Let us say for a moment that we who oppose the withdrawal from Gaza were to belatedly and begrudgingly accept the calculus of disengagement. Imagine for a moment that Prime Minister Sharon is right. Eight-thousand Jews living in the midst of 1.3 million Palestinians have no future. The military commitment of protecting the settlers is just too expensive and the potential loss of life too costly. It’s time to pull out. It’s painful, but logical. There are other places in Israel for the settlers to live, and these brave pioneers dare not allow themselves to become obstacles to peace.
There is only one problem with this seemingly unassailable reasoning. Taken to its logical conclusion, it becomes an argument against the very existence of the state of Israel itself.
What future does a country of 5 million Jews really have in a region of 500 million Arabs? The military cost of settling those Jews in Israel has been astronomical, and the human cost incalculable. And the Jews who have settled Israel indeed have other places to live. Whereas once there may have been a need for a Jewish homeland, today Jews live in peace and prosperity in dozens of countries from America to Australia. Why should Jews aggravate the Arabs and serve as obstacles to peace by insisting on cultivating a land which the Arabs claim has been theirs for generations and which the Jews only conquered through war?
One Rosh Hashanah, when I served as rabbi at Oxford University, an academic got up and delivered a sermon on this theme. He argued that it was high time that Jews of the world stopped seeing Israel as a blessing. Perhaps it was a curse. Prior to the establishment of Israel, Jews were respected as a scholarly and beneficent people. They had the sympathy of the world as victims of genocide after the Holocaust. Because of Israel, he said, all that had changed and Jews the world over were now viewed as aggressive, violent and unjust. Was it right that university students in Oxford and New York felt shunned by colleagues because of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians? Just because a group of Zionists lived with the romantic notion of settling a barren land, Diaspora Jewry had to be saddled with the negative baggage?
What this academic was saying, in effect, was that all Israelis were troublemakers like the settlers of Gush Katif. The Arabs have long made the same argument. The Middle East was a peaceful region until the Jews grabbed Arab land. Every Jew in the Middle East, therefore, is an obstacle to peace.
But unlike many Israelis who today shun the Gaza settlers, we Diaspora Jews have always been proud of Israelis, and we salute them as pioneers who are prepared to make the sacrifices in material comfort and security that we American Jews are too selfish to make.
Arik Sharon knows all this. Indeed, it was he who for decades made the argument that the moment Jews question their right to settle any part of their ancient homeland, they undermine the legitimacy of their claim to every part of that homeland.
So why has he staked his government and reputation on dismantling the Gaza communities?
It is the misfortune of the Israeli people to have a former general in the twilight of his career who, like so many warriors who preceded him, wishes to end his days as a peacemaker. When I hosted Sharon at Oxford University in 1992, I remember the hundreds of students with placards calling him a murderer for Sabra and Shatilla. Don’t think Sharon has forgotten these things. This is his last chance to prove he was a man of peace all along.
The stinging accusations of butchery in the Civil War leveled against Ulysses Grant led him, in his run for president in 1868, to campaign under the slogan “Let us have peace.” The deliberately moderate policies that Grant embraced in the reconstruction of the South backfired and led to the rise of terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, which murdered blacks and violently denied them their rights. Although Grant approved the punitive Force Acts of 1870 and 1871 to curb the violence and was authorized to declare martial law, he did so only once, in South Carolina. He was adamant that his new reputation as peacemaker superseded his former reputation of combatant. The direct and tragic result was that blacks would not enjoy full equality in the South until nearly 100 years later.
Near the end of his life Douglas MacArthur suggested that America and other great powers adopt laws that would forever ban all war. One can only imagine the catastrophic consequences to world freedom if the United States had denied itself the right to defend liberty around the globe with such self-imposed restraint. In the same vein, MacArthur’s five-star colleague, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, famously warned, at the end of his presidency, against the hegemony of the military-industrial complex.
Robert Oppenheimer, Joseph Rotblatt and other architects of the Manhattan Project spent the rest of their lives campaigning for the abolition of the very atomic weapons they had created. This, in turn, followed the famous example of Alfred Nobel himself who, after inventing dynamite, sought to find redemption in the establishment of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Of course, Israel has the example of the great victor of the Six Day War, Yitzchak Rabin, transforming himself from conqueror into peacemaker with the Oslo accords, which shall forever be remembered as one of the most calamitous miscalculations of any government in the history of the world.
The error of all these great men was not to understand that war and weapons are righteous and just when used to protect human liberty and life. Abolishment of war cannot precede the abolishment of evil. Hence, the ancient biblical prophecy of swords being beaten into ploughshares is concurrent with the wolf lying down with the lamb, a metaphor for the menacing claws of tyrants and terrorists being permanently expunged. Yet, Sharon insists on retreating before the enemy before any tangible sign of disarmament.
King David was not allowed to build God’s temple because he was a man of war. It was left for his son Solomon, who would enjoy peace. Ariel Sharon’s tragic miscalculation is to confuse the two roles. While one’s enemies are still armed with evil intent, one must forever remain a David. Of the two men, it is the legacy of the father that is greater than the son. The Messiah is called the “son of David” rather than Solomon, not because war is greater than peace, but because a just war that defeats evil leads to the sprouting of peace.