September 19, 2020

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Einat Wilf is Right About a Lot of Things, But She’s Wrong About Israeli Settlers, Land, and Peace (Judean Rose)
Dr. Einat Wilf is a former Labor MK, which makes her center left. You’d think that means we’d have profound and fundamental disagreements regarding just about everything. As it turns out, this is not the case. Wilf doesn’t trumpet a center left party line, but is an original thinker with brilliant, nuanced opinions. Wilf, moreover, expresses those opinions in way that is both eloquent and persuasive.

When I listen to Wilf speak, for instance her remarks at the recent UN Watch rally against Anti-Israel bias, I am positive that we are on the same side: that the schism between right and left is not insurmountable. That we are all one people.

But then, inexplicably, Wilf gets it all horribly wrong, as she did while serving on a panel at the 92nd Street Y. In summarizing how she sees the “conflict” between Israel and its enemies, Wilf describes a race for mutual exhaustion, in other words, a game of chicken. If we just keep at it, keep fighting, the other side will exhaust itself and decide to accept us (Israel), just not on all the land. Israel, on the other hand, will eventually become so tired of fighting that it will give up Judea and Samaria just in order to be accepted as a legitimate, sovereign presence in even a part of the land.

The conflict will end based on the outcome of the race we’re currently engaged in which is a race for mutual exhaustion. At the core of the conflict remains the idea that the Jewish people are a foreign, and therefore temporary presence in the land. And that is at the core of it and that explains the repeated refusals to accept anything that would legitimize the Jewish people as a legitimate, indigenous, sovereign, powerful presence.


So what we are engaged in and have been engaged in for over a hundred years is a race of mutual exhaustion whereby the Arab world more broadly is trying to exhaust the Jewish people into basically leaving and thereby legitimizing the notion that Israel is the second crusader state: a foreign, temporary presence, and we are trying to exhaust the other side into finally letting us be, into accepting, that as crazy as it is, we are an indigenous people who have come home, that this is our homeland. We are not foreigners. We are not some white settler European colonialists. This is ourhome.


We don’t need all of it. There are two peoples in this land. But we do need to know that we are secure and accepted in part of it, and accept it as equals. 

To the war-weary center left, like Wilf, the land is, in some respects, an albatross. We can’t have all of it and have peace. From her purview, then, it is only reasonable to consider that we might trade some of it for primary Western values like security, acceptance, and equality. The left calls this “land for peace.”

But Wilf, et al, miss the point. The land is not a commodity. It cannot be traded, bought, or sold. It is simply ours. Everything else is a fiction, a lie. And even primary Western values such as security, acceptance, and equality look pale when measured alongside the shining treasure that is our birthright, the Land.

Roni Kissin of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom understands this principle. Here is what she said about what it is like to live on the Gaza border, in hearing distance of the daily violent protests (emphasis added). “The children come home in the afternoon and then the noises begin — the screams from the fence, the bombs being thrown, the army’s retaliation.

“We live this confrontation every day,” she said. “We’re not whiners. I will not give up my kibbutz, this is my country. I love the country. I will not give up my house, and if I do not live here, they will live here.

Kissin knows an open secret that Wilf does not: someone will live on this land. Will it be the people it belongs to, or the people who merely covet the land?

Some things are important. The land is one of them. More important than a game of chicken, than acceptance, equality, security. There can be no exhaustion. It is not in our hands.

This is where Wilf gets it all utterly and inexorably wrong. She thinks that peace comes before everything. She thinks that the attainment of peace is more important than holding onto our birthright, the land.

It is not.

This is not a game of chicken. It is not about winning or losing. It is not about being so tired. Tired of death, blood, terror.

It is about understanding that the Land of Israel is the primary value of the Jewish people. This is something that is forever. And no human can change that dynamic.

Wilf thinks that any reasonable human will agree with her. She goes so far as to put forth a thought experiment about the “right-wing settlers,” certain that they will put peace as a value, above the land.

If you will allow me for a minute, I do a little thought experiment for right-wing settlers, for all those who think that Israel has gone to the right, and that there will never be peace, and so forth. Tell them, “Look, let’s imagine this scenario: the Saudi King, sick and decrepit, does a Sadat. He comes to the Knesset flanked by the King of Jordan and the King of Morocco and they give this speech: ‘We’re done. We thought you were foreigners. We fought you with military invasion, terrorism, economic boycotts, UN Condemnations, intellectual warfare, but you stuck it out. You seem to have really gotten into your heads that this is your home. So: welcome home.


“‘We recognize that you are, indeed, you belong to this land; that you are a tribe of this region like other tribes, that your language Hebrew is a sister to our own. You belong here and we will fight you no more. We will no longer try to get you to leave. You will have your state but you got to get out of the West Bank.’”


At that split second, Jews who are living in the West Bank will run so quickly into Israel that the few settlers who think that their way of life is the only one will look back and when I tell that to settlers they say, “We know.”

We know that if Israel finally faces a real, true opportunity to be accepted in the region as equal and sovereign and the price of that would be to hand over the West Bank, to forego the settlements, we know they’ll pay it just like they did in 37, and in 47, and after 67, in 2000, and 2008. We know they’ll do it, we just don’t think that such a speech is forthcoming any time soon. So we’re safe.

But it really shows you that at the core of it, the Jews are a small, tiny minority in the region and the conflict will end at the moment that we know that we have finally been accepted and can rest as an indigenous people who have come home and been accepted as equal, sovereign, and masters of our fate. 

Wilf’s thought experiment shows that she understands not the smallest thing about the settler mindset.

She speaks the language of Western values, and of compromise. But Wilf doesn’t seem to understand that when it comes to the most important things, there can be no compromise. That one can be willing to sacrifice life, blood, and sons, for the things that are most dear. That there can never be any question of compromising when it comes to a birthright, something from God. Something that belongs not only to us but to our children and our children’s children, not merely because it is precious, but because it is ours by Divine Fiat. And we are supposed to use the land and live on it.

I don’t think that Einat Wilf is hopeless or that the chasm that yawns between the left and the right cannot be bridged. Dr. Wilf is an intelligent person. It should be easy to explain to her that alternative values systems exist. What may be difficult to absorb is that Western values and the Jewish values system are not synonymous: in fact, they are at odds. In particular this is so in regard to prioritizing the land, which is eternal, over peace, which is ephemeral, and in this case, moreover, dependent on satisfying the whims of a people sworn to exterminate the Jews.

It’s not that peace is not a primary Jewish value. Of course it is. Jews pray for peace thrice daily. Jerusalem means “City of Peace.” We greet each other with the word “shalom” and wish each other a Shabbat Shalom. We want peace more than anything. But how does one define peace?

A lull in violence is not peace. It is the calm before the storm.

Refusing to serve in the army does not bring peace. Might is a deterrence to violence.

Staying away from parts of our territory in order to prevent violence is not peace. If our presence in our indigenous territory will be met with violence, it means we have not yet attained true peace.

It is possible that every human being defines peace in his own way, but it is certain that peace at any cost, is not really peace.

And yet, the promise of peace is something the enemy holds out to the Jews like cheap baubles offered to Native Americans. The glitter attracts, but others know that the land is worth far more than shiny trinkets and a promise.
Not that the enemy will ever give up. Perhaps it will never be exhausted in its battle against the Jews. For the enemy, in fact, the battle is the entire point, while for die hard right-wing Jews, the entire point is the land. Peace enters the equation only in the minds of the left, who do not see beyond the borders of their quite limited viewpoint, because ahead of them they see only the glimmer of the promise. They believe that the promise of peace rather than peace itself is, in fact, the nadir: a supreme value to seek and attain no matter the cost, an eminently sane idea.

It does not occur to them that the situation can reasonably be seen in any other way. The concept that land is more important than the promise of peace seems to them ridiculous, foolish and foolhardy, the idea of a fanatic–someone who will die for no good reason and put his children’s lives in danger, too.

But perhaps Wilf will someday follow through on her thought experiment and ask a real settler: “Would you willingly abandon the land for the promise of peace?”

Instead of hearing the answer she expects, if she listens with an open mind, she might learn the truth: that to some of us, the promise of peace is ephemeral, but the land is eternal, a supreme value. Some of us may, God forbid, die in the effort to live a full life in the land. But for us, that will have been a life that is worth having lived.

There can be no higher goal.

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