In the important history book, Pillar of Fire, the details of the Hebron massacre of 1929 are covered. One of the chilling recollections notes that many of the Arabs that the Jews thought were their friends gleefully joined in the pogrom and showed great enthusiasm in attacking their former neighbours. It was something that would haunt many to their final days and still serves as a lesson to us: ultimately we can only completely trust in our Father in Heaven. Everyone else is negotiable.
It's a lesson some have forgotten, especially Rabbi Hyim Shafner and his friends who, in their eagerness to make friends and show that the world really is a wonderful, happy place, will cross any lines to prove their point.
In this recent article, Rabbi Shafner recounts a recent visit he made to Beit Lechem, once a Jewish town and now one in which Jews with Israeli passports are now forbidden to enter. As Shafner notes:
Two weeks ago I traveled with 40 Rabbis, Rabbinical students and educators to Bethlehem, and spent two days talking with Arabs in the West Bank who have committed themselves to solving the looming problems of the Israeli Palestinian conflict peacefully. I slept overnight in the very nice home of a Christian family in Bethlehem. None of us visitors were Israeli citizens since they are not allowed in Bethlehem which is part of Area A, the Oslo section of the West Bank that is solely under PA control.
Now there are several things to point out from this first paragraph that show that Rabbi Shafner, despite his sincerest intentions, is actually quite clueless about how things work in the Middle East. The first is to note that he really thought that there is value in talking with the average "Arab on the street". This is a typical mistake for Americans to make. After all, having been raised in a democratic system where politicians must seek out voter approval on a regular basis and where the free expression of ideas is encouraged (outside of university campuses, but that's another post) they blithefully assume that this is the case everywhere. Talk with enough Arabs, the thinking goes, and they can effect change in their societies that will lead to peace tomorrow, or possibly the day after.
Of course, the flaw in this thinking is that all Arab societies are dictatorships in which power in concentrated in a small ruling class that is insulated from and completely controls the actions of the general populace. Arabs in Yesha have as much control over the political events that affect them as a fish does on Michelle Obama's menstrual cycle. Sometimes small groups will exist that dare to speak about peace with Israel. Rest assured they remain small because the minute they start to become even remotely influential they disappear with the sound of a few guns firing. 99.9% of the populace of Yesha could want peace with Israel tomorrow. If Hamas and Fatah do not, there will be no peace. How much more so when the vast majority of the populace is either honestly anti-Jewish or willing to publicly display such sentiments out of fear of reprisal?
The second red flag, one which Shafner should be ashamed of ignoring is in his statement: "None of us visitors were Israeli citizens since they are not allowed in Bethlehem." In fact, that's not entirely true. Arab Israeli citizens have no trouble getting into and out of Bethlehem. Only Jewish Israeli citizens are forbidden entry. This should have stopped Shafner cold but again, what is common sense against blazing liberal zeal?
I., as many Anglo Jews and perhaps Israeli Jews, always imagined that to enter the West Bank was to take one’s life in one’s hands; that all West Bank citizens want most of all to kill Jews.
I can't imagine why anyone would think that. Oh wait, yes I can: In October, 2000 two Israelis driving near Yesha made a wrong turn and wound up in Ramallah. An Arab mob grabbed them, dragged them to the local police station and ripped them apart like wild animals. Who can forget the picture of one of the ecstatic murderers in the window, blood all over his hands? Well, Shafner could. He also seems to have forgotten how for several years after the sound of Arabic in parts of Israel was associated with suicide bombing which led people quite rightly to become nervous when they heard it.
it is also true that there are real people on the other side of the wall, Christians and Muslims, who do not fit the stereotype.
Yes there are, and many of them want little more than to live in peace. However, the dynamics of their society are completely different from Shafner's, something he may come to understand one day if he bothers to try. Those same Arabs who were probably wonderfully warm hosts would become part of the next pogrom if their leaders ordered them to, no matter how many kind words of appeasement were spoken to them. And folks like Hyim Shafner would be that much more mystified when it happens.