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SREBRNIK: Israel and the Complexities of Jewish History

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu .
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu . - Associated Press

Jewish identity after the Holocaust and the creation of Israel has become ever more complex, especially for those of the post-1945 generation, who grew up immediately after these transformational events

In Israel itself, Jews face a dilemma regardless of where they find themselves on the ideological spectrum.

While the left is correct about the dangers of continued occupation of the territories acquired after the 1967 war, the right warns about the dangers of a peace process with a Palestinian national movement that includes Hamas, which rules Gaza and is sworn to eventually destroy the Jewish state.

The enclave is home to two million Palestinians, more than half of whom live below the poverty line and who face an unemployment rate of nearly 50 per cent.

The militant group believes that the Jews invented their history and that Israel is nothing more than a colonialist intrusion, which needs to be destroyed, as were the Christian Crusader kingdoms almost a millennium ago.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the last decade and many on both sides think a fourth is inevitable.

Hamas sees compromise as a betrayal of justice. The events on the Gaza border in recent weeks demonstrate this.

Why are Palestinians who live in Palestine demanding the “right of return” to a country that is no longer Palestine?

Does the Palestinian right of return mean going back to the actual ancestral homes that were lost in war 70 years ago? Those homes in most cases no longer even exist.

No Israeli government will agree to national suicide by allowing the descendants of refugees to move to the Jewish state.

The Palestinian demand for right of return to the state of Israel is nothing less than an expression of the rejection of Israel’s right to exist.

In a video of a July 12 rally, aired on Al-Jazeera, former Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad spoke about “the cleansing of Palestine of the filth of the Jews, and their uprooting from it,” which he promised would soon happen.

“By 2022 we will be rid of them,” he said, and Palestine will have been “healed of its cancer -- the Jews.”

It is of course true that modern Zionism originated in an increasingly inhospitable Europe, where pogroms were common, and where anti-Semitic hatred culminated in the Holocaust.

That’s not the whole story, though. Today, a majority of Israeli Jews are not of European descent but come from families who left one part of the Middle East and came to another part, who left or fled or were expelled from countries like Egypt, Iraq and Morocco, where Jews had lived for centuries.

They weren’t touched directly by the Holocaust but as minorities of a different faith they suffered at the hands of their Arab neighbours -- and long before 1948.

A Holocaust-centered narrative also ignores the centrality of the land of Israel to Judaism and the Jewish people.

Yes, Jews needed a safe home -- but not just anywhere. Through their culture, religion, and languages, Jews maintained a vicarious indigeneity with a homeland lost but never forgotten.

So this is the quandary: while Jews are not “occupiers” in any part of the land of Israel -- the way Europeans have occupied lands with which they had no historical or religious connection, in Africa, Australia, and North America -- Israel does govern millions of Palestinian Arabs who have no civil, national, or political rights under occupation.

Left-wingers tend to minimize the security threat that Israel faces, the level of hostility and denial of its right to exist. But right-wingers ignore the political, demographic and moral consequences of permanently ruling over another people.

The ideologues in each camp pretend the argument of the rival group has no substance. That is madness.

Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

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