Yishai Fleisher is the International Spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Hebron. He is also an Israeli broadcaster and a frequent columnist for major news websites including a recent oped in the NY Times. He holds a JD from Cardozo Law and rabbinic ordination from Kollel Agudat Achim. Yishai is a paratrooper in the IDF reserves and lives with his family on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem.
The two-state solution is dead. Many think the West Bank will become a jihad state. Look at Gaza when we pulled out–now we have them firing rockets on us. Judea and Samaria (current area of West Bank) are our ancient homeland (Jew comes from the name Judea). We believe we have a right to return to this ancestral homeland.
We have taken every step towards a one-state, except for annexation–“The bride is there, the dress is on, we just need to put a ring on the finger.” We need to show people how a one-state solution is feasible, more peaceful, and more secure than two states.
The phraseology of the dilemma “to remain democratic and Jewish” in a one-state solution is problematic. First off, remaining democratic and Jewish in a one-state solution is not a problem. Additionally, they are two important values, but they are not and cannot be equal. The democratic aspect has to sometimes yield to the Jewish character of the state. Democracy is good but not penultimate. This is ultimately an ethnic state. For example, we don’t need to celebrate Muslim holidays, we can be kosher and not halal; essentially Israel doesn’t need to be ultra-liberal. We don’t need to give voting rights to every voter if that would undermine the Jewish nature of the state. We aren’t here to create a completely open democracy, and no state in this region is like that.
After annexation, the Palestinians currently in the West Bank area will become residents, and then if they pass through the hoops of loyalty they can become citizens, or they can just remain residents. They can have local governance but not affect the Jewish state. Remember, Puerto Rico is 3.5 million people who don’t have rights to vote in the US. Options need to be discussed though. There are a few options, and, although they have potentially repugnant elements, they are legitimate options. Here are five which touch on the previous thoughts as well:
- Jordan becomes Palestine. Jordan is almost 80% Palestinian already. Annex Judea and Samaria, and the Arabs living in the West Bank would be residents of Israel with full civil rights, but would be citizens of Jordan and exercise their democratic rights by voting in Jordan.
- Annex area C (~60% of West Bank) and give the Arabs area A and B and let them figure it out, while Arabs in Area C would be offered citizenship (the plan of Naftali Bennet).
- The Palestinian Arabs are more city-based clans and tribes than a cohesive nation, so form seven non-contiguous “emirates” or “reservations” in major Arab cities, including Gaza. Each state would be controlled by a clan head (plan of Mordechai Kedar).
- Annex everything and give Arabs in the West Bank full citizenship. Our birth rates are up, and there is no real demographic threat to a Jewish Majority. Give Arabs in West Bank residency with a pathway to citizenship through pledged loyalty to the state or, as mentioned above, give Arabs in the West Bank residency but not ability to vote in national elections like in Puerto Rico (3.5 million—residents without full voting rights).
- Help Arabs move and relocate through offering generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily to other Arab countries which had previously expelled approximately 800,000 Jews.
Everything west of the Jordan River is our ancestral homeland. Settlements are budding nascent communities. I don’t believe it is just or wise to give up our ancestral homeland, which is also strategic highlands. We are not going to divide them into a sub-state structure. They should be united and shouldn’t succumb to jihadism dressed as liberalism. I don’t think that most people living in Judea and Samaria would be willing to live under a Palestinian state. There would be some, but I really think it’s a combination of the land and the Jewish sovereignty. We have lived in Israel under non-Jewish sovereignty and it really wasn’t the same because those sovereigns weren’t watching out for our best interests and allowed us to be attacked and murdered, whether it was the British or the Ottomans. We didn’t come here to live just on this land, but to live on this land and to live under Jewish sovereignty. Also, while I understand them, I think these theoretical questions are kind of useless because A) the Palestinians have never shown reasonable interest in having us living under their sovereignty, and B) we are really not heading in that direction. I understand the point of the question, to understand what is more important to us, the land or the state? The answer is the land with the state. We are the forward units of our state, elite units of Zionism. We are really trying to draw our state in, and not just hold onto the land. For example, when I live on the Mount of Olives, one of my goals is to try and make sure there is more state presence. Not just the army and the police, but also the buses and the mail and the general presence. Making it a touristic site for example. It’s the land and the state. It’s the body and the neshama (the soul). The bigger question is really what to do with the Arabs–how is this tiny state in the Middle East going to treat its minority Arab population?
Biggest concern is jihad of various sorts: Sunni (ISIS) and Shiite (Hezbollah). As I said before, many think the West Bank will become a jihad state. Look at Gaza when we pulled out—now we have them firing rockets on us. The Jewish state uses high efforts to secure its citizenry because in a post-holocaust world we don’t want similar elements to be empowered. Within one state we can uproot jihadists and let decent and tolerant people have a very good life. I have a belief—if the right hand smashes the bad guy, the left hand can give rights and do good. In a two-state solution we would pull both hands back. We must be bad to the bad guys in order to do good to good people. We must excise “haters” from our midst. A two-state solution would give empowerment to jihadists by physically giving them space, and morally since they would feel like they were winning.
There has been settler violence from time to time. We abhor and reject vigilantism and violence. And we are always curbing it whenever it starts to rise up. But to paint it as Jews attacking Arabs is to reverse the whole thing. Jewish Hebron is 3% of a gigantic Arab city dominated by Hamas ideology. Sixty percent of all knife terror in Israel occurred in Hebron or came from Hebron. If we do commit violence it is usually in the face of a massive effort to erase our community. There are a lot of efforts to push us out of where we have always lived–from the international community, from the jihad itself, and from organizations that push to delegitimize our presence.
We are absolutely not dividing Jerusalem—it is going to be a united city. Why divide a sovereign city down the middle? It is reprehensible. This has to be thought of as a regional thing. While Arabs have many capitals, this is the Jews’ one capital. Arabs in Jerusalem will be offered residency and a pathway to citizenship.
With regards to the Temple Mount, Jews should have equal access. The Jewish vision of the Temple Mount is a house of prayer for all nations. I understand it is the Arabs’ holy site, and sometimes you have competing claims. I don’t know how it will work out but we have had two temples there, and yearn for a third temple someday. But, right now there is a less than minimum standard of social justice and human rights for Jews on the Temple Mount. Right now, our claim is denied by the authorities of the Waqf and there is a very fundamentalist system with segregation against Jews, who deserve rights in their holiest place. They deny that we had a Temple there even though within the Dome of the Rock it mentions the Temple. Inside the Arabic writings there is mention of Beit Maqdis, the holy house. Today we want to achieve at least a status of having the right to pray up there—whether during certain times or within a geographical zone.
How it’s going to work out in the end is hard to know. The Middle East has a long history, but there is no way to resolve the fact that we will always yearn to have a place on the Temple Mount. Our history is the foundational reason why anyone yearns for that place. Isaac was almost sacrificed there. Our first temple stood there and was destroyed. A second temple was built there and was then destroyed by the Romans, the remnants of which are still very much there. So our people know very well where the temple stood and we have no way of changing it to somewhere else. For Islam, there has been a lot of discussion about how relatively unimportant Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are. In terms of history, Professor Mordechai Kedar has written about it extensively, that it was like a back water thing and only later created by different dynasties because they wanted to compete with Mecca. Pictures from the last century show it was an unimportant site. Only when the Jews started coming did it reach a point where Islam strengthened their connection to Jerusalem so they could push back on Zionism. Be that as it may, it will always remain holy to the Jews, and we will continue to yearn for a third temple. It is what we have done for the last 2,000 years and what we will continue to do. It’s the simple truth. There is no simple way to easily resolve this. There is a competing claim, and we aren’t going to be able to erase that claim or move our claim to somewhere else.
There was war, people ran away, and other things occurred that normally happen during war. But, a more natural thing also happened: Arabs went to Arab land and Jews came to Jewish land. In 1948, six armies came against us. We pushed them back, miraculously, and the Jewish state was created. Some Jews were kicked out from their native Arab countries and started coming back to the land of Israel. It has been conveniently forgotten that 800,000 Jews were forcibly evicted from their homes, and most of their property confiscated. People say that is about equal to how many Arabs fled during the war. And often times they fled at the behest of Arab leaders.
It is an unpleasant business but Palestinians are culturally Arab and they have a huge region that Allah has blessed them with—22 countries. There has never been a unique Palestinian sovereignty, or culture, or heritage. Meaning to say, there was no previous Palestinian king, coinage, cuisine, or language. It’s all part of the general Arab milieu of the region. My point is that this is not an Arab sovereignty, so there is no “right of return” since you only get a right of return when you are the sovereign in charge. Don’t get me wrong though, we want minorities to be well adjusted and happy here. In fact, as sovereigns, we are responsible for them. And if they want to live in our country, they will be able to do so and will be respected as long as they respect the fact that this is a Jewish state. But, that does not mean that there is some sort of open immigration policy. Those that were kicked out should be repatriated. The right thing to with the refugees would be to repatriate them in the local countries—Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan. Jordan is an 80% Palestinian state! Why are there refugee camps there? Just give them a life.
There were Arabs who lost their homes here and there is no right of return for them. Even that language, “right of return,” was created for Jewish immigration to the land of Israel.
If somebody calls for a right of return, that means that they are really calling for the destruction of Israel. In the very land mass that was initially envisaged by the international community as being the state of Israel, today you already have the Kingdom of Jordan (essentially a Palestinian state), Gaza (a Palestinian state), they want to do a two-state solution to get a Palestinian state in the West Bank, and the right of return for a Palestinian state in Israel. So, four Palestinian states within the land mass that was initially allotted for Jews. It is all a narrative and a ploy to undermine the borders of the State of Israel, the population of the State of Israel. One of the most fascinating aspects of the whole refugee discussion is that even within the Palestinian Authority borders today, there are refugee camps. That itself should give you a clue into the usage of refugees as a stick with which to strike Israel. The truth of the matter is there were tens of millions of refugees (I think 80 million) after World War II, but they were all repatriated and found homes. Yet somehow the Palestinian refugee crisis continues endlessly, and we know how this works. There’s a creation of a refugee story. There’s a creation of organizations that perpetuate the refugee status. It is used for the narrative war. And the narrative war in this particular avenue is to create the image that Israel is an abuser and the bad guy in this story by saying Israel has either ethnically cleansed or dispossessed.
The very Geneva convention (fourth Geneva convention) that everyone cites with regards to our own forces “occupying” Judea and Samara is exactly the tactic they are using, which is a joke because we aren’t occupying anything, just coming back to our homeland. That’s exactly the tactic they are using with the right of a return; a population tactic to undermine Israel from within.
Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Zionism is a return to the land, to agriculture, to Hebrew, to Jewish culture, and to Jewish strength. When we see a Hebrew soldier, some may say that it creates a cycle of violence. I say it ends a cycle of violence of 2,000 years of Jewish persecution. This country is meant to be first a protector of Jewish people; second a greenhouse for the growth of Jewish culture; and third, to be a light onto the nations in an effort to better the world and certainly the Middle East region.
“Palestinianism” (NOT Palestinians) is a thin liberal veneer for jihadism. It uses the language of liberalism to enter the minds of decent people, but in fact there is nothing liberal about the people who promulgate “Palestinianism.” It is in fact illiberal. Therefore, “Nakba” is a propaganda tool to undermine the beautiful narrative of the Jewish people’s return to Israel. I am not saying there wasn’t suffering, but that’s the nature of war. Part of their society was calling to destroy us. That’s what happens when you try to “finish the job of the holocaust.” In a way it is karmic. Let us not forget that we were attacked, we didn’t attack them.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, notice that I use the word “Jihadists” and not “Arabs.” This is because Arabs are my cousins. Culturally, linguistically, religiously and ethnically we are so similar. We live there together. We will always live there together. I think every Israeli should learn Arabic. There is no Arab-Israeli war—there is Jihadist war.
With regards to the Palestinian narrative of the dispossession of the native people here by the Jews, it’s important remember that there has never been a Palestine, and that whole narrative is a post sixties newly-created narrative, with earlier elements. Also importantly, it didn’t have to go this way. A different narrative could have taken root. It is important to look at the Emir Faisal and Chaim Weizmann letters which included the pre-jihadist Arab attitude to the Jews of us all having self-determination together here in this area. Chaim Weizmann signed an agreement with Emir Faisal as part of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 in which they agreed to help each other. In 1919 Faisal said, “Dear Jewish brother, if you rise up as a Jewish state, help us rise as Arab states. We will support your Jewish state if you support our Arab states.” That pact was forgotten and replaced by horrible people, such as Hajj Amin al-Husseini—a jihadist and Nazi sympathizer.
Remember, the Jews have always been here on one level or the other. In Hebron, there has been an almost unbroken Jewish presence. We have always connected to this place, and traveled to this place. Maimonides traveled here in 1166. The main resurrection of Jews here really started with the expulsion from Spain 500 years ago. We were the majority in Jerusalem by 1850. The whole idea that we are “Johnny-come-latelys” and that we are Europeans is a total fraudulent narrative. Also, the Palestinian relationship to Israel has been greatly hyped up. At the end of the day, the majority of Palestinians who are here today are really the biggest Zionists in the sense they that have come to this area over the past 100 years as a result of Jewish fiscal success and Arabs looking to get away from the real scourge of the Arab world, which is joblessness. We are an ancient people. It’s not like we are just reclaiming a 2,000 year-old claim. Yes, we had two commonwealths here. We were evicted by the Romans, and later by the Islam invasion. Islam is a conquering force. We know where the Arabs are from. It doesn’t mean they haven’t lived here for a few hundred years. But OK, we have a superior claim to this land. The world recognized that. We have our self-determination. We pushed back invading armies. We have every legitimate right—historical, legal, moral, and defensive. And the Palestinian narrative was created in order to uproot our narrative. Its initial purpose was to be an anti-narrative. It is interesting and coincidental that Palestine wants to rise up exactly and specifically where our biblical history and two commonwealths were in Judea and Samaria.
If you see it from their perspective, you can understand that they are saying we have got to somehow shutdown this thing called “the settlements,” but at the end of the day the symbol of it is very clear. It is the same thing the Nazis did by boycotting Jewish stores. It’s really economic warfare. It’s really a civilian form of warfare. Don’t forget that besiegement and starvation are forms of warfare, and this is kind of a civilian form of the same type of effort to starve somebody out, close them down, and delegitimize them. I have no problem with the government not allowing the entrance of people supporting BDS, even if they come from some sort of “not totally hostile to Israel attitude.” At the end of the day it is really economic warfare against legitimate communities in their ancestral homeland, with the backing of the state, and the backing of international law in the Balfour declaration and San Remo. I know a lot of people want to act like Balfour and San Remo mean nothing, but they do mean a lot. So Jews have every right to live in these areas, and if you are going to economically boycott them, it is really an act of war. I think that it doesn’t have a lot of traction in economic terms, but it has much more traction in terms of delegitimization. That’s really what BDS is about. It’s not actually about having an economic impact, it’s about showing that Israel is doing something evil and wrong. A lot of young Jews have become “BDSers” because this way they think that they can force the hand. But you can’t force the hand of a different country. You can’t go against its wills, especially when it feels inside that they are doing something just.
Israel does not have an apartheid state against Arabs or against anybody else. The whole notion of it is so, so ridiculous because it is really ironic that the one state in this whole region that yearns for human rights, civil liberties and social justice, is the one singled out for not keeping these things. It is ironic and it is such a lie. Firstly, what is apartheid? It is when you can’t marry that race and you can’t drink from the same water fountain. We have nothing like that. Whatever limitations we have are all based on security. It is not a racial thing—it’s against the jihad. There have been limitations that are really for the defense of Israel. And this is where the whole apartheid state comes into focus. When you zoom out, you get good focus. Look at this region. The truth is that the Jewish people have been the victims of apartheid for a very long time (certainly you know about it in Europe), but now in the Middle East we have been second-class citizens, persecuted relentlessly over and over again. We have a tiny corner of the Middle East. Everybody wants to forget about that. It’s really a tiny Jewish autonomy in a giant Arab region. And this Arab region practices second-class citizenship and apartheid all the time. They don’t just practice it against Jews, but even against Arabs, such as Christian Arabs. And even against Palestinians—Palestinians living in Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine. What do I mean? There are still refugee camps and they still treat them as refugees under the PA. My point is that that’s where they really treat Arabs with true apartheid, and by that, I mean, don’t see their humanity and treat them like second-class citizens.
Here in Israel we have a situation where we have been forced to have all kinds of security concerns and limitations, but that’s because of security consciousness. However, let me be clear: Israel itself is an ethnic state. It is a state for the Jews—by the Jews, for the Jews. That’s what it is meant to do—protect this tiny minority in this region. It is not meant to be a safe harbor for Arabs. It is meant to defend this minority called the Jewish people and therefore it puts the interests of Jewish people first. That’s not apartheid, that’s like Japan. In Japan you have a country that is a small island, but it isn’t going to give everyone citizenship easily because it wants to protect the interests of its people. In the US, Puerto Ricans can’t vote in national elections. No one calls that apartheid. So this word “apartheid” is yet again a real effort to delegitimize and create this false blood libel idea that Israel is this big, conniving, evil state, some sort of Pariah state. But, of course, that is ridiculous. It is a state based on ideas that run contra to apartheid.