[Freemanlist2] Ron Prosor -A taboo that harms Arabs too
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A taboo that harms Arabs too
The refusal of the Muslim world to recognise Israel's Jewish character is still the greatest obstacle to peace
The Guardian, Tuesday 20 April 2010
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Israel today celebrates its 62nd anniversary as the reborn sovereign state of the Jewish people. History demonstrated that Jews could not survive, let alone flourish, at the whims of majority cultures. This is not merely an academic argument but a lesson lived, learned and branded into Israel's DNA.
While I was born in the independent Jewish state, my father and grandfather were forced to flee Nazi Germany to strive for freedom in their homeland. Their experience taught me that the rights and freedoms provided to the Jewish people through the state of Israel can never be taken for granted.
Israel's raison d'etre is to be the "state for the Jews". Yet the historical rationale of our quest for self-determination is often misunderstood as a religious aspiration. In 1896 the Austrian Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Herzl, an assimilated secular Jew far more at home in Vienna's coffee shops and opera houses than its synagogues, concluded that Jews could only achieve freedom, dignity and human rights with a state of their own.
In Israel, Judaism is woven into the fabric of even the most secular life. Our day of rest, Shabbat, is Saturday. Public holidays are determined by the Jewish calendar. Our great writers such as David and Amos write in Hebrew, the language of the Torah. Our Nobel prize-winning scientists hypothesise in the revived tongue of ancient Israel.
Jewish individuals had enjoyed success before 1948. But through the state of Israel, for the first time in 2,000 years Jewishness was not an obstacle to be overcome, or a glass ceiling to be smashed, but a basic fact of life.
Jewish identity is the essence of our national character. It is also a central issue to be resolved with the Arab and Muslim worlds that surround us. The greatest obstacle to peace remains our neighbours' refusal to recognise the right of the Jewish people to a state in our historic homeland.
Jews have been indigenous to Israel for 3,000 years. Before 1948 the only independent sovereign state there had been the ancient Jewish kingdoms. Centuries of foreign imperial occupation followed, by Romans, the Muslim conquest, Crusaders, the Ottoman empire and the British mandate. It is fitting that as the colonial era drew to a close, Israel's original inhabitants restored their independence.
The 1947 UN partition plan proposed a Jewish state and an Arab state within "Mandate Palestine". The Jews welcomed this original two-state solution, declaring statehood in 1948. Rejecting compromise, Israel's Arab neighbours invaded. Now, 63 years since the partition plan, it seems anachronistic to question the state's Jewish identity.
The slogans of progress are well known – land for peace; two-state solution – but the identity of those two states must be clearly defined. Israel's existence as the Jewish state fulfils both a historic right and a historic need.
Israel shouldered responsibility for Jewish refugees from not only the devastation of Europe but across the Arab world, where Jewish lives were turned upside down through mob violence, massacres and Arab state policy; 800,000 Jews from Iraq, Morocco, Yemen and elsewhere were forced out, finding refuge in Israel. No Arab government has acknowledged an iota of responsibility for Jewish losses and suffering.
Jewish refugees included communities that had lived in the Old City of Jerusalem for generations but, in 1948, were ruthlessly expelled. Only after Jerusalem's reunification in 1967 could Jews once again live and pray in the city they built as their eternal capital centuries before London was a Roman encampment on the banks of the Thames.
Israel successfully accommodated those Jewish refugees. Any future Palestinian state, in conjunction with neighbouring Arab countries, will need to take responsibility for Palestinian refugees within their own borders, and not within ours. We seek peace, but not at the expense of our existence.
In Israel, the full civil rights of non-Jewish minorities are entrenched by law. The declaration of independence stipulated that all Israel's citizens can vote, stand for office and practise their faith in total freedom. For the Muslim world, however, recognising Israel's Jewish character remains taboo.
That needs to change. Western leaders are constantly urged to press Israel to make concessions. Suggestions of how the Arab world could advance the cause of peace are thinner on the ground. As a start, Arab leaderships must be persuaded to recognise not only the existence of Israel but the realities of who we are. Israel is not a temporary inconvenience to be demonised, destroyed or wished away, but the independent, legitimate and permanent nation state of the Jewish people.
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