A disturbing narrative
And Abraham expired and died … and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah ... The field that Abraham had bought from the children of Heth, there Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife. Genesis 25: 8 — 10
The cave of Machpelah was featured in recent programs at Temple Sholom and Chabad of Greenwich. The discussions revealed conflicting narratives.
I joined these discussions out of love for Israel and concern for its future. I’d recently returned from an Israel trip led by J Street founder and president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, during which we spent significant time in the Israeli occupied West Bank, including Hebron where the cave of Machpelah is located.
J Street advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on Jewish and democratic values. Seeking a peaceful end to the occupation and a secure democratic Jewish homeland, J Street provides political space for elected officials and policy makers to support policies that advance this vision for Israel’s future.
Our trip included five members of Congress.
The cave of Machpelah, in the West Bank city of Hebron, is the burial place of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. According to Jewish mystical tradition, it’s also the entrance to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve are buried.
For Jews, it’s second in holiness only to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. It’s also holy to Muslims. While Jews descend from Abraham through Isaac, Muslim descent is through Ishmael. Christians also consider Abraham a spiritual father. In a mystical sense, as entrance to the Garden of Eden, this site is imbued with holiness for all peoples.
So how did this place figure in recent Greenwich discussions?
The international spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron, Yishai Fleisher, was the featured speaker for the programs at Temple Sholom and Chabad. And the cave of Machpelah, proof of Jewish claims to the land that was promised to Abraham, was a keystone in his settler’s narrative that challenges established ways of talking about support for Israel. For Fleisher, talk about a two-state solution, or ending an occupation, is a trap set by anti-Israel forces. There’s an inalienable Jewish right to the West Bank land — Judea and Samaria — that Israel captured in the 1967 six-day war. God promised it in perpetuity to Abraham’s descendants as traced through Isaac.
“We are the indigenous people,” he said. We should not “give our land away to the enemy.”
In the eyes of the world, Israel occupies West Bank land that’s been home to Palestinians for generations. But for Fleisher, it’s the Palestinians who are the occupiers of Jewish land.
These are irreconcilable narratives.
Fleisher would have Israel annex the entire West Bank without granting citizenship to Palestinians. This ethnocentric nationalism offers Palestinians limited options such as living in the expanded Israeli state as resident-aliens without national rights; a limited path to citizenship for those who pledge loyalty to a Jewish state; or reclaiming pre-1967 Jordanian citizenship. Or they could leave voluntarily, with economic assistance, seemingly preferable because that rids the land of Palestinians.
I felt urgency in pushing back against this disturbing narrative. Such ethnocentric nationalism is akin to white supremacist nationalism. Oppression of another people violates Jewish values, and is also contrary to a Zionist spirit that yearns for national freedom.
Moreover, unilateral annexation threatens Israel’s very survival.
There are roughly 2.7 million Palestinians on the West Bank and 400,000 Jewish settlers. Unilateral annexation without granting Palestinians citizenship, apart from engendering international outrage, will foster terrorism, increase bloodshed, and require ever more repressive security measures. Giving West Bank Palestinians Israeli citizenship, on the other hand, will eventually undermine Israel’s Jewish character.
Any form of unilateral annexation is unacceptable if Israel is to have a secure democratic and Jewish future. Equally unacceptable is the status quo. The J Street trip to Israel deepened my awareness of the current military occupation’s harmful nature, affecting both Palestinians and Israeli soldiers who protect settlement interests.
“A struggle for the soul of Israel,” is how Yehuda Shaul describes his work with Breaking The Silence, an organization of 1200 former Israeli soldiers who offer critical testimony about the military occupation’s devastating impact. It’s about Israel’s survival, he said.
We honor Abraham when we work toward peace between his sons Isaac and Ishmael. That’s the only way to show true respect for the cave of Machpelah.
Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 25 years. Her blog is atblog.ctnews.com/rutgers