As I mentioned earlier in this series, I have studied Torah with teachers from both Chareidi and Religious Zionist communities. Most of the Religious Zionist teachers that I studied with considered themselves to be disciples of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a leading Torah scholar who became the head of the yeshiva sponsored by Yeshiva University, and who also served for much of his life as a guide to the Religious Zionist organization in North America which was known as the “Mizrachi” organization.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, the following question was discussed in Religious Zionist and Chareidi communities: According to the halacha, the requirements of the Torah path, is it permissible to give up parts of Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel – for the sake of a genuine peace? Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik taught that it was indeed permissible and even necessary, as from the perspective of the halacha, saving lives takes priority over holding on to all parts of Eretz Yisrael.
There were rabbis who were disciples of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik who settled in some of the areas of Eretz Yisrael which we regained after the Six-Day War in 1967: Shomron, Judah, the Golan, and Gaza. I studied with a few of these rabbis after I moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1986, and they told me that they supported the view of their rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik, regarding the giving up of land for peace. I discovered, however, that their view was a minority view among the Religious Zionist communities that were established in the areas we regained in 1967. The majority view in these communities was the view of those Torah scholars among them who taught that it was forbidden to give up parts of Eretz Yisrael even if such a compromise would bring a genuine peace.
Most of the Torah scholars who have guided the Chareidi communities have a view which is similar to the above view of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik; however, as I shall discuss in this letter, they, as well as the rabbis who follow Rav Soloveitchik, do not support the giving up of land when it is likely to further endanger the security of Israel’s population.
As most of you know, I live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem – a neighborhood in the southwest of Jerusalem where the majority of the residents are Chareidi. After I moved to Bayit Vegan in 1989, I began writing the book, “The Universal Jew” – Letters to My Progressive Father. The book was published by Feldheim in 1995. During the early 1990’s, the Oslo “peace process” began, and one of the letters in this book discusses my views on the Oslo Accords. (This letter about the Oslo Accords follows the letter in the book which discusses the biblical story of how a peace treaty made by Achav, King of Israel with Ben-Hadad, an evil and deceitful enemy who attacked Israel, failed to bring lasting peace and even led to the death of Achav.) The following are excerpts from my letter about the Oslo accords, and these excerpts will be followed by an update on my current views. The letter mentions “Palestine”; however, we need to be aware that Great Britain named Eretz Yisrael “Palestine” after Great Britain conquered the land during World War I. British officials took the name from the ancient Philistines who lived along the coast of the land..
When you called me this week, you asked me to write about my feelings and opinions about the “Peace Agreement” with the Palestinians which Prime Minister Rabin’s government negotiated. A number of my friends also received calls from their parents in the States with regard to the agreement. I discovered that all of the parents – including you – were in favor of the agreement, while I and my friends had strong reservations about the whole deal. And yet, I and my friends do not identify with those political parties which were against the idea of compromise. In fact, I am part of the Orthodox community in Israel which is centered around the traditional yeshivos, and most of the sages of this community have taught us over the years that we are permitted to give up parts of our land for a genuine peace which would bring an end to the violence.
Nor do I have any difficulty understanding Palestinian nationalism. It is true that the Palestinians also consider themselves part of the Arab nation, and that this great nation already has many states in Asia and North Africa where their culture and values can be expressed. Yet in the 20th century, the Palestinian Arabs did develop a separate national identity – ironically, partly due to political Zionism – and this identity needs to be dealt with. It was for this reason that I always felt that the Kingdom of Jordan might serve as a national home for them, since most of Jordan’s population is Palestinian. Moreover, Jordan was originally part of Palestine before World War 1. However, most Israeli governments failed to make the case for Jordan serving as their future national home; and eventually, world opinion accepted the view that our one, small, Jewish state should give up most of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza in order to satisfy the national aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs. Yet even this great and painful sacrifice of giving up parts of our beloved Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel – might be worth considering for a real peace which would allow the Jewish people to return to our true priority: the strengthening of our moral and spiritual resources. And one can argue that ruling over a million Palestinians against their will is putting a drain on some of those resources. Besides, isn’t it written in Psalm 34, “Seek shalom and pursue it”?
As far as the messianic promises of the entire land is concerned, one can still believe that Divine Providence can fulfill the messianic agenda in other ways; as my Rebbe once said, “If we do God’s will then the promise will eventually be fulfilled.”
…Given the above arguments, I can understand and respect those who support the agreement. So why am I unhappy? The above story about Achav and Ben-Hadad is one reason; for we are signing an agreement with a group of “Ben-Hadads” who, for example, sent terrorists into an Israeli school and then publicly gloated over the massacre of children which resulted. Have you sensed that these individuals have been “spiritually” transformed? I don’t have that sense, despite their political statement, for even after the agreement, the Palestinian leadership refused to condemn the recent murder of two young Jewish hikers by Palestinian terrorists.
…And there is another major reason for my concern. For the Middle East conflict is very complex, and I am not an expert on all the moral, social, and security issues which this conflict involves. Therefore, I try to seek the guidance of individuals who are wiser than me, as I formulate my own opinions. In this case, most of the Torah sages – who have in the past endorsed the principle of compromise – were quite critical of this particular agreement. Moreover, there have been a number of articles and editorials in the Jerusalem Post written by political scientists and security advisors which described some of the serious risks we are taking. A major concern of all the critics is that we are giving up “too much, too soon” to an unstable and unreliable group of unrepentant terrorists. Even now, as a recent Post editorial commented, the P.L.O. is encouraging Arab states to continue their state of war against Israel, which includes an economic boycott against the Jewish State.
I concluded the above letter to my father with the following Divine message in the era of Jeremiah, the Prophet, regarding those leaders who ignored the impending disaster facing our people:
“They relieved the disaster of My people by making light of it, saying, ‘Shalom, Shalom!’ – But there is no shalom.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
My father, of blessed memory, began to become more critical of the Oslo agreement as more evidence appeared which revealed that the Palestinian leadership was deceptive. For example, the media reported on a speech that the leader of the P.L.O. gave to an Arab audience in South Africa, where he said that the Oslo agreement was in the spirit of a temporary peace agreement that Mohammed made with a city that he later destroyed.
After the Palestinian leadership renewed their war against Israel, some of the supporters of the Oslo Accords had the honesty to admit that they were naively mistaken in their belief that the leaders of the P.L.O. were partners in the process for peace. One of these individuals was the noted journalist, Yossi Klein Halevi. In an article in the Jerusalem Post titled, “Memo to My Left-Wing Friends” (June 29, 2003), Yossi admitted that he ignored evidence regarding the duplicity of the Palestinian leadership. He wrote:
“Arguably Oslo’s worst offense was that it taught Israelis to lie to themselves, to censor data that contradicted its premise. Oslo was a big lie built on many little lies. I know. As a supporter of the Oslo process in its first months, I participated in the journalistic self-deception.”
And let us not forget how many people thought that after Israel withdrew from Gaza, it would lead to peace. They thought that this painful withdrawal, which included the destruction of Jewish villages and farms, would encourage a spirit of pragmatic moderation among the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, who would then focus on developing their society and economy, instead of engaging in further terrorism. Their optimistic view was mistaken, for it was “after” the withdrawal from Gaza that Hamas won the elections in Gaza and started to increase the rocket attacks on our battered people.
I was reminded of this reality when I read a statement regarding Hamas which was written by a noted Israeli leftist leader, Danny Zamir, the head of the secular and leftist Rabin Pre-Military Academy. Regarding the government in Gaza, he wrote:
“The State of Israel is under a prolonged attack by the Hamas movement – a fundamentalist Islamic terror movement, based on a racist and ultra-nationalist ideology that seeks the killing of Jews for being Jews and the actual elimination of the State of Israel as its declared aspiration, and formally part of its foundation platform. And bear in mind that Hamas is not a marginal extremist underground, but a movement freely chosen by the Palestinians to head their elected government.” (Jerusalem Post, 13th of Nisan, 5769, April 7th, 2009)
Even the current leader of the P.L.O. – who is viewed by many political leaders in the world as a “moderate” – still refuses to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state; thus, he has the following demand: The Arab refugees who left the land during the 1948 war, as well as their descendants, should settle – not in the Palestinian Arab state which he hopes to develop – but in Israel itself! The Arabs would then be the majority of Israel’s population, and Israel would then become another Islamic state. The P.L.O. therefore has a more “moderate” way of expressing the ancient goal of Israel’s enemies: “Come, let us cut them off from nationhood, so Israel’s name will not be remembered any longer!” (Psalm 83:5)
As we know, much of the government-sponsored Islamic media, including the media of the P.L.O., promote the most vicious anti-Semitic libels of the Middle Ages which encourage hatred and violence against Jews. It is therefore sad that much of the world fails to recognize that when these Islamic governments promote hatred and violence against Jews, one cannot expect “peace” to arrive.
The serious dangers facing us can help us to understand why Benny Morris, a leading Israeli leftist, wrote last spring the following statement regarding the violence against us:
“The Israeli future will see more of the same because the Palestinians are not ready for peace: Palestinian terrorism, Israeli counterstrikes, perhaps larger operations with larger rockets. (Moment Magazine July/August 2008)
The above information can help us to understand why the majority of Israeli Jews today are wary, at this stage, of any more concessions to the Palestinians. Being realistic about the intentions of our enemies does not mean, however, that we should conclude that the ultimate solution is a military one. As we discussed in this series, all the Prophets of Israel reveal that the ultimate solution to all our problems is a spiritual one. The Prophets have reminded us again and again that our security does not depend on our military might or on alliances with other nations, but on our fulfillment of the Torah – the Divine Teaching – in the Land of Zion. During the current crisis, we therefore need to be “soul-wise” and strengthen ourselves through the Torah, which is described as, “a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18).
In the meanwhile, we must not endanger life through naive concessions to deceptive enemies. Just as we need to be soul-wise, we also need to be streetwise, for Hashem has given us the following mandate: “Choose life!” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
May Hashem guide us and protect us.
And may we be blessed with true shalom.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
1. Just before the P.L.O. renewed the violence against Israel, the magazine, Jerusalem Report, had an editorial which proclaimed that it was unlikely that the P.L.O. leaders would ever go back to violence, since the Oslo Accords had started to bring economic benefits to their own people. In the next issue, after the violence had increased, the editor admitted that he was mistaken.
2. A later example of the true motives of the P.L.O. was the statement of one of their leaders, Faisal Husseini, which was published in the Egyptian daily Al-Arabi (June 24, 2001). In an interview with this newspaper, he confessed that the Oslo accords were meant to serve as a Palestinian “Trojan Horse” placed in the midst of the land – the “Trojan Horse” which would lead to the elimination of the State of Israel and to a Palestinian State whose western border would be the Mediterranean Sea. And he stated: “When we are asking all Palestinian forces and factions to look at the Oslo Agreement and at other agreements as ‘temporary’ procedures or phased goals, this means that we are ambushing the Israelis and cheating them.” (This article can be found in the archives of: www.memri.org and it was distributed by: www.imra.org.il )