Yom Yerushalayim. Apparently, on the day that celebrates Jerusalem’s reunification, every national religious high school and yeshiva feels obligated to visit and make physical contact with the Holy City, as if to confirm that it really is in our hands.
My children, Ari and Eden, were among those who, with their classmates, went to Jerusalem. The day before the trip, my wife asked me, “Aren’t you worried about them both going up to Jerusalem on Yom Yerushalayim, when there’s such a potential for terrorist attacks?”
“Of course,” I replied. “I always worry. But what can we do… stop them from going to our capital city?!”
That night, I dreamed there was a terror attack and I only just managed to save my children. In the morning, I decided not to tell my wife about the nightmare. Why worry her even more? I was worried enough for two.
Our children were scheduled to return late that night. In the evening, we received a text message from Eden: “They threw rocks at our bus.” On the phone, she told us, with surprising calmness, that a group of masked youths cursed them in Arabic and threw rocks that smashed their windows, as the bus left the parking lot near the Western Wall. “Girls were screaming and crying. I just crouched down,” she said.
Violent attacks on Israelis by Arabs in and around east Jerusalem have become routine, with scores every month. The thin line between response, self-defence and deterrence versus self-restraint, and international public opinion that considers us Goliath to their David, exemplifies some of the challenges we have faced since 1967.
I recently returned from a business trip to Sweden. In the hotel’s gym, I chatted with another guest. When she heard I was from Israel, she expressed regret for the violence in our country and said with pride, “Sweden has not been involved in a war in over 200 years.” I wondered how Swedes would react if a group of masked minority youths attacked their children with rocks, close to one of their most significant sites – say, the Royal Palace in Stockholm? Would the attackers have even been permitted to remain alive?
My reflections on the right approach led me back a few thousand years to the story of Abraham and his sons, Isaac and Ishmael. I believe that the story in Genesis encapsulates the correct approach to the Arab minority community in Israel, the rocky path that the Zionist movement has been navigating for over a century. These are its main points:
1. Sarah was unable to give Abraham a son. Hagar bore Abraham his first-born son, Ishmael.
2. Sarah asks Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael in order to secure Isaac’s position as the heir. Abraham is reluctant to do so.
3. God instructs Abraham to do as his wife asks and reiterates that Isaac is his heir, but He also promises to maintain Ishmael’s standing: “Also the son of your handmaid, I will make of him a nation.” (Genesis 21:13)
In other words, the historical commandment to the people of Israel is to ensure that the Jews (Isaac) will control Israel, to ensure their future in the country, even if that sometimes clashes with basic values (the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael). But at the same time, the descendants of Isaac are also commanded to ensure that the standing of Arabs (Ishmael) is not eroded and to make every effort to allow them to live honorably and securely.
The historical balance between “through Isaac will your seed be continued” and “I will make of [Ishmael] a nation” was difficult enough to understand theoretically, when we Jews were a minority and exiled from our land. Today, when we are a free people in our own land – and the majority – this balance is being put to the test and is proving very difficult to achieve.
As the last 66 years have born witness.