Case Against a Palestinian State
Many are wondering what lies behind Arab rage
against Israel. Compared to the millions of Muslims slaughtered
by other Muslims in Sudan, Syria, Iraq and other countries,
Palestinian deaths in Israel are relatively few. Yet the millions
massacred and millions more repressed does not evoke Arab
outrage as do the events in Israel. Why the double standard?
In this week’s New York Times Nicholas Kristoff argues that
this double standard in the Middle East is due to the fact
that Arab countries are shame-based societies, and Israeli
repression of Arabs is seen not just as brutal, but also as
He cites Arabs telling him that, “Israel is
a colonial outpost and that as a result while Israeli Arabs
may have ballots and free speech, they have no dignity. The
Israeli occupation represents a total humiliation of all the
Arab regimes. It's a continuous reminder of the weakness of
the Arabs as people, of their society and political system,
as well as an indication of the impotence and corruption of
Arab humiliation seems to have become a mainstay
since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Arab world can simply
not get over their lost pride as a people who once ruled and
represented the epitome of civilization, and now are relegated
to Third World status. Israel and America represent for the
Arab world the source of this humiliation – so the argument
Many other speculations are offered to explain
Arab rage and frenzy against Israel and the West.
Understanding the underlying causes for Arab
sentiments is not academic; it is the only way to get to the
bottom of the issues. Understanding their mentality is the
true key to help provide us with a meaningful strategy. We
can never devise a workable plan as long as we focus on the
superficial causes, and do not understand the driving force
of our adversary. Does the Arab world just want justice for
the Palestinians? Equal rights (rights they do not have under
any Arab ruler)? Some land to live peacefully? Or perhaps
they want something more that they simply are not telling
I submit that the true reason and core root of Arab anger
is religious and not political.
The Arab world’s opposition to Israel is not
due to any Israeli actions, but rather to the very existence
of the Land of Israel and Jewish control over the land. This
control is a perpetual thorn in their side, and the root cause
for their “shame” and humiliation.
Why? Because Muslims fundamentally believe that
Israel’s existence – and Jewish control over Israel – in what
they consider to be their ‘conquered land,’ is a desecration
of their religious vision.
This is the reason why Muslims have always built
mosques on the sacred land of Jews and Christians (e.g. the
Temple Mount, Bethlehem) to demonstrate their absolute belief
that Muslim control over these lands fulfills and realizes
the Divine will.
This religious belief is the true cause for
the rage of the Arab/Muslim world against Israel. It is not
about human rights, Palestinian sovereignty, Arab dignity,
oil, money, harems, or any other issue. No amount of land
return, no concessions will satisfy them – other than the
elimination of Jewish control in Israel.
As uncomfortable as it may be, we will never
be able to resolve the issues until we realize that this is
a religious war not a political one.
Many of us would like to conveniently believe
that the issues are political ones, because that would make
the situation a lot more manageable and the problem a lot
simpler. We know how to deal with political challenges. But
if this is a religious war, we simply do not have the tools,
experience or interest to fight such a war.
Our existing modalities are secular ones. Our
political systems and governmental institutions have been
built with secular goals in mind, without much consideration
to spiritual and religious values, which we have relegated
to the private sector. We therefore do not see the world in
context of religious and spiritual vision. That’s why we cannot
fathom or understand the rage of the Arab world today.
And this is why a Palestinian state is not possible,
and for that matter not doable. A state will never satisfy
the Arab world. They will simply see it as a step in the direction
of their re-conquest of Israel. They do not want a state for
political reasons, but for religious ones. That is the key
to the underlying issues. As much as we wish to make the Arafats
of the world our “partners in peace,” we must realize that
our secular notions of peace are not part of their agenda
But what lies beneath and behind – what fuels
– this Arab rage and passion? To understand this we need to
enter into the secret world of religious passion. This week’s
Torah portion can help enlighten us
Balance between the sacred and the mundane is
the theme of this week’s Torah portion, Achrei-Kedoshim (actually
two portions that are joined as one). In Achrei we read about
the aftermath of the death of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons
of Aaron who were consumed by Divine fire when, in their passionate
ecstasy they entered the Holy of Holies inappropriately. Kedoshim
commands us to “be holy, because I, your G-d, am holy.”
Sanctifying yourself in the material world is
no simple feat. Spirit and matter are dichotomous. Our physical
existence consumes us so that it leaves little room (space
and time) for spirituality. Our struggle for survival – eating,
sleeping, work, shelter – hampers our search for transcendence,
the pursuit of our calling and higher purpose. Material life
lends itself to corruption, which explains why the scouts
sent by Moses to Israel returned with a negative report, arguing
that Israel is a “land that consumes its inhabitants.” Who
among us does not have the struggle between our own personal
higher standards and the temptation to conform to society’s
standards, between home and career, between focusing on our
transcendental needs when we are so preoccupied with our material
The challenge of creating harmony between body
and soul is twofold. When we are immersed in our daily needs
it is increasingly difficult to access our souls. When we
are inspired by a transcendental experience, we find it difficult
to reenter regular life. It seems as if the extraordinary
and the ordinary are mutually exclusive, like two different
worlds that can never entirely converge.
How often do we find someone caught up in spiritual
ecstasy that they cannot return intact? Being burned out by
the fire of a passionate high, unable to reenter ordinary
life? Case in point the famous Talmudic story of the ‘four
who entered the garden,’ three unable to return unharmed.
This explains why some mystics have chosen the ascetic path,
separating themselves from regular life, so that they can
pursue the life of the spirit.
Nadav and Avihu succumbed to this temptation.
In their great passion and love for the Divine, they entered
the Holy of Holies, and they… ‘burned out’ and could not return.
This week’s Torah portion defines the necessary guidelines
on how to enter holiness and how to internalize and integrate
the experience and not self-destruct.
Of course this fear of being spiritually ‘burned
out’ can lead one to argue the merit of the exact opposite
position: We should just immerse ourselves in our material
lives and forget about our spiritual dreams and fantasies.
The argument goes: In our mundane world it is simply naïve
to live a life of spiritual and ethical integrity. If we do
embrace the sublime, we stand the great risk of ‘burn out’
and being unable to cope with ordinary life. Why take the
risk, better to just resign ourselves to a mundane life, as
close as we possible can to ‘animal bliss.’
Kedoshim tells us, no! We are obligated to sanctify
our lives. And this precisely is life’s challenge: To fuse
both worlds – matter and spirit, to spiritualize our material
existence. This requires a delicate balance – a delicate dance
– to synthesize both experiences, without one annihilating
What is sanctity? Sanctity is recognizing that
that every aspect of your life is not self contained but meant
to become a channel for a Higher presence. Kedusha
(holiness) is bittul (see Tanya chapter 6), suspension
of self that allows the Divine to enter. Selfishness and narcissism
does not allow anything else in. “Where is G-d?” the future
Rebbe of Kotzk was once asked as a child. He replied: “Wherever
you let Him in.”
The command “be holy” instructs us to sanctify
all aspects of existence – time, space and human. We must
sanctify our personal behavior, through kindness and love.
Then we sanctify time – we realize the preciousness of each
moment and fill it with meaningful and Divine activities.
Shabbat and the holidays are sacred days. Yom Kippur – the
holiest day of the year, the Holy of Holies – is the epitome
of time sanctification, serving as the source of sanctity
for all days of the year.
Finally we sanctify space, the homes, land and
countries in which we live. The Holy Land of Israel is the
epitome of space sanctification, serving as the source of
sanctity that spread to the entire globe. [This is one reason
why we pray facing the East – Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple
Jerusalem – especially the Temple Mount and specifically the
Holy of Holies on the Mount – is the center and nucleus of
Holiness on Earth. No wonder everyone always wanted to control
Jerusalem. Not just today but throughout history. How many
battles have been waged over that holy real estate?
So, Jewish control of the Holy Land and particularly
of the Holy of Holies is no small matter. Arab rage against
Israel may have many ostensible causes. But at its core root,
it stems from the Holy of Holies – from the need and will
to control that vital region. As long as Jews control it,
they feel utterly weak.
The Talmud gives us a profound psychological
insight. At times your unconscious – your mazal – may
sense something that causes a strong physical reaction. The
holiness of Israel and Jerusalem is the cause for the profound
enmity of the Arab world, even if there are other perceived
causes and not everyone may be conscious of the true cause.
But to devise a successful strategy requires
a true diagnosis of the problem. And sometimes (more often
than not) the truth is something no one wants to hear or acknowledge.
The war against Israel is rooted in religious belief (albeit
distorted). And this is very difficult for us to accept. Why?
There are many reasons. One compelling reason is this: After
all, our modern secular world still lingers in the long shadow
of the war between science and religion, a war many thought
was won long ago by science and secularism. Suddenly religion
comes back on the scene, and is threatening not just the Middle
East but New York and Washington – mighty secular America.
That is too much to absorb in one shot. That's why people
are in such shock. We need to get accustomed to this new reality
-- a religious global war being fought, a war that will determine
what G-d really wants of us, a war that will define and crystallize
once and for all what is true Islam, what is true Christianity
and what is true Judaism. We need to learn to reintroduce
a long forgotten G-d into our lives, to reacquaint ourselves
with G-d after a long hiatus, fueled by prosperity and its
inevitable complacency and spiritual lethargy.
As a Jew, I know that our role is to use every
platform available to us today to advocate the universal message
of Torah – what Abraham taught to all his children, how G-d
wants all of us to live, Jew, Muslim, Christian and all people.
The Torah’s essential message is that we can
and we must sanctify the material world. We need to integrate
the sacred with the mundane. One extreme or the other is simply
not acceptable: Violent passion – even in the name of G-d
– is destructive and therefore un-G-dly. Too much untempered
chesed (Ishmael) annihilates the universe. Conversely,
overabundant gevurah (Esau) and immersion in the material,
or its antithesis, radical disassociation with the physical
(as in celibacy), is equally destructive.
The holiness of Eretz Yisroel is complete when
it creates harmony between the physical land (Eretz) and the
Divine (Yisroel, meaning “You have battled with the Divine
and with man and you have prevailed”).
We are now experiencing perhaps the greatest
‘market correction’ in history – in defining the truth of
the world’s religions; a reality check of the vastest proportions
– the final battle – and ultimate reconciliation – between
the sublime and the secular, between spirit and matter.
Truth or consequences is not a game today; it
has never been so apparent. The consequences of living a lie
are becoming more obvious by the day (see my previous article).
Lies and deception work well in shadows, where is difficult
to discern true from false. But as the dawn breaks and we
can begin to clearly see the price we pay for our falsities,
the truth emerges in direct proportion to the exposed lies.
Are we really surprised that chemical weapons
have now been found in Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters?
Sometimes the most obvious truths are not stated
and acknowledged because we fear the unknown. But then when
we do acknowledge them we begin to realize that we have the
power to face the challenge.
Let us hope and pray that we do not have to
pay with any more lives to realize the truth of our situation
and act accordingly.