private land. This is why the Palestinian Authority authorizes the death penalty for anyone selling land to Jews (there would be no law if it did not actually happen). Landsellers have been known to be lynched in Palestinian areas, particularly Gaza. Every time settlers are evicted from their homes, the perception they have actually stolen the land is reinforced, when in fact each case is different.

The Israeli government, particularly the Supreme Court, has ordered settlers leave homes they’ve claimed to have purchased, leading to police-implemented evictions for court-cases which are “pending.” Take for example the “House of Peace” in Hebron in 2008.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem today often have their non-permit built homes evicted or bulldozed. But at the same time, Jewish residents who actually do purchase homes usually need extra security to protect them from angry residents. Even though the two groups seem to be in conflict, what they have in common is that they are both trying to preserve private property.

There is a perception that the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel and the West Bank need to be divorced from each other in order to implement the Two-State Solution. But by trying to implement this peace plan, the Israeli government, Palestinian Authority and the international community are encouraging the violation of private property rights of both Jews and Arabs, intensifying the conflict by inflaming the anger of people who truly have been personally wronged.

But that’s just my opinion.

July 19, 2010

The Hollow Importance of the Temple Mount

by Gedalyah Reback

In an oped in Yediot Ahronot earlier this month, former Mossad director Efraim HaLevy steered discourse in an unlikely direction vis a vis the peace process: the Temple Mount. It was not so much his reference to the spot that was significant, but the way he characterized it for Israelis – and Jews in general. He pointed to the underestimation of the connection to this location for Jews as having been a point of failure at the Camp David negotiations in 2000. What is most remarkable is HaLevy is not from a traditional religious background.

His point should be carried forward. This Tisha b’Av, in trying to cite articles on my Facebook page that addressed the contemporary Jewish community’s connection to the Temple, I was disparaged to see any article of relevance also included political opinions about other issues – particularly with opinions deviating from my own. In trying to vicariously express my opinion about the matter, I had to surrender my own views on Israeli politics and the Middle East in general.

I’m writing from the perspective that any true peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians will have to show equal weight to the value of the Temple Mount to Jews and Muslims respectively. This puts me in a quandary, since it has been out of fashion for Israeli politicians to not only play down the importance of the site, but because of the vast gulf between different circles of Jews. Reform Jews treat a Temple as irrelevant. It is on neither the Conservative or Ultra-Orthodox radar screens. Only Religious Zionist and some Modern Orthodox Jews have made it an issue, but it is still a far cry from becoming an issue of arbitration with religious and ritual significance on the line.

Artist’s rendering of one of the known entrances to the Second Temple

Advocating for this position has gotten me into several interesting discussions. For me, whether or not I support actively resuming Temple rituals (sans a messiah or prophet) making the issue one of public discourse is important from the perspective of security. The main reason the Temple Mount remains a quieted topic is the fierce rioting its invocation has provoked in Palestinian Muslims. A mere visit to the site in 2000 by Ariel Sharon sparked the Second Intifada. The mere rumor that Jews planned its destruction sparked the 1929 Arab riots in cities across the then-British-controlled territory.

But precisely because it has remained outside of discourse has its mere mentioning become an overly sensitized issue for anyone willing to riot. If it were a matter of regular discussion, the assertion of Jewish rights to the Temple Mount would not be a fire starter in negotiations. At the same time it allows the Jewish community to be more forthcoming with its position, from the perspective of Efraim HaLevy and others, it also quells the main reason the issue has been prevented from becoming that open from the outset.

Outside the Orthodox Box

It is effectively a non-issue to Jews outside certain Orthodox circles, when it does not have to be. From the perspective of an impartial peace broker, it is best to air the issues out and let them become things to consider on the negotiating table. It is the issue that makes Jerusalem so significant. For it not to be a matter of public discussion, let alone internal Jewish discussion, lets another issue simmer beneath the surface.

Common Ground Trying to be Found?

This same Tisha b’Av, I found myself in a discussion with a young Rabbi and a Rabbinical student about whether bringing up the Temple more often would stir more of a drive in the Jewish world to make it a reality, via some near-miraculous peace deal or by some other event. The common counter to the idea gaining traction is, as is suggested by many religious authorities in the modern Jewish world, the lack of significance for the institution to most Jews worldwide. The Temple is not a central focus to many individual Reform and Conservative Jews (never mind their movements’ official outlooks), let alone other matters of dispute such as kosher dieting, how to keep the Sabbath and the observance of many Jewish festivals.

Just the same as the issue of conversion, no traction can be gained at all without the issue being something that is simply talked about – regardless of an individual’s opinion on the matter. Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are on a completely different page than non-Orthodox Jews in the United States, yet the two sides are deriding each other over the issue of conversion. Truthfully, neither side understands the other position. They’ve never spoken with each other about it. Hence, neither party can respond to the other’s demands or relate to its concerns.

Clashes Erupted As Israeli Police Prevent Extremist Jewish Rally On Temple Mount in 2005

Truthfully, the topic of the Temple is a glaring example of that gulf in the global Jewish community today, where one Jew cannot even relate to another Jew’s religious vocabulary. Communities are concerned with different issues, and often only part of the bigger picture the greater Jewish world is attempting to address.

Jewish discourse – religious, social and political – should be aiming to make this a common issue. It shouldn’t be isolated in the corners of certain Orthodox groups with a certain right-wing political outlook. It is an issue for more than one kind of Jew. As so long as Jews of all colors remain silent on their connection to the Temple Mount, the world will not care enough to consider the issue important. All the more so for Palestinians.

Palestinian Recognition

For there to be any footing in the negotiations, Israelis and Jews ought to make a priority discrediting the trend among Palestinian leaders to deny Jewish connections to the site. Clerics and politicians have made a mockery of the idea of the Temple, often prefacing it with the Arabic equivalent to “so-called” when describing the concept. Only bringing this issue to light like any other will drive that view into oblivion. It is in the interest of the global Jewish community to bring forth an assertive, authoritative position to the world. The process for achieving that starts internally, via extended discourse about religion among the most different of subgroups in the Jewish world, will reap benefits for the stability and standing of the community beyond today’s politics.

June 8, 2010

The Right to Property in relation to Peace between Jews and Arabs

by Gedalyah Reback

There is a fundamental flaw in the approach of the diplomatic world in inundating a peaceful settlement in the Middle East – at least between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather than looking at property as the unalienable human right to obtain and hold that other Western governments and the main religions of the world have long respected, international mediators have encouraged an agreement that rests on uprooting thousands of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims from their homes in the name of an ethnic realignment along the lines of the partition of India and Pakistan in the late 1940s.

Arguing the West Bank is open to settlement under international law, Israel openly pursued a settlement policy that expanded the breadth of the besieged Jewish state once the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem had been secured from Jordan and Egypt – themselves considered occupying powers by nearly every government in the world.

Excluding the now defunt settlement blocs of the Gaza Strip, 500,000 Israelis have taken up residence in private apartment and housing units throughout the conquered territories. At the same time, Palestinians have affirmed their ownership over their own share of land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But because of the competing political interests of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both population groups have seen their properties usurped or restricted.

Several cases have seen Jewish settlers evicted from, and recently purchased properties destroyed, often on the orders of the Supreme court in an effort to appease tension with the Palestinians in the facinity of the properties – be they in Jerusalem or Hebron. Settlers have made purchases in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a series of intermediaries – a system used by Palestinians interested in selling who fear reprecussions by lynchers or the Palestinian Authority.

Jewish women being forcibly evicted by Israeli police from the “House of Peace” in 2008 on the outskirts of Hebron

East Jerusalem Palestinians themselves face a different challenge. Municipal authorities have long prioritized building new neighborhoods that would consolidate the city of Jerusalem, at the expense of permit requests by residents of Muslim neighborhoods. Lengthy waits have encouraged illegal building in these neighborhoods that should have been authorized from the outset. recently, the Mayor Nir Birkat has used the possible demolition of up to 200 illegally built houses for political leverage against American pressure on Jewish housing projects and against Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

Police arrest protestors in Sheikh Jarrah, Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem

These political considerations have done more to increase tension in the region than pacify it, with two rival population groups venting their legitimate gripes at each other. This is the fundamental flaw in the idea of splitting Israel from the West Bank along ethnic lines, and points even more directly at the risks of the Obama Administration’s stress on Jewish settlements themselves.

Competing NGOs that represent Jewish settlers and East Jerusalem-West Bank Palestinians have found themselves in conflict. The two groups’ advocates have sought to undermine the rival’s access and rights to properties while strengthening their own.

2007 Hebron Eviction

The most competent way forward is to alleviate the anxiety of these rival groups and declare a moratorium on evictions and demolitions in Jewish and Arab areas that are contentious. Each group’s mirroring concerns fuel much of the tension that has come to a boiling point in the last year. The legalization and restoration of illegal or siezed properties would help restore public confidence in the Israeli government and the right to due process at a time where social confidence is low. To be sure, preserving property rights is a fundamental to any economic aspect of peace, between two states or not.

June 4, 2009

The Obama Speech in General

by Gedalyah Reback

I think Barack Obama is clearly prioritizing mending ties with Muslims, but at the same time undermined himself by spending 9 minutes talking about the Israelis, 3 minutes talking about the Iranians, and absolutely no time talking about Lebanon.

Settlements are a talking point, because they simply are not the most important issue Israelis and Palestinians concern themselves with. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have never realistically considered impeding or uprooting major settlements, especially the ones that continue to grow as suburbs of cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The President has picked an issue he thinks Israel can give some leeway on, compared to security and Jerusalem, that the US can used to win points in Muslim public opinion.

The Obama Administration was designed to build up US ties with Muslim countries in order to make the pursuit of American goals much easier by ending Muslim opposition to US policies. It will be slow in coming and I doubt that after four years Muslims will overwhelmingly support American policies, but it seems to be that they will support them 5 to 6 times more than they did under George W Bush.

But if he was thinking Muslims would understand US policies better by emphasizing the points that he did in this speech, he is absolutely wrong. US goals of undermining nuclear proliferation by Iran and North Korea will not get any more tension than they already have, since he spent only three minutes on the issue, and scarcely mentioned Iranians.

But Muslims around the world, even Sunni Arabs, do not conceive of an Iran that would ever use nuclear weapons, especially against Sunni Arab countries. The Obama Administration banked raising poll numbers on being stern on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I doubt that Muslims will ever take this as the major initiative the US needs to undertake to earn back any respect.

Even the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, as he described with as much detail as he could in Cairo, nor an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan, will placate public opinion in Muslim countries.

Iraq and Afghanistan are recent issues that result from past issues that are yet unresolved. Issues with Israel are not directly related to the United States, and the idea that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will solve the problems for Israelis in their foreign relations and domestic relations between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs is also naive – but this is again an Israeli concern that the United States cannot effectively relate to as the world’s most influential empire and not as a small embattled state like Israel.

For the US, issues of ties to governments like Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, and eventually to Iran will be the issue. It’s those ties to despotic regimes, just like Barack Obama emphasized in regards to the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq, are what irritate Muslims. There is consequently a double-edged sword in fostering ties with certain countries if those countries never make progress toward change.

He took a few important shots at Muslim countries and European countries on major issues. Firstly, he highlighted Bosnia and Darfur. For Darfur, Egypt has been criticized for its ties to the Sudanese regime and especially defending President Omar al-Bashir. The entire Arab League has vowed to defend him from the warrant issued for his arrest by the International Court of Justice, an amazing policy considering they implemented it while trying to criticize Israel for its Gaza operation, which killed 300 TIMES LESS the amount of people than Bashir’s operations in Darfur the last six years, and in fact better targeted enemy fighters than the Sudanese military ever has.

Toward Europe, he attacked the idea of banning Muslim hijab in public places, especially schools, and said he would take to task anyone who tried to take away the right of Muslim women to wear it. He also said it was wrong to think that women that do cover their hair, or wear any other conservative clothing, are in any sense lacking in equality compared to their male counterparts – the emphasis should be on their opportunity in their countries and not whether common culture demands a more conservative style. (This I thought was an interesting point, because as a sound bite it doesn’t just apply to Muslims.)

Overall, there is a lot more to be said in the implications of his differing policies toward Iran and North Korea, and for that matter toward Israel and South Korea as American allies. There is obviously so much more, and many more issues with settlements that the Obama Administration is instigating more than it realizes, especially on natural growth.

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