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Thursday, 2 March 2017

Should Israel give back Tel Aviv?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 38

When the Tribes of Israel first entered the Land of Israel, for a number of centuries the nation’s capital was Shiloh.  It was there that the Mishkan (Tabernacle) stood.  It was there that people would offer their sacrifices.  It was there that pilgrims would appear three times a year.  It was there that Eli, the Kohen Gadol, served.  It was there that Shmuel began his illustrious prophetic career.  And following the Mishkan’s sojourn in Shiloh, its resting place was Givon.

Where are these ancient sites today?  In Judea and Samaria.  Areas that today the world calls the West Bank, which of course means the western bank of the Jordan River.  How did the heart of Jewish life of yore turn into areas that we now need to make excuses for living there?  Even those people who live there are termed ‘settlers.’  Back in the day, those hills were the center of Jewish life!

What’s more, life didn’t end at the banks of Jordan.  A quarter of the population lived on the East Bank of the Jordan, known as Transjordan!  In ancient times, nobody heard of Tel Aviv or Herzliya.  If anybody lived there, they were far removed from where all the national action was taking place.  So what happened?

Mishnah: With regards to the legal status of land ownership, there are three areas of Israel: Judea, Transjordan, and the Galilee.
Rashi explains: These three areas are considered separate provinces in terms of the presumption of legal ownership.  Meaning, if you were in one province and someone laid claim to your property in a different province, it would not be effective due to your absence and inability to protest the invalid claim.

For the first nineteen years of the modern State of Israel, the security of its citizens was tenuous.  Israel was physically small and geographically weak.  Attacks, albeit on a small, sometimes individual basis, were part and parcel of normal everyday life in the fledgling country.

Until 1967.  All of a sudden, Israel’s neighbors massed their troops at its borders and Israel had no choice but to defend its people.  Against all numeric odds, Israel not only prevailed but miraculously extended its territory in every direction.  Going forward, Israel would have a serious buffer zone to protect its citizens from external threats. 

To the north, Israel gained the Golan Heights.  To the south, Israel gained Gaza and the Sinai Desert.  And to the east, Israel reunited Jerusalem and gained the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria.

And then the global condemnation began.  Most world nations refused to recognize the new borders of Israel and insisted on Israel’s retreat to its tiny former space.  Israel was willing to talk about it, but only if the Arab nations would be part of the conversation by recognizing Israel’s existence.  But no such recognition was forthcoming.  So Israel stood its ground and held on to the territories.  And till today, Israel stands by its commitment to peace, so long as the other side acknowledges Israel’s status as a Jewish country. 

Many of us listen to these discussions about land for peace and we think, ‘What’s all the fuss about?  Why are we so stubborn about hanging on to the territories?  There’s loads of empty space in pre-1967 Israel for all Israelis!  What’s the big deal?  Can’t we just give it to them already and we’ll keep the main part of Israel!’

When I hear flippant comments like that, I want to cry.  Listen to the words of the Mishnah: Judea and Transjordan are essential parts of the Land of Israel!  And of course, back in the day, not only were they not ‘territories;’ they were the center of national life!  The Mishkan was there, from its centuries-long period in Shiloh to its sojourn in Givon.  The prophets were there.  The kings were there.  That was the Israel our people knew!

Part of the reason for our laissez-faire attitude is that many of us have no serious emotional attachment to Judea and Samaria.  Why not?  Because we have no clue about the centrality of the so-called ‘West Bank’ to our national history.  Instead of discussing the idea of disengaging from Judea and Samaria, we should sooner be talking about surrendering Ashdod, Akko, or Eilat – all cities with questionable historical significance to our nation!

Why are we lacking the awareness and attachment?  Frankly, because most Jews don’t read the Bible.  We don’t know the stories of the Mishkan.  We’ve never heard of half the prophets.  We couldn’t name the good kings, let alone the bad kings.  If we would simply read through Tanach on a regular basis, we would find ourselves living in the world of our ancestors.  And the mere thought of retreating from those sacred parts of the Land of Israel would be unbearably painful.

Of course, at the end of the day the Government of Israel will decide what is in the best interests of the physical security of our people.  And that may mean painful choices.  But if those choices are not painful in the slightest to you, you need to reflect and ask yourself why you are not feeling the pain.  A good place to start in terms of remedying that nonchalance is the Bible. 

Read Tanach regularly.  You will start to see the entire Land of Israel in a whole different light.  May we never have to compromise on the land of our forefathers!