"Read this if your stomach can take it," was the email my cousin Phil sent along with John Derbyshire's National Review article "Israel's Future" on the odds of the continued existence of the State of Israel.
Sitting here in the Old City of Jerusalem, my stomach barely took it. Mr. Derbyshire presents a compelling case for Israel's inevitable extinction. He quotes Norman Podhoretz in Commentary declaring that there is "no glimmer of light at the end of this dark and gloomy tunnel," and counseling Israeli Jews to hunker down and wait for the Arab world to someday make its peace with the existence of a Jewish state in its midst. (Does he expect me to restrain my daughter from venturing into downtown Jerusalem not for weeks, but for decades?)
Mr. Derbyshire counters this point of view with an even more pessimistic stance, that of policy intellectual Ron Unz, who wrote in a letter to Commentary: "I expect Israel's trajectory to follow that of the temporary Crusader kingdoms, surviving for seventy or eighty years following its 1948 establishment, then collapsing under continual Muslim pressure and flagging ideological commitment."
Mr. Derbyshire, who is British, bases his contention that "Israel will go down" on the experience of Northern Ireland. There the terrorist IRA emerged victorious, even enjoying their own offices in the House of Commons, proving, according to Mr. Derbyshire, "that democracy is no match for terrorism":
"Dedicated irredentist terrorists with a single clear goal--Unite Ireland! Destroy Israel! – will get what they want in the end. They have too many things going for them that their opponents, the modern constitutional democracies, do not have. They have stamina – the iron determination to press on for decades, for generations, brushing aside all reverses, weathering all storms, expelling all doubters... They have the luxury of perfect ruthlessness as regards method...
"While their enemies debate the morality of this weapon or that, and the best way to avoid "collateral" casualties, and whether their terrorist prisoners should have air conditioning, the terrorists themselves are planting bombs in busy shopping streets, shooting up 12-year-old girls at a bat mitzvah, or leading away the single mother of ten children to be executed for the "crime" of comforting a dying enemy soldier."
Derbyshire's logic is infallible — if no God had promised otherwise.
Mr. Derbyshire's logic is infallible and his conclusions would be irrefutable – if there were no God who had promised otherwise. But there is a God. And although He did not promise Northern Ireland to the Protestants, He did – repeatedly and emphatically – promise the Land of Israel to the Jews. And although logic and historical experience usually carry the day, God's will always carries the century.
The Conditional Clause
This does not mean that the knots in my stomach can relax. God's promise of the Land of Israel to the Jews has its unconditional clause and its conditional clause.
God's unconditional promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is that their children will inherit the Land of Israel as an eternal inheritance. That means that it will always belong to us, and will never belong to any other nations, even if they conquer it, claim it, and rule it. Much has already been written about how, during the 2,000-year Jewish absence, the land flowing with milk and honey became a barren wasteland, as if unwilling to yield her fruits to strangers.
But God never promised us a rose garden. The specific quality of the Land of Israel is that God is palpably, constantly present. The inescapable, meticulous Divine Providence which is evident in Israel, what the Torah describes as "God's eyes are on the Land of Israel from the beginning of the year to the end of the year," lends itself to spiritual growth, not to soporifics; to confrontations with self, not to comfort.
The Jewish people has a purpose – to come close to God and reveal His light. The essential nature of the Land of Israel – the goading presence of God here – facilitates this purpose. Thus, only in Israel can the Jewish people be who we were meant to be. The people of Israel and the Land of Israel are united in a marriage which is destined, made in heaven, for which there can be no divorce. This bond is indissoluble and unconditional.
When the Jewish people is not engaged in its purpose, the result is exile.
When the Jewish people is not engaged in its purpose – to come close to God and reveal His light, they do not need to live in the land whose whole raison d'etre is to accommodate that purpose. The result is exile. Thus, although the people of Israel and the land of Israel can never be divorced, they can be separated, as witness two millennia of exile.
Thus, God's promise of the Land of Israel to the Jews has two parts:
1) The promise that we will inherit the Land is unconditional.
2) The promise that we will get to actually reside in the Land is conditional.
In the Torah, God clearly and repeatedly lays out the singular condition for getting to live in the Land: the fulfillment of the mitzvot. As it says in the second paragraph of the Shema: "If you continually obey My commandments that I command you today, to love God, your God, and to serve Him, with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will [enable you to remain in the Land, but if not]... you will swiftly be banished from the good land which God gives you." [Deut. 11:13-18]
However determined, wily, and brutal the Arab terrorists are, our remaining in Israel depends on one factor only: whether or not we Jews are fulfilling our end of the Covenant.
Against All Odds
When we Jews act according to God's will, no enemy succeeds against us. Even the short history of the modern State of Israel testifies to a supernatural providence which defies logic and numbers, which confounds expert analyses and pundits' predictions. What would Mr. Derbyshire and Mr. Unz have said on May 14, 1948, as five Arab armies mobilized to devour the Jewish state about to be born, which was so lacking in armaments and training that it sent newly arrived immigrants, mere days in the country, into battle without weapons? How did the universally accepted prediction of a Jewish bloodbath on the eve of the Six-Day War turn into Israel's most stunning victory? What were the odds during the Gulf War that of the 39 Scud missiles Saddam Hussein launched at densely populated Ramat Gan, not one would score a direct hit on Israeli families huddling in their plastic-wrapped rooms?
Anyone who reads Israeli newspapers knows that something other than the laws of physics applies here: "Bomb Explodes in Central Bus Station. No Injuries." "Powerful Car Bomb Guts Store in Mea Shearim. No Injuries." "Five Mortar Shells Fall on Nitzanim. No Injuries."
Walking down Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem two weeks ago, amidst construction crews rebuilding a swatch of six stores (!) decimated by a suicide bomber the week before, my logic goes limp trying to fathom how the bomb could have wreaked such damage on a crowded street and caused only one fatality.
Looking back into Jewish history, we see that the explicit promises of God have always borne out despite the odds. God promised [Gen. 17:7] that the Jews will be "an eternal nation." The mind-boggling mystery of Jewish survival, despite exile, dispersion, and persecution, was brought by Pascal as proof of the supernatural. God promised [Deut. 30:5] that, after exile, the Jewish people would return to its land. The return of an exiled people to its land after more than three generations is unprecedented in history.
That, on the threshold of the 21st century, Mr. Unz, a living and breathing Jew, is writing about an extant Jewish state is in itself a double miracle.
"A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not a realist." -- Ben Gurion
The annals of the Jewish people have always conformed to the spiritual causality of the Torah rather than to the laws of history. As David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, declared: "A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not a realist."
The Persian Prototype
God's hand, however, does not always act to save us, as history and current events painfully attest. Historians assert that the First and Second Temples and the ensuing exiles were the result of the superior military might of the Babylonians and the Romans respectively. The Sages of the Talmud contend that the first destruction was caused by three sins: bloodshed, idolatry, and adultery. The second destruction was caused by the even more grievous sin of Jews hating each other.
The shortsighted human propensity to blame tragedy on its immediate physical cause is compared by the Sages to a man beating a dog with a stick. The dog will try to save himself by biting the stick rather than the man.
According to all of Israel's leading contemporary rabbis, the Arabs are the stick which God is using to beat us. When we Jews turn around and start fulfilling the mitzvot, including especially the mitzvah to love each other, the Arab threat will dissipate as surely as the mighty Assyrian army which laid siege to Jerusalem in the 8th century B.C.E. On the brink of despair and defeat, the Jews woke up one morning and found the Assyrian forces gone, decimated by a mysterious plague which had struck their encampment during the night, sending the terrified survivors fleeing in panic.
The prototype for Israel's impasse should be 4th century BCE Persia, not 20th century Northern Ireland.
Nor was this the only time that the Jews were saved by an unexpected reversal of fortune. The holiday of Purim this week celebrates an equally dramatic salvation from certain extinction. An arch-anti-Semite rises to political power in ancient Persia and convinces the Emperor to exterminate every Jewish man, woman, and child. The decree of annihilation is already signed, sealed, and delivered throughout the Persian Empire, in which the entire world Jewish population resides. Faced with impending doom, the Jews, at Mordechai's urging, do tshuva (turn around in repentance). Three days later, the Queen of Persia suddenly reveals to her husband of five years that she herself is a Jew. The Jews are saved and their would-be exterminator is hanged, leaving the Mr. Derbyshires of the day scratching their heads.
The prototype for Israel's current impasse should be 4th century B.C.E. Persia, not 20th century North Ireland.
Safety Or Service?
Mr. Derbyshire prognosticates that the State of Israel will collapse because the best of its citizens will be worn down by terrorism and leave: "Sick of terror, longing for a normal bourgeois life, those who can--those who have education, talents, marketable skills-- will slip away. The dumbed-down remainder, outnumbered and outwitted, will sink into a defeatist lassitude..." He cites a recent poll of Israeli Jews aged 25-34: A third want to leave the country.
Here Mr. Derbyshire has hit on the raw nerve of post-Zionism. To the extent that "longing for a normal bourgeois life" defines the motives of modern Israelis (and defined the motive for their parents' and grandparents' aliyah), to that extent his prophecy will prove accurate. Israelis who came to Palestine as a refuge from anti-Semitism or in order to be a nation like all other nations have reached the end of their Zionist road. The most dangerous place for Jews today to live is Israel, and the other nations of the world have shown, whether by active anti-Zionism of the Durban variety or by the all-pervading European refusal to allow Israel to defend its citizens, that Israel will never be accepted as a normal member of the "family of nations." In this impasse, the secular Zionist dream has turned into a nightmare from which its erstwhile dreamers long to awake.
Rather than seeking safety or normalcy, Jews sought their destiny as a holy people in the holy land.
For other Jews, however, the Zionist agenda was different from the start. Rather than seeking safety or normalcy, they were seeking their destiny: to be a holy people in the holy land. No amount of Arab-inflicted suffering or loss can deter people for whom the service of God in the land He has chosen is the very purpose of life. Not only was a "normal bourgeois life" never their aim, but most of them accepted the Talmudic maxim: "The Land of Israel is acquired only through suffering."
Mr. Derbyshire, meet:
- Oksana Chelnokov, 32, who immigrated to Israel from Uzbeckistan just four months ago, and was seriously injured in the recent Jaffa Road suicide bombing. Having lost most of her intestines and her hearing in one ear, Oksana affirmed from her hospital bed that she does not at all regret coming to Israel. "Now I have two birthdays," she asserts, "August 12, the day I was born, and January 27, the day my life was miraculously saved from a terrorist bomber."
- The residents of Israel's northernmost city, Kiryat Shomona, who, after every barrage of Ketusha rockets from Hizbullah across the Lebanese border, emerge from their bomb shelters and proclaim: "This is our home, and even if we have to live in bomb shelters for days on end, we are not leaving our city."
- Ariella Feinstein, 20, from the United States, who came to Israel to study for two years at a Jewish seminary and was injured in the 2001 Ben Yehuda bombing. In the wake of the attack, Ariella – and her American family – decided to make aliyah. "Spiritually, it makes sense to live in Israel," Ariella declared. "I'm a better person in Israel. Besides," she added, referring to the terrorists, "I'm not going to let them win."
- Leonid Kagen, 42, who, one year after he emigrated from the Ukraine to a Jordan Valley moshav, was the victim of a terrorist auto attack. The car Leonid was driving was so badly mangled that an army helicopter had to pull it open for Leonid's crushed body to be extracted. After the army helicopter sped Leonid to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, in the intensive care unit Leonid asserted: "Of course I'm not sorry I came to Israel! Do you think that in Russia they would have called out the army to save a Jew's life?"
- Ellen Fine, who left behind a prosperous medical practice and a luxurious house in California to move, with her family, to a rented apartment in Jerusalem. When the first Intifada hit, her friends asked Ellen if she would be returning to the U.S. "I was appalled by the question," Ellen recalls. "We came to Israel to build something. America was about getting. Israel is about giving."
- Deena Berlin, 57, born on a religious kibbutz. Recognizing the direct connection between mitzvot and getting to keep the Land, Deena adopted two Down-syndrome babies who had been abandoned by their parents at birth, what she calls "a 24-hour-a-day mitzvah," so that the Jews will get to keep the holy city of the Patriarchs, Hebron.
- Victor Lipovsky, 48, who was seriously wounded in a terrorist ambush which killed his mother. Said Victor after his mother's funeral: "I came from Russia [twelve years ago] in order to live in my country. Where am I supposed to run to? No one can get me out of here, and I'm not leaving."
If we Jews – each of us individually – choose to love and serve God, then the State of Israel will survive, and our enemies will disappear, as the Psalmist says, "like chaff before the wind." If we choose not to (and the choice is up to us, not the terrorists), then the State of Israel "will go down."
But it will not go down as Mr. Derbyshire predicts, with the best of our citizens giving up and moving to the lands of bigger malls and better jobs, safer and more salubrious sites. The Jewish people never willingly went into exile. The Babylonian and Roman victors had to drag us off in chains. No, Mr. Derbyshire, we will go down with our blood and the blood of our children washing over the land, knee-deep, as when the Romans wrested Jerusalem from us. In life or in death, we will not be sundered from our holy land.
When it comes to "stamina," the quality Mr. Derbyshire ascribes to the terrorists, "the iron determination to press on for decades, for generations," the Arabs have nothing over the eternal Jews.