A Different Viewpoint on Israel / Palestine by Ruth Kaan

Makom Shalom, the Hebrew term for a place of peace, aptly describes our congregation and welcomes diversity.  At Makom Shalom we can disagree on issues and still love, embrace and respect each other.  In this spirit I feel compelled to express my views on the Middle East Conflict .  The views I am expressing are strictly my own and not the views of Makom Shalom.

There are those who strongly oppose the occupation and are outraged by the way the Palestinians have been treated by the Israelis.  While I do understand their position and sympathize with the Palestinians who were driven out of their homes during the Nakba, there are other issues that need to be considered.

Prior to the statehood of Israel in 1948, 850,000 Jews were forced out of middle eastern countries like Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.  Laws were passed making it almost impossible for Jews to find work, and homes were confiscated or destroyed or reduced to 20% of their market value.  Jews were mercilessly brutalized and murdered and synagogues were obliterated.  And yet nobody anywhere spoke up for the Jews.  Where was the outcry then?

As soon as Israel achieved statehood Israel was attacked by Palestinians and by forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.  The attackers obviously underestimated Israel’s might but still kept provoking Israel.  Early on Israel’s leaders  realized they would have to take extreme measures to survive.   It deeply troubles me that there are those who view the Palestinians as the sole victims.

In Europe Jews faced persecution and eventually the holocaust.  As the daughter of two holocaust survivors I know firsthand what transpired in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

My father lived in a village about 20 miles away from Minsk when WWII erupted.  He was the established village tailor and married with 4 daughters.  While he went to fight as a sergeant in the Russian army his entire family was murdered and his property was confiscated.  He was shot in the hip and left for dead but eventually crawled out from under the gravel and spent the rest of his life with a bullet in his hip that doctors were afraid to even try to remove.

My mother grew up in a village that is now in Lithuania but in her day was Poland.  She lived in a very large home owned by my grandparents.  The house was confiscated by the Poles and my grandparents were forced to live in the attic.  My mother was away from home at the time and was sent to the Russian work camps.  The rest of her family, along with the other 3500 Jewish residents of the village, were taken to mass graves where they were murdered.

Today I derive much pleasure from viewing the outside of the house where my mother was raised.  It gives me a feeling of connection with my ancestors and looks just the way my mother described it.  But it makes me very sad to know that I’ll never see the inside of this house and I’ll never be able to prove that I’m a descendant of the rightful owners.

After the war ended my mother was on her way home to her village and stopped in a synagogue in Russia.  There were many others in her situation headed back to their homes.  The rabbi sat everyone down and told them to not even think about going home because their families were gone and they would be killed by the militias if they returned.  My mother had a sister who was married with children.  They survived the war but made the mistake of returning home and were shot dead by the militia, whose mantra was that they had to finish the job Hitler did not.

My parents met in a displaced person’s camp in Austria after the war ended.  There was a need for tailors in Canada and with the help of B’nai B’rith they went to Montreal.  They did what most other survivors did:  they relocated to continents far away from Europe, learned a new language, and worked hard to rebuild their lives.  They did this while they were grieving their enormous losses and dealing with their physical and emotional wounds.  There were no uprisings to reclaim homes and property.

It can be argued that survivors were paid reparations by the German government.  Financial reparations were indeed paid to survivors, depending on their circumstances.  During the 1960s my parents received a meager $1500 in compensation because they were never residents of Germany and were never in the concentration camps.

In recent years a pilgrimage to my mother’s village was made by descendants of the Jews who once resided there.  They visited the mass graves and paid their respects.  Violent attacks to retrieve property that was rightfully theirs was not on their agenda.

As Hitler was coming into power, Jews who had the financial resources to pay off officials and had sponsorships in other countries were able to get out.  Those of lesser means and those with no sponsorships were left behind to face their fates.  Had Israel been in existence then, many Jews would have had a place to go.

In the United States the FDR administration tried to suppress what was happening to the Jews in Europe.  There were tight quotas for Jews allowed to enter the US and these quotas were not raised to meet the crisis.  It was the days of Father Coughlin when Jews were just not worth saving.  A group of orthodox rabbis held a demonstration in Times Square to uncover what was going on in Europe and were characterized as a group of crackpots.  We all know the fate of the SS St. Louis when they tried to find refuge in the United States.  Again, had Israel been in existence, the Jews on that ship would have had a place to dock and find shelter.

Since its inception Israel has been plagued by the constant fear of annihilation.  In addition to so many wars, Israel has had to deal with the murder of eleven Israeli Olympians in Munich, a terrorist hijacking to Entebbe, a Passover seder massacre, suicide bombers at weddings, suicide bombers in markets, flying missiles, and the list goes on and on.  I do not believe that unconditionally giving up the occupied territories would bring about peace.  On the contrary, I believe that unconditionally giving up the occupied territories would only enhance the ability of Israel’s enemies to annihilate her.

To me the most rational resolution would be a two state solution where first off, Israel’s right to exist is recognized.  If all parties then came to the table serious about achieving a peaceful coexistence, then it would make sense to return some or all of the occupied territories.  Unfortunately, I do not believe this will happen during my lifetime as there are too many obstacles.

In 2000 President Clinton tried to broker a deal between Ehud Barak and Yassar Arafat that entailed generous territorial concessions.  While Israel accepted the offer with a few reservations, Arafat never accepted it.  Highly regarded political analysts have speculated that Arafat was afraid that if he accepted the offer he would be taken out by Palestinian factions.  To me this suggests that the real problem comprises issues far beyond the scope of territoriality.

In 2004, when Israel pulled out of Gaza and the land was ceded to the PLO, I was hopeful that this would be the first step towards a two-state solution.  Much to my dismay, the Palestinians elected Hamas to be their government.  The main priority of the new government was to construct tunnels to gain access to areas that would enable the annihilation of Israel.

While some of our Makom Shalom members adamantly believe that supporting BDS is the right thing to do, I can never ever support BDS.  To me it is very wrong to penalize Israel for taking extreme measures to protect herself from annihilation.  Compromising Israel’s financial solvency would only weaken Israel and create vulnerabilities her enemies would love to implement.  Boycotting academic research would only deprive the world of important technologic advances and medical findings. Boycotting academic research would only deprive the world of important technologic advances and medical findings.  If you have a computer powered by an Intel microprocessor, then that microprocessor was most likely developed and manufactured in Israel.  If you own an Apple computer it is highly likely that your microprocessor was developed by someone in California who was trained at Technion in Haifa.

While I do not agree with every policy and activity Israel has undertaken, I will always support and stand behind Israel.  To me it is of utmost importance to have a strong Israel, able to take in Jews in crisis in other parts of the world.  When the violent antisemitism in France became unbearable to many French Jews, they could emigrate to Israel.  In order to make it attractive for Jews to remain in France, the French government made a commitment to provide more protection for Jews residing there.  Without a strong Israel the sequence of events would have been much different.

I cannot deny that the Palestinians have suffered immensely.  As I said before, I do sympathize.  However, there are available options for the Palestinians to alleviate their own suffering.  The first step would be to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the next step would be to demonstrate a willingness to negotiate and make some concessions so that peace could be achieved.  Until this actually happens my concern for Israel’s strength, security and safety will greatly outweigh my sympathy.