Monthly Archives: July 2013

This past week, Jews all over the world commemorated the Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day which marks the destruction of Temple of Solomon in 586 BCE, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and a host of other tragedies that the Jewish people have experienced.

In the Babylonian Talmud (the Oral Torah), Tractate Yoma 9b, the Rabbis tried to make sense of the destruction of the Holy Temples. They start with the first one:

Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed.

The explanation for the destruction of the Second Temple is probably the most well-known part of this passage, but I want to start by focusing in on the third of these cardinal sins that led to the destruction of the First Temple, bloodshed. The Rabbis explain:

Bloodshed [prevailed] as it is written: Moreover Manaseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another. They were wicked, but they placed their trust in the Holy One, blessed be He.

When the Rabbis wish to explain how bloodshed led to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, they specify that the bloodshed in question was done by those who had faith in God.

Here, we see a theme that is all too familiar amongst modern-day supporters of the State of Israel: defenders often conflate the religious connection of the Jews to the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) with the modern State of Israel in order to justify their violent acts. Yet here in the Oral Torah we see that this sort of thinking is precisely what led to the destruction of the First Temple.

Their explanation for the destruction of the Second Temple is much better known:

But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.

Traditionally, this passage has been taken as a reference to the intense rivalry between the various Jewish sects that existed at the time of the Second Temple. And most of the commentary I saw this year seemed to follow this line of thinking, whether it be in the tensions over the Women of the Wall or over the campaigns for Chief Rabbi of Israel.

Notably absent from these op-eds is the intense hatred that anti-Zionist Jews experience from our fellow co-religionists on a regular basis. Personally, I have never experienced more anti-semitism than this past year, when I have been living under Israeli sovereignty. Whether being spit on for acknowledging the Nakba, being called a bigot for advocating for equal rights for Palestinians, or being called a “kike” for saying that African refugees ought not to be beaten up by a racist mob, there seems to be a special hatred reserved in the hearts of many Zionists for Jews willing to stand up against their racism.

This zealous Zionist-nationalism that predominates the mainstream Jewish community creates exactly the sorts of divisions that led to the destruction of the Second Temple. Rather than allow for a politically diverse religious communities, our synagogues and major NGOs seemingly prefer to rally around one specific political agenda. (A move that is disturbingly similar to the logic of the Jewish Question).

Reading this passage, however, there is no indication that “hatred without cause” is limited to hatred within the Jewish community. And, of course, what is racism if not baseless hatred?

This year, thinking about Tisha B’av, I am reminded of just how much hatred without cause is perpetrated by members and so-called leaders of our community. I am reminded of the physical attacks and government repression against African refugees, the most vulnerable members of society. I am reminded of a depressingly long and consistent pattern of violence by settler-colonists in the West Bank against their neighbors, and of the Israeli military authorities that do nothing to prevent such violence. I am reminded of Israel’s plans to continue the ethnic cleansing that it began in the Nakba in 1948, with the Prawer Plan, which will forcibly displace some 70,000 Bedouin citizens. And, of course, I am reminded of the constant stories of racism that mark both the Israeli state policy and the actions of too many of its citizens.

I am reminded of all of this and more and it is difficult not to feel that we are further than ever from healing the pains of Tisha B’av.

Thankfully, the struggle goes on. Ilana Prusher at Haaretz covers some of the efforts within Israel to mark Tisha Ba’av by highlighting and fighting the racism and apartheid perpetrated by the state. And Jews in the United States are organizing to renew our religious institutions, purging them of their corrupt politics, and fighting – in the name of our Judaism – against the bloodshed and hatred that mark the State of Israel.

God willing, next year these efforts will work their way into the mainstream and we can provoke the sorts of difficult conversations that need to happen within our community.


In the introductory post to this series, I argued that most current versions of the two-state solution are not viable and thus do not deserve to be taken seriously.

Nowadays, saying “I support a two-state solution” without any elaboration is just as meaningless or absurdist as saying “I support a no-state solution.”

In this post, I begin laying out precisely the sorts of elaborations that any solution – two-state or one-state – must address in order to become a meaningful statement. This is not a high bar to clear: many bad proposals should be capable of not being non-sense. But unfortunately, most versions of the two-state solution will not be able to answer these very basic questions.

This list of questions is by no means comprehensive; there are any number of smaller questions that must be figured out in the course of negotiations. But anyone who cannot answer these ten basic questions simply cannot be taken seriously. In other words, in the absence of clear, realistic answers to these questions a declaration of support for a two-state solution is essentially the same thing as a declaration of support for the apartheid status quo.

Once again, I want to urge those of us who support one-state solutions to likewise consider our answers to these questions, as well (especially when we move away from issues of drawing borders next post). As we shall see at the end of this exercise, we who support a single-state likewise have to elaborate our positions in more detail.

In the meantime, let us begin our Ten Questions for Supporters of a Two-State Solution:

1) Where are the borders?

The following image showing current Jewish settlement-colonies in the Occupied West Bank is taken from two-state proponents Americans for Peace Now’s very useful “Facts on the Ground” Interactive Map. Blue dots are settlement-colonies ilegal under international law while red dots are settlement-colonies illegal under both international and Israeli law.   

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 12.39.01 PM 

Quick! Draw a border.

That’s what I thought.

As the editor-in-chief of Ma’an News Agency recently told Mondoweiss’s Max Blumenthal:

Let them [Israel] call it what they like. But there will be no Palestinian state — I can’t see on a map where is Palestine and where is Israel.” Laham said he liked to challenge Israeli journalists to draw their country on a map, only because none of them are able to do it.

Back in the late-1990s, when “everybody knew” the solution, the borders were fairly obvious. Roughly, they would parallel the 1967 Green Line, with minor land swaps. Israel would keep Modi’in just on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, for example, while giving up some territory beyond the Green Line in the north or south to compensate for the loss of land.

Today, Israel refuses to use the Green Line as the basis for negotiations towards a two-state solutions. It is rather difficult to find any talk of future borders whatsoever amongst Israeli politicians of any variety. But when they do speak of borders, they now almost always talk about how “everybody knows” that they will keep all of the major settlement blocs, where around 75% of the settler-colonist population of the West Bank resides. Defining a settlement-bloc is rather difficult – some might say intentionally so – but the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem came up with the following educated guess:

In addition, Israel insists on keeping the “strategically important” Jordan Valley under its control. Once again, the exact boundaries of such an area are unclear, but ARIJ once again takes an educated, if on the expansionist side, guess.

Even the most conservative estimates put the Israeli “plan” as annexing 20% of the West Bank while isolating major Palestinian cities from each other. Just try and chart a path from Qalqilya to Hebron on the map above. No wonder Israel is refusing to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders!

We should stress once again, that the plan outlined above is the “consensus” mainstream Israeli plans. When talking with those who support the two-state solution in Israel and in their “liberal”-Zionist supporters, this is the plan they are most likely talking about. And it is completely unworkable, even if Israel could somehow convince the Palestinian leadership to accept such a raw deal.

So the first challenge to those who still support a two-state solution is to find the territory upon which  to establish a viable Palestinian state. Unless they can do this is a way that creates a viable Palestinian state, they are not serious. 

2) Do you divide Jerusalem?

This is more of a subset of the borders question than anything else, but it is always spun off as a separate issue for reasons that escape me.

For some bizarre reason, mainstream Israel has decided that the issue of Jerusalem is settled and they are keeping all of it. The issue is obviously far from settled, though. And the more construction of Jewish-only neighborhoods that happens around Jerusalem and the more Israel entrenches in this view, the less any possibility of any viable two-state solution becoming reality.

I won’t say that there is no possibility of a two-state solution without a divided or shared Jerusalem – because the awful PA leadership has given indications it is willing to compromise on the matter – but it does make things a hell of a lot more difficult, especially given the next question…

3) Where is Jerusalem?

I recently went on a tour of the Mt. of Olives with some family that was visiting from abroad. Unfortunately, the tour guide we got was not up to scratch. As we crossed into East Jerusalem, a woman on the tour asked him if we were going to be in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or not. Standing in illegally annexed land, he answered no. As we approached an eastern-facing lookout on top of the Mount of Olives, the same woman asked if we could see the West Bank at all. Staring directly into it, he once again answered no, stating that everything she was seeing was Israel, except for the tiny little bit of Palestine we could see.

I do not think our guide was being intentionally deceptive. Rather, it did not ever occur to this tour guide, who identified himself as left-of-center, that he was not only standing in Occupied East Jerusalem, but that he was staring out onto the West Bank, dotted as the landscape may have been by illegal Jewish-only settlement-colonies.

This is not a unique experience. “Peace activists” regularly object when I point out that Gilo is just as illegal under international law as is Gush Etzion. Likewise, I have been on tours with Jewish Israeli “peace groups” that tell me how “everybody knows” Israel will keep Ma’ale Adumim, increasingly referred to by Israel as part of the “indivisible Jerusalem.”

This ever-expanding idea of Jerusalem is also starting to filter outside of Israel as well. Recently, the New York Times ran a story referring to the settlement-colony of Har Homa as “a neighborhood on Jerusalem’s southern edge” despite the fact that it is closer to Bethlehem than to Jerusalem. These expansions – increasingly naturalized for even so-called leftist Israelis – are a huge impediment to any two-state vision.

As even the Europe Union now recognizes, current construction activity around the E-1 expansion of Ma’ale Adumim would make the creation of any Palestinian state – even one without Jerusalem – an impossibility, by cutting off the northern from the southern parts of the West Bank. Less well-covered, though perhaps even more problematic, are the Jewish-only neighborhoods being constructed throughout East Jerusalem.

The emerging policy consensus internationally – and certainly within Israel – is that Jerusalem will remain under sole Israeli control as part of any two-state solution. As I stated above in #2, this “consensus” alone is probably enough to scuttle any realistic possibility of achieving a two-state solution. But even if this understanding can somehow be forced upon Palestinian negotiators, the ever-expanding borders of Jerusalem make any establishment of a Palestinian state available. If these settlement-colonies are part of the “eternal Jewish capital of Jerusalem,” then we are no longer seriously talking about a two-state solution.

On the other hand, you also have several neighborhoods which – unlike Har Homa or Ma’ale Adumim – are within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but are completely cut off from the rest of the city by a 30-foot tall steel-reinforced concrete “separation barrier.” The 25,000 residents of Kufr Aqab, 20,000 residents of the Shuafat refugee camp, or 1500 of Sheikh Sa’ad are legal permanent residents of Jerusalem residing within the city’s municipal boundaries. Here, the “indivisible Jerusalem” has been quite literally divided, and its residents cut off from most basic municipal services. Moreover, because of surrounding Jewish settlement-colonies that Israeli conventional wisdom believes it will keep in a two-state solution, it is difficult to imagine any territorial contiguity with these areas will be achieved. So what do two-state supporters propose be done with these neighborhoods? Will they find ways of incorporating these long-neglected ares of the city? Will they forcibly expel these residents and ethnically cleanse the city? Or will they seek to maintain semi-permanent ghettos within their midsts forever?

Questions 1 through 3 are all about the borders imagines for a future Palestinian state. Anyone who cannot present a reasonable answer to the questions of where to draw the borders, what to do with Jerusalem, and where they consider Jerusalem to be is simply not talking about a serious proposal for ending the conflict. In the absence of clear proposals on these questions, expressing support for a two-state solution is absolutely meaningless. In effect, there is no difference between such meaningless expression for a two-state solution and expressing support for the current apartheid regime: both achieve the exact same ends.

Although perhaps the most obvious issue to consider, however, borders are not the only thing that supporters of the two-state solution must figure out if they want to present serious proposals for ending the Palestine-Israel conflict. Join us next time as we look at the more human factors. As we do so, we’ll also start to encounter more directly the sorts of issues that one-state supporters must address if we wish to present clear pathways towards ending the conflict.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s quixotic push to restart negotiations between Israel and the PA has yielded a flurry fo  articles about the two-state solution in recent weeks. Much of the writing seems to think that the primary problem to overcome is the current Israeli government.

To be sure, the current government is a great obstacle to achieving any sort of post-conflict resolution. Over one-third of the Kenesset now belongs to the pro-settlement-colony caucus, or at least it did before Netanyahu banned Likud MKs from participating. This includes large chunks of all of the largest parties in the government coalition, including several “centrist” MKs who profess to support a two-state solution in theory.

In addition, Likud-party Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Danon has recently been shooting his mouth off – which only means saying in public what everyone knows in private – about how this government will never, under any circumstances, approve of a two-state solution. Nor is it entirely clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees. The solution, according to countless liberal Zionist commentators in the U.S. and Israel alike, is to get new politicians in there to pursue a two-state solution. Tzipi Livni is the choice de jure for these folk, despite the fact that her own history of negotiations makes it doubtful that she is any more serious. But regardless, the idea  is to change the political class and return to the Oslo framework.

There are several problems with the common wisdom that it is the politicians standing in the way of justice, which we’ll explore in posts starting later this week. But for now, we have to get this one big misconception out of the way. The Israeli politicians in question accurately reflect the public opinion of Israeli Jews. A recent survey (Heb, good English summary here) from a settlement-colony University shows that 54% of Israelis do not consider settlement-colonies to be illegal (23% disagree), 52% of Israeli Jews consider settlements to be a part fo Zionism (26% disagree), 46% consider them a security feature protecting the rest of Israel (28% disagree).

In short: the politicians decrying the two-state solution and advocating for either the status quo or for a formalized apartheid system are not outside the mainstream of Jewish-Israeli public opinion. In other words, any sort of end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will require rather large shifts in the Jewish Israeli public sphere. Such shifts are possible, but they are incredibly difficult. And whether we are talking of a one-state or the viability of a two-state solution, this needs to be our starting point if we want to address reality.

The problem is not the politicians; they are broadly representative of the population who is allowed to vote. Unfortunately, the people who can vote is not the same thing as the people they rule over.

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