Whenever trouble erupted in Israel during the 1980s, “colleagues” in my newsroom in central Pennsylvania would gaze at me suspiciously. At a laundromat in the same small town, a Democratic city councilman complained about Israel’s oppression of the poor Palestinians and an Israeli gunboat raid on the “Liberty,” an American intelligence vessel discovered off the Egyptian coast during the 1967 war.
They all seemed to be blaming me, and I was confused as everyone else about events in the Middle East, and I never heard of the Liberty.
At that time, I could never be sure who was responsible for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but I do remember that some right-wing Israelis along with their supporters in the Knesset and America made statements and took steps which escalated the crisis of the moment, which brings us to settler leader Yonatan Yosef.
Quoted in Monday’s New York Times, Yosef said, “I am so sorry that the Israeli government is afraid of the violence of a few young Arab people. The Israeli people will go back to their land, and those who don’t want that should go home.”
As an Israeli, Yosef should know that Israeli soldiers from Haifa or Tel Aviv are already “home” until the army deploys them to its territories, where most of the fighting usually takes place. American Jews are usually “home” in Philadelphia, Chicago or Los Angeles, and especially small towns, where they are often vulnerable to distorted verbal attacks on Israel.
Like his predecessors, Yosef does not care if younger Israelis must risk their lives to press Israel’s rightful claims of its territories nor how American Jews like myself must bear up with abuse from ardent Israel-bashers.
To make myself totally clear, I certainly stand for Israel in the current struggle afflicting Israel and mostly blame the Palestinians. Yet if Yosef thinks of himself as a patriot, his kind of patriotism jeopardizes the lives of his fellow Israelis and Jews in America and elsewhere, and at the very least makes life far more uncomfortable for American Jews like myself.
Right-leaning Jews like Yosef are stirring the pot in a volatile situation. They have been provoking the Palestinians, and there is nothing the Arab leadership enjoys more than warring against Israel.
We cannot discount the role of the Palestinians or their American helpers. Some Palestinians whose life’s mission is to destroy Israel will exploit any marginal opportunity to riot in Jerusalem, burn a synagogue or propel rockets from Gaza into Israel.
From her perch in Washington, Rep. Ilhan Omar swiftly provided her anti-Israel companions with ideological ammunition by accusing a Jerusalem deputy mayor of endorsing “ethnic cleansing.” Of course, in her view, it is doubtful that gunning down yeshiva students at a West Bank bus stop, one fatally, several days ago and expelling Jews from their homes when Arabs had such power constitutes “ethnic cleansing.”
Israeli distractors are at best misinformed and at worst blindly hostile or brazenly anti-Semitic. There is legitimate criticism to be expressed about Israel, but Omar and friends do not care about facts or proper context.
Israelis are now fighting on several fronts such as in a disputed neighborhood in east Jerusalem, the Aqsa Mosque compound, a demolished Jewish fish market in Acre and inside their own homes, where many have been cowering to escape the rockets fired out of Gaza.
The prime flashpoint, the fate of Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah, can be confounding. On the merits, I think the Israelis are generally in the right to pursue their properties and replace them with Jewish settlers, but that does not mean they are wise to go through with it.
Israeli trusts owned properties in Sheikh Jarrah until 1948, when Jordan seized control of east Jerusalem and the West Bank during Israel’s war for independence and constructed dozens of homes in Sheikh Jarrah to house hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had fled what would become Israel, according to The New York Times.
Israel returned ownership of the homes to Jewish trusts after Israel captured east Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank during the Six-Day War in 1967, and those trusts sold it to right-wing settlers, who have since attempted to evict the residents.
Jerusalem officials even say that they hope to evict the Palestinians and develop Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem so they can avoid including east Jerusalem as a giveback to Palestinians in a peace deal.
Further, Israel acquired east Jerusalem after Jordan attacked it and offered to return it to the Palestinians as part of a peace pact, which the Palestinian leadership rejected. After all that, why should the Israeli leadership care what the Arabs think of its actions?
Yet any attempt by Israel to invoke full control of any territories would mean more deaths and injuries, just as would happen if the Palestinians try to take over all of Israel.
Anyone who would deny a violent outcome would result need only view the videos of rocket fire displays during the past week.
Israeli officials and activists should give up their quest for the territories. Maybe they can accomplish this goal, but the body account will be high. Young Israelis should not be placed in harm’s way for it, and American Jews need not defend it.