Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Some thoughts on Yom Yerushalayim

Last night, about an hour before the commencement of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), I updated my Facebook status to: "Elan Miller has changed his profile picture to the Jerusalem flag in support of the Jewish people's eternal right to live in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. To deny Jews the right to live in their home on the basis of their religion and ethnicity alone is wrong."

Soon after, somebody I met last summer commented. The person in question is someone I don't know too well, save to say that they were working for Haaretz on a summer internship. Their response seemed somewhat disapproving of my original statement: "To deny Palestinians the right to live in their home on the basis of their religion and ethnicity alone is (also) wrong."

Immediately, a number of my friends and acquaintances jumped at this oppositional perspective. Concerned that the person who left the comment would feel besieged, I got in touch right away to explain my own personal position. The remainder of this blog entry is comprised of the subsequent conversation we had. I hope you find it thought-provoking. Feel free to comment below; I'd be interested to hear what you have to say, too.
Hey :)

Thanks for your comment. Excuse the quick protest put up by my friends and associates, please don't take their comments personally.

You should know that I'm not an extremist at all, and I actually agree with your sentiment to a large extent, if not fully. Your point is heard loud and clear, and bothers me too.

I am conflicted and torn when it comes to the Palestinians' rights. First and foremost, I am a human being and a Jew; one who wishes no evil or discomfort on any other caring, living, loving human being. Let there be no doubt that I wish the Palestinians any suffering. But at the same time, I cannot countenaence Israel giving up control over Jerusalem. For over 3,000 years Jerusalem has been a united, undivided city. For 19 years, however, it was a divided city with a wall down the middle, dividing Jews from Arab. That time was when the Jordanians annexed East Jerusalem and put up a wall to prevent the Jews of Israel from entering. It pains me to think that Jerusalem should ever be divided again.

As to the rights of the Palestinians, I consider two things as crucial to fully understanding the matter. Firstly, that the Palestinians' claim to the land it's historically sketchy, but second, that it doesn't make a lot of a difference; they have nowhere else to go now that Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq have made it abundantly clear that they won't accept the Palestinians living amongst them. If they have lived in their present location for three generations already, my thinking is that Israel should try to ensure their safety and afford them defensible and contiguous borders. There need be no reason to stop Palestinians from living in Jerusalem; plenty already live in Haifa, Jaffa and Acre; Palestinian access to (, and land ownership in,) Jerusalem should be no barrier to peace.

Hope all's well with you.

Best regards,

Soon after, my friend responded:

Hi Elan,

Thanks for your response, it means a lot to me. I will not bother in entering into a discussion with those people, as such a difference in basic moral, will not lead to a fulfilling conclusion.

I do not want to lecture you on my views, but I believe that when human beings (no matter their ethnicity or religion) are evicted, either through force or verbal discrimination from their houses, it should be considered a crime. My time at Haaretz showed me that there were two prevalent standards in Israel, one for Jews and one for Muslims, but one day I hope we can move past that and qualify each other first and foremost as human beings. That is exactly what my comment referred too. Racism and discrimination towards either Jews or Palestinians must end. As Jews have suffered throughout history at the hand of others, one would hope that they hold some sort of moral superiority or even conscience.

It is because of people like your friends and associates that the process towards peace will be elongated.

I hope all is well with you too.

The strength of this last statement stunned me somewhat. While the views expressed by some of my friends are firmly held, I honestly don't consider them a threat to peace talks. In essence, they pointed out that the overwhelming proportion of the lands of the Middle East are Arab-owned, and that Israel deserves its own patch. I consider this argument is overly simple as it does not take into account the myriad other factors involved, but I also don't consider such a point to be one that strikes a lethal blow to the peace process.

Having said that, I understood my friend; people with such strongly held convictions certainly seem to be opposed to listening to other views. I immediately set about penning my response in turn, copied below.


Thank you. It's a shame that you don't enter into a discussion with them. Although I know that two of them will almost certainly not change their minds, it is entirely possible that one really will consider what you have to say.

I agree with you that evictions without due documentation and/or reason constitute a heinous crime and assure you that the overwhelming majority of Israelis agree with you, too.

I disagree with you about double-standards, however. Although there are most certainly double-standards vis-a-vis state relationships to Jews and Muslims, it should be noted that Muslim women living in Israel are afforded more rights than anywhere else in Middle East. There are many positive aspects for both Muslims living in Israel and Palestinian Muslims whose lives are essentially regulated by the Israeli occupation*.

Jews have indeed suffered throughout history and your point bothers me, too - Jews should hold themselves to a higher standard. I note with pride organisations like B'Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights who make a point of protecting equality and human rights in Israel and the territories. While Israel is not yet perfect, I believe that we should take a long-term view. We must not forgive its errors and inadequacies, but neither should we condemn them without consideration for all the positive work being done. I really do believe that peace will eventually come to the region, but for that to happen, it is essential not to appropriate blame. Two reasons as to why; firstly, there is no such thing as a single reason for something going wrong here, and secondly, because no-one likes being blamed and pointing the finger only serves to embitter and entrench people's positions.

Feel free to let me know if you agree/disagree with what I say. I live and learn from everyone.


*See, I'm no blind rightist, I acknowledge the occupation and deplore it, too. I'm actually more or less dead centre of the political spectrum.

That, at least thus far, is the end of our conversation. What do you think?


  1. Elan - Shalom.

    Thanks for posting that conversation along with your other comments. Well done.

    One related comment to enter the fray should be the opinions of Jerusalem Arabs who are afraid to comment publicly (out of fear for their lives) but privately have told me that they have no desire to live under any Palestinian government... that no one, not the Ottomans, not the British, not the Jordanians... ever did anything for them. And that it has been only the Israelis that have made their lives positive here. One friend said that with Israeli citizenship, he has a home for his family, a job, health care, clean water, etc. etc. etc. And he has no intention of ever giving that up.

  2. Organisations like B'Tselem have a political agenda against Israel like most other human rights groups do.

    Re. what your 'friend' said, most pro-Israelis do want an end to the Palestinians' suffering, but the difference is theirs is mostly caused by their own leaders and bad choices; ours mostly by age-old underlying antisemitism. Often it's people who share your friend's views who are the closed-minded ones, always quick to judge and dismiss Zionist as racists.

    'Blind leftists' are more common than 'blind rightists'. Zionists will argue with facts but it so often falls on deaf ears - even if it comes from a moderate perspective like yours. I hope you do succeed though and your friend sees the light.