Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Life and politics between borders


Life on the borders of cultures has been brought again to the fore in the crisis of three boys.

We are seeing how far apart we are from Palestinians who celebrate the kidnapping, compare it to Israel’s imprisonment of their heroes who we see as murderers. And how far apart we are from Americans and other westerners who criticize us for overreacting against Palestinians, and cannot see what we do in the preaching and actions of Muslims.

Cultures are fuzzy, and the borders between them are not impenetrable to some degree of understanding and sharing. There are friendships, conversations, and a few love affairs across those cultural borders, but those do not overcome the larger reality of people who talk past one another, and cannot reach agreement on proposals for accommodation.

Palestinian rejection goes beyond its leadership turning a blind eye to Israeli proposals. It extends to the very lowest levels, including Israeli Arabs voting for Knesset members who are implacable critics and cannot bring themselves to bargain for the sake of their constituents, Jerusalem Arabs boycotting elections where they hold the potential balance and the keys to public policy, activists in Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods who insist on not being photographed at joint Jewish-Arab meetings or agreeing to projects meant to serve their neighborhoods and to be financed by the municipality.

MK Hanin Zoabi has put herself back in the headlines--where she’s been off and on since participating in the effort of the Turkish ship Marmara to reach Gaza--by asserting that the kidnappers were not terrorists, but Palestinians seeking to express their frustration at Israel’s refusal to recognize their rights.

Against this is a YouTube making the rounds that features a relative a Zoabi identifying himself with Israeli Zionists.

The realities are varying shades of gray rather than black and white. There has been both cooperation and condemnation from Palestinians of the Abbas regime in Judea and Samaria. That has continued in dealing with the kidnapping, and shows that some Palestinians would rather deal with Israelis than Hamas.

Israel itself is not entirely of one culture.

There are differences of perspectives between religious settlers and secular Israelis. Ha’aretz marked that with a cartoon published in the midst of the kidnapping crisis, under the headline usually used for Israel and Palestine: To states for two people.

Perhaps even more pronounced, but not currently in the headlines, is a cultural border between the secular and the Orthodox on one side, and the ultra-Orthodox on another.

There is also a border between Israelis and the populations of Western democracies, including many who are Jews.

I have heard from one American Jew, a former Hebrew School teacher who has for some time compared Israel’s actions to those of Nazi Germany, that Israelis should not be more concerned about the boys than about the victims of violence in Nigeria, Syria and elsewhere.

He may be an extremist, and not dissimilar from some Israeli Jews expressing similar ideas, but his notes to me reflect an underlying cultural distance between Israeli Jews and those of the United States that once was apparent in pre-Holocaust anti-Zionism, and has emerged again since 1967, or perhaps the Lebanon War that began in 1982.

The assimilation to American culture and concerns over the course of four or more generations since migration, mostly from central and eastern Europe, and the origins and experiences of Israelis help to explain an ongoing phenomenon of drifting apart.

Half or more of Israeli Jews trace their families in whole or part (there are lots of intermarriages) to the Middle East, and many with North American or European roots have become become Middle Eastern, at least to a degree.

Israel is integrated economically and cooperates with the countries of Europe and North America, along with Japan, China, and India. Israel’s market is small, but it is a significant producer of technology, medicine, and science, and must be taken account of militarily. Yet its Jews differ from western populations (and many western Jews) in a wariness toward Muslims, non-Jews generally, and western governments with respect to policies dealing with Palestine and Iran. 

We are seeing in Israel’s response to the kidnapping of three young men some sharpening of those cultural tensions.

There is also the manifestation of a sentiment attributed by some to Rahm Emanuel, and before him to Winston Churchill; Never let a crisis go to waste.

The Netanyahu government is using this crisis not only to find the boys, but also to settle things with Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas for his alliance with Hamas, and with John Kerry for his support of that alliance and his more general naivete with respect to Israel and the Palestinians.

There have mass arrests, especially of Hamas and Jihadist politicians and other activists throughout Judea and Samaria, including those released under previous deals. 

There have been closures of Hebron and other Judean and Samarian towns, house to house searches, and some casualties among Palestinians resisting Israeli personnel. IDF commanders have been speaking of more extensive operations. Politicians have proposed exiling Hamas activists to Gaza, seizing the property of Hamas activists, re-arresting all of the Palestinians released from prison in order to free Gilad Shalit and begin peace negotiations, closing off Hamas’ sources of funding, and the liquidation of senior Hamas personnel in Gaza.

The actions directed at locales and individuals thought likely to have information may be narrowly concerned with the kidnappers, but others are meant to pressure Palestinians generally until some useful information comes from those who have had enough. There is also an explicit intention to punish and weaken Hamas, and to signal other Palestinians of the folly involved in allying with that organization.

The closing of Israel to a hundred thousand Palestinians with permits for daily work is meant not only to limit the possibilities of the kidnappers, but to pressure Judea and Samaria economically.

Political and military personnel have emphasized that the search and related operations will take some time, and caution patience. The media have turned to other international and domestic issues. Reports that searchers are going to the numerous caves and old pits carved into the rocks of Judea and Samaria to preserve water suggests a lessening of hope to find the boys alive.

The commanding general of the IDF has cautioned the thousands of personnel working throughout Judea and Samaria that most Palestinians are not terrorists, and may not support terror. He urges the troops to act with decency as they search homes, stop cars and pedestrians, and question Palestinians.

Ramadan is on the horizon, along with Israeli hints that re-established barriers to Judea and Samaria movement may affect a month-long holiday that involves a great deal of travel to prayer and family feasts.

Hamas has responded by reminding Israel of the missiles it has capable of reaching Israel’s centers of population.

So far Israeli officials are not threatening what the IDF can do to Gaza in response.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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