Truth to Power: Rejecting Terror

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Temple Mount

It should come as no surprise that, when it comes to Middle East politics, not everyone agrees with us. And it’s not necessarily because others are evil or anti-Semitic.

We have a narrative. In extremely abbreviated form: Jews and Arabs both lived in the land that the Romans called “Palestine.” (They called it this in order to thumb their noses at the Jews, by renaming the Jewish homeland after the inhabitants’ ancient enemies, the Philistines.) This later became part of the Islamic Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire and then the British Mandate. In 1947, the land was partitioned. About 20% was given to the Jews and called Israel; the other 80% was given to the Arabs and became modern-day Jordan. In 1967, Arab nations attacked Israel and were defeated. In the battle, Israel acquired the portion of Jerusalem they did not previously control, including the Kotel. Under international law, when a country acquires land in a defensive war, they’re entitled to keep it.

Historically, there was never an indigenous Palestinian people. Originally, it was just Jews under Roman rule. Muslims came in the seventh century when the Caliphate invaded and conquered the land. After that, it was Jews and Arabs (as well as Christians and others) under Islamic, Turkish or British rule. There never was an Arab state called Palestine. The flag of pre-partition Palestine had a Jewish star on it. The football (i.e., soccer) team of mandate Palestine was called “Nivcheret Eretz Yisrael Bechaduregel” (The Land of Israel National Football Team), was managed by the Eretz Israel Football Association and played out of Maccabiah Stadium in Tel Aviv. The mandate-era newspaper The Palestine Post is still around but it changed its name in 1950. You probably know it better as The Jerusalem Post.

So, from our point of view, even without bringing religion into it, it’s a no-brainer that the Jews have an ethical, social, historical and political claim to Israel.

But others are raised in different environments and are exposed to different things. Some people may be overt liars who distort history but others are innocent people who rely on the words of their teachers and religious authorities. Some may recognize our narrative but challenge our rights based on their own perceived rights. Others may simply have different opinions.

This is not limited to people who live in the West Bank and Gaza. For starters, we have to expect that Muslims and Arabs in general are going to accept the Palestinian version of the narrative, no matter how flawed we may think it is. And what about people living in the US, UK, France, or elsewhere? We have to expect that when presented with the Israeli and Palestinian versions of history, at least some people are going to take the Palestinians’ word. Again, this need not be motivated by anti-Semitism; it’s strictly a numbers game.

In short, it would be naïve to expect that everyone will agree with history as we tell it, no matter how well-documented our claim is. That’s fine. I can accept that.

What I can’t accept is that people who object to terrorism when carried out by organizations like ISIS turn a blind eye to identical atrocities when committed in Israel, or they even actively justify them.

Recently, two Israeli Druze police officers were killed on the Temple mount. Comments on the BBC’s Twitter feed include such gems as

And let us not forget:

Even more recently, a family was murdered in their kitchen. Reactions included:

And, of course:

Now don’t draw conclusions that are too broad from this anecdotal sample. There are plenty of Muslims/Arabs/supporters-of-the-Palestinians who have different thoughts about the Middle East situation than we do but, like us, they abhor terror attacks no matter who is perpetrating them. And that’s really all I’d really like to see: that people object to atrocities no matter who commits them.

It should be noted that there are of course some Jews who applaud Palestinian casualties. This is equally wrong. There is, however, a huge difference in that Israel prosecutes those who perpetrate such acts (as it did those who carried out the 2014 murder of a Palestinian teen in retaliation for the murder of three Israeli teens). The PA, on the other hand, names streets after terrorists (as it recently did after Khaled Nazzal, who murdered 22 children and four adults in the infamous 1974 Maalot attack, among other atrocities). Whether a side encourages or discourages such things obviously has an effect on its constituents’ mindset.

Some misguided people may think they have to applaud everything their side does, or everything their leaders do. If they don’t, they may feel it’s disloyal. But that’s simply not true. We have a number of Biblical examples for this. For example, when King Saul was pursuing David, his advisor Doeg convinced him that the residents of Nov (who were kohanim) had conspired against him. I Samuel 22:17 tells us that “The king said to the guard that stood around him, ‘Turn and slay the priests of God because their hand is with David. They knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me.’ But the king’s servants would not stretch forth their hands to fall upon the priests of God.”

These were Saul’s troops. They were loyal to him. They were pursuing David with him. But they wouldn’t commit a war crime for him because an atrocity is an atrocity no matter who carries it out. (Doeg, who put the idea in Saul’s head, ended up carrying out the massacre himself. Saul is greatly criticized for this event but we see no repercussions for his soldiers’ insubordination.)

Sometimes, a little pushback is all it takes to effect a policy change. For example, King David was prepared to use his royal prerogative to execute Naval, who had been mutinous to him. Avigail convinced David that, while such was within his rights, the action was beneath him. David not only took Avigail’s advice, he thanked her for saving him from unnecessary bloodshed (I Samuel 25:33).

If you think that’s something, remember that Avraham balked at God’s plan in Genesis chapter 18, as did Moshe in Exodus chapter 32.

The people who objected to David and Saul’s plans were loyal subjects of David and Saul, respectively. Avraham and Moshe, who negotiated with God not to follow through on certain courses of action, were certainly loyal servants of God. All of these people simply exercised their consciences and spoke “truth to power.”

There are going to be those who side with the Palestinians against Israel no matter how many maps and history books we show them. We have to accept that. But we don’t have to accept people who justify or support terrorism. We must do everything in our power to end a mindset that sees the murder of innocents as an appropriate tactic and goes so far as to provide financial incentive.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.