As I write these words, the recently declared cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians is holding but remains fragile. As an ethnic American Jew who is also a long-time Christian (Episcopalian), I wish my people when they created the modern state of Israel had approached things differently. Of course, Zionism came from the same 19th-century mindset as other ardent nationalisms, including alas Nazism: that is, it was a nationalist philosophy based on ethnic purity. Even David Ben Gurion, a major co-founder and early prime minister of 20th-century Israel and an otherwise visionary leader, said—incorrectly—that Israel was “a land without people for a people with a land.” The only problem was that, as in the Exodus story, there were people already there. In ancient times they were called Philistines. Now there were Palestinians. Okay: spoiler alert! The Arabic word for Palestinian is falustin. Yup! As Yogi Berra famously said, “Déjà vu all over again! These folks were getting misused yet again, this time by a very people who had lost a third of their world population in the Holocaust and should have known better...
What I would have preferred, had they had the chops to do it, would have been that the early Zionist settlers in the Holy Land had come in and said to the locals on the ground, “Look. You people have been here for generations. Your ancestors lived, worked, and are buried here. This is your land. Our people have not been here, except maybe for a few, for two millennia. Yet we still feel an ancestral tie to the land. Please let us share it with you. And here’s what we have to offer in exchange. For the past two thousand years, many of us have lived in the West and, as a minority, have learned what folks there know and can do. Often, in fact, we learned more and could use our knowledge better than they could. Let us share what we know and can do with you. While we are rebuilding our Holocaust-decimated lives, let us help you turn what would be our shared desert into a blooming place. Let us both thrive together. Moreover, there are without doubt many things we could learn from you. Please stay in your houses and tend your olive groves. Let us buy your least desirable land at a fair price, and let’s see what we can do with it.” Just imagine how the situation in a true Israel-Palestine would be today if things had started out on that footing.
My prayer is that it is not too late in Eretz-Yisrael to beat rockets into computers and substitute helpfulness for hate. By the way, think what the United States would be today if the early Western European colonists had done likewise with the indigenous peoples they found here and later had resisted the temptation to own and use slaves for work they should have done themselves. But that too is water under the bridge. Still, a Bulgarian proverb advises, “New day—new fate,” and, as we Americans say, where there’s life, there’s hope. May we all, Israelis and Americans, make it so.