There are such things as hard facts. A hard fact is something that is true, not dependent on point of view, ideology, culture, religious belief, or politics. I know there is a post-modern trend to deny that they exist, but frankly it is insane, and anyone who thinks that way will not survive very long.
The laws of physics are hard facts. So are the strategic facts of geography, like the physical characteristics of Eretz Yisrael, which demand that its eastern border encompass the slope of the Jordan Valley, and that the hills of Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights must be under Israeli control. These are the facts that make the division of the land that is so beloved by peace processors impossible.
But there are also social, historical laws. I think that these too can be hard facts. Humans have free will and “great men” (or women) sometimes influence the course of history, but in the long term, what happens is determined by the aggregate behavior of people, creatures in the primate family who are, after all, much more like chimpanzees than angels.
So now we come to the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in Eretz Yisrael. What do the laws that govern human behavior tell us about the future of our land?
It should be clear that the situation is unstable. The prevalent ideology amongst the Arabs (the “Palestinian narrative”) is that Jewish sovereignty is an abomination. This is both a religious (Islamic) and cultural (honor-shame) issue. The various Arab political factions all share this belief, although they espouse different strategies for turning Eretz Yisrael into an Arab-ruled Arab-majority state.
As time goes by, the Arabs in Gaza, Judea/Samaria, and even pre-1967 Israel have all become more confirmed in their beliefs, more radical in their preferred solutions, and more convinced that the goal is achievable.
The areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been a laboratory for observing the effects of prolonged and pervasive conditioning to hate. Arab children learn in their schools and media (and every other institution of their society) that Jews are both subhuman and evil. They are encouraged to kill and rewarded for acts of incredible viciousness. A teenager who can plunge a knife into the neck of a Jewish baby or the back of a grandmother (both of these have happened) is no longer a normal human being, but has been transformed into a monster. One wonders why Amnesty International, which is prepared to accuse Israel of “crimes against humanity” for such things as distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens, has failed to document this fiendish system as one of the greatest crimes against humanity in history, and to call for the prosecution of the criminals that operate it.
But what about Israel’s Arab citizens, who were not educated by Hitlerites, and who – until recently – it seemed were becoming more prepared to accept Jewish sovereignty and to work alongside the Jews for their common benefit as Israelis? Unfortunately, the trend is in the other direction, as Israelis found out to their shock last May, when during a military confrontation with Gaza provoked by Hamas rocket barrages, their Arab neighbors turned on them – in a way that is sickeningly familiar to those who know the history of diaspora Jewry – attacked them, set their houses, businesses, and vehicles on fire, and in essence tried to drive them out of their homes. An echo, if you will, of what happened in Hevron in 1929, in Baghdad in 1941, and in Tzfat in 1517, 1834, 1929, 1936, and who knows how many more times. Precisely what the establishment of a Jewish state was supposed to preclude occurred, despite the police, the IDF, and our F-35s and nuclear weapons.
What happened? The conventional explanation is that Arabs in Israel are economically disadvantaged and that their frustration burst out into violence. The historian Efraim Karsh argues that in fact the opposite is the case:
Just as Hajj Amin Husseini and Yasser Arafat immersed their hapless subjects in disastrous conflicts that culminated in their collective undoing and continued statelessness in total disregard of the massive material gains attending Arab-Jewish coexistence, so Israel’s Arab leaders used their constituents’ vast socioeconomic progress over the past decades as a vehicle of radicalization rather than moderation.
Perhaps because of the influence of Marxism in Israeli political culture, Israeli leaders from Ben Gurion on have believed that if the economic condition of the Arabs were improved, their alienation from the state would decrease (we continue to make this mistake on other fronts, as in the idea that improving the Gaza economy can make war less likely. But aid injected into it flows directly to rockets and tunnels).
While Israeli Arabs are well-represented in professions (especially the medical field), nevertheless the ideology that drives pogromists into the streets with firebombs permeates their culture. The journalist Nadav Shragai recently observed that the ideological themes that are associated with violence by Arabs outside of pre-1967 Israel, preoccupation with the Nakba and an obsessive belief in the ultimate “return” of the descendants of the Arab refugees of 1948, are becoming more prevalent among Israeli Arabs. He wrote,
Rioting high school students from Lod made it clear that “the ‘occupation’ of 1967 does not interest them at all, only a return to their homes from before 1948.” Lod resident Aya Zeinati said that she “repeatedly explains to her children that they are not from Haifa,” but from a village “which was destroyed by the Zionists,” and that “they are going to go back there.” The imam of the Great Mosque in Lod, Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, who was arrested for incitement to riot, declared that Israel is not his country. The imam of El-Ramal Mosque in Acre, Sheikh Mahmoud Madi, referred to “our cities in internal Palestine” and estimated that the collapse of the Zionist entity was imminent. In Kafr Kanna, Sheikh Kamal Khatib, deputy head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who was arrested for participating in the riots, said that “even if [the Jews] thought that the Palestinian elders had died and the young had forgotten, the elders died only after they had taught their sons that this was Palestine, and left them a key, a bill of sale, a deed, and the love of the homeland.”
Would it have been possible to prevent these developments? I think not. The alienation of Israeli Arabs grows out of the Palestinian narrative, and not out of their objective condition as a minority in Israeli society. Nothing the government can do with programs, incentives, subsidies, anti-discrimination laws, or even the (very necessary) suppression of organized and violent crime in the Arab sector can affect this.
Coming back to human behavior, we have two tribes, physically and genetically similar, but in terms of ideas – memetically – opposed. Neither side is especially comfortable with the other, but the Palestinian narrative makes the position of the Arab side not just uncomfortable, but intolerable. And it can’t be fixed by any arrangement that doesn’t end Jewish sovereignty, or indeed, any Jewish ownership of the land that the narrative insists belongs only to Palestinian Arabs. These tribes cannot coexist.
Westerners tend to think that all problems have compromise solutions, that there is always a way to talk things out, and that nothing is black and white. But that isn’t always true. Some games are zero-sum. Sometimes there has to be a winner and a loser. And in this case, the loser loses everything, include the right to live here on the land that both sides claim.
This is a distressing, even heart-rending, situation for those who appreciate both cultures. But if we aren’t prepared to meet it head on – to face the hard fact of it and act correctly – then we will be the ones who lose everything.