The war of words by Esther Gilbert

Photo:  “The Search for Agreement, February-April 2005”.  Note two grey areas in the centre of the map – the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, connected by the River Jordan, and the grey area on the left side, the Mediterranean Sea.  “From the river to the sea” means from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, that is, practically the whole of Israel.

1000 words/5 minute read

On the 7th of October 2023, Israel suffered a devastating attack against its women and men, babies and children, the elderly and disabled.  Along with murder and kidnapping came the rape of Israel’s sense of security – fragile though that is even in the best of times.  In an attempt to root out and destroy the perpetrators who had yet again broken a ceasefire agreement, Israel embarked on a war during which too many of Israel’s young farmers, students, accountants, tech experts – reservists – were killed trying to free the hostages and free Israel of a force determined to wipe their country off the map.

There are two wars that Israel in particular and Jews in general are fighting, the military one, and the war of words.  The military one is confined to the Middle East (so far) and is bloody and devastating for everyone concerned.  The war of words is waged against Jews around the world who fear for their security and feel abandoned by friends and institutions they believed in.

Martin believed that words have meaning, so I’d like to take a moment to examine some of the words being slung at Israel and at Jews outside of Israel by the media, institutions, and those who many Jews considered to be friends:

Apartheid:  This from the Encylopedia Britannica:  “(Afrikaans: ‘apartness’) policy that governed relations between South Africa’s white minority and nonwhite majority … sanctioning racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhites.”

How does this relate to Israel?  Israel has no government policy or legislation governing any minority (non-Jewish citizens) as different from the majority (Jews) in Israel.  Other than the language they speak at home, most Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are indistinguishable for each other.

Colonialism:  Also from Britannica:  “Western colonialism, a political-economic phenomenon whereby various European nations explored, conquered, settled, and exploited large areas of the world.”

How does this relate to Israel?  The majority of Jews in Israel are in fact descendants of Jews who were forced from Muslim and Arab lands and found refuge in Israel; a minority came within the last century from Europe and the Americas.  Most Jews who immigrated came as refugees seeking safety, security and freedom to be who they are.  Jews have indeed “exploited” the 8,630 square miles (22,145 square kilometers) of land by creating a modern state that exports food and cutting-edge technology in a huge range of fields.

Genocide:  This from the United Nations which adopted the Genocide Convention in 1951:  “The definition contained in Article II of the Convention describes genocide as a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part.”

How does this relate to Israel?  Israel’s “intent” is to protect its citizens.  Any country that has been attacked has that right.  Jerusalem is the only city in the world with the largest number of Christian churches of different denominations.  The Moslem Jerusalem Waqf controls the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.  Both Christians and Moslems have the unfettered right to observe their religion in Israel.

Indigenous:  This from Merriam-Webster:  “of or relating to the earliest known inhabitants of a place and especially of a place that was colonised by a now-dominant group.”

How does this relate to Israel?  The earliest known inhabitants, the descendants of whom are alive today in this most-contested area of the Middle East, are the Jews.  They even wrote a book about it, a book that is used in various forms, translations and interpretations by Christians and Muslims around the world to today.

Nazism:  Back to Britannica:  “A totalitarian movement … emphasizing the will of the charismatic dictator as the sole source of inspiration of a people and a nation, as well as a vision of annihilation of all enemies of the Aryan Volk as the one and only goal of Nazi policy.”

How does this relate to Israel?  There’s a saying “two Jews, three opinions” it is only in times of trouble that Israelis come together.  At other times they maintain a healthy democracy whereby each Israeli has the answers.  If in doubt, take a taxi in Israel.  Or look into some of the other books Jews study, like the Talmud, in which various interpretations and commentaries of laws have been and continue to be dissected, discussed and argued by scholars from the earliest times.  Israel’s “vision” is that of creating a peaceful society within itself and among its neighbours.

Zionism:  Britannica again:  “Jewish nationalist movement that had as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews.

How does this relate to Israel?  “Zion” is another name for Jerusalem.  Wherever they are in the world, when Jews pray, they pray facing Jerusalem.  Since their earliest expulsion (in 733 BCE by the Assyrians) there has always been a return and when not possible, a longing to return.  This longing became a dream as envisaged by Theodor Herzl at the first Zionist conference in 1897.  This dream became a reality in 1948 when the State was established and persecuted Jews around the world had a place that would take them in.  (Martin believed that Israel was established not as a result of the Second World War but the establishment of the State was in fact delayed by the war.)

I won’t insult your sensibilities by defining rape.  In most of the world now, women are not blamed for their rape because of what they wear (or don’t wear in the case of Iran), how they walk, or for the sheer audacity of wanting equal pay or expecting equal treatment in the workplace.  But now it seems women can be blamed for their rape if they are Jewish.

The Geneva Academy cites more than 35 armed conflicts going on right now in Africa, 21 armed conflicts in Asia, 7 in Europe mainly in the former Soviet Union, and 6 in Latin America.  Where is the outrage?  Where are the calls for a ceasefire?  Where the calls for civilians caught in the crossfire?  Where the unadulterated blame?

Both sides are suffering and in pain, the Israelis and the Palestinians.  But one side broke the ceasefire and brought it on themselves.  They must be responsible for their actions.

By Esther Gilbert

Read:  Jewish History Atlas

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