Living in the West Bank - Jew or Israeli?

    August 2009            
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Opinion & Society


Jewish or Israeli Settlements

By Edward Stern

Israeli Prime Minister's Netanyahu's recent comment in response to pressure from the Obama administration that "the international community would certainly raise protest" if Jews were not allowed "to live or purchase property in certain neighborhoods in London, New York or Rome" underlines one of the main ideological issues that underpin the conflict between Israeli's and Palestians.

From the Israeli side of the conflict their claim to lands in the West Bank and Jerusalem are based partially on the proposition that Jews should be allowed to live anywhere. This from the Israeli side this is more than simply an

argument that if Jews can live in any area of London, why should they not be able to live in any area of Jerusalem. That is an argument that revolves around questions of equality of expression of religious preferences.

The far deeper basis of the argument can be seen under the banner of the long standing and emotionally emotive Israeli "never again" motif That motif stemming from the Holocaust was a result of the German intention to have a state free of Jews. It was an attempt to deny Jews a place in the world for the simple fact of being Jewish Of course in the sense of the Jews of that time, this was not an issue if a Jew could live in a neighborhood of Berlin or Hamburg. It was the prelude to physical extinction. The path to a Germany free of Jews was to take away citizenship, so Jews would be left to face their fate "nude" so to speak, without the rights and protection citizenship provides This historical connection between Jewisness, homelessness (lack of statehood) and destruction is a theme that partially has driven this Israeli government and previous governments in Israel insistence that Jews should be able to live anywhere.

It is the echo of the above historical past that the present Israeli government seeks to impose on the present situation.

The present situation is of course fundamentally different from the past simply because there is a state of Israel. Indeed the overwhelming rational for the creation of Israel was that Jews would never again be politically homeless, open to the fate of their European forefathers. The Israeli argument that Jews should be allowed to live anywhere is in effect a continuation of the Nazi era Jews without a state experience. One might ask rhetorically of these Jews moving into areas of East Jerusalem or parts of the West Bank:"What has become of your statehood?" "Are you only Jews?"

Of course the historical relevant question today is should Jews who are citizens of Israel be allowed to live anywhere, with all the trappings of statehood that goes with it Closely related to this is the fact that when Jews build in Jerusalem or the West Bank they build ultimately as Israeli's Jewish builders, and it is the State of Israel which may make claims to these Jewish areas. This is a critical issue in situation where two parties have disputed areas as far as the creation of borders of states.

In the above light the contention that just as a Jew should be allowed to live in any area of Jerusalem in the same way as he should be able to live in any area of London bears some scrutiny.

Neighborhoods in London are not disputed as to sovereignty by different parties, This is not the case in Jerusalem or the West bank. Furthermore there is not to my knowledge any Jew attempting to move into a neighborhood in London demanding the full rights and protection of Israeli sovereignty Conversely for a Jew to live in disputed areas in the West Bank and Jerusalem simply as a Jew lacks reality. Jews in this area of the world are overwhelmingly Israeli and their citizenship moves with them

While it may be that a London based Jew is actively discouraged because of his religion from living in a particular neighborhood of London his Israeli counterpart in attempting to live in parts of Jerusalem or the West Bank finds resistance on a far different basis. The basis of the resistance is his nationality and the soverity and powers that follow him. While it is certainly true that some Moslems discriminate against and dislike Jews, the critical issue in this resistance in Israel is nationality and not religion.

The attempt by the present and past Israeli governments to couch the settlement issue in terms of religion is at best an historical oddity. At worst it is a cynical use of the past to promote what is perceived as present Israeli interests.

Edward Stern is a teacher and writer who lives in Moshav Ein-Vered


from the August 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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