Of all the implications following the Gaza “peace flotilla” episode, perhaps the most important for Israel is that the existence of a growing challenge to Israel’s very right to exist has finally been fully exposed. Whether it was the provocation by the flotilla itself, or the subsequent challenge to Israel by the Rachel Corrie ship, or the anti-Semitic remarks by veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas, the feeling is that Israel’s right to exist is no longer a given amongst the international community. Therefore it should have come as no surprise when in the aftermath of the incident Israeli leaders repeatedly stressed that Israel has the right to exist and therefore the right to defend itself. This mounting challenge, which has been downplayed for quite some time, can no longer be denied.
The truth is that the writing has been on the wall for several years already. During the heyday of Oslo the acceptance by the world of our right to exist was something that Israel desperately strived for and in many ways even guided our policies. Time and again we were told of the importance of Israel’s “acceptance” by various Arab countries, while concomitantly constant demands were made of Yasser Arafat to publicly express his acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. The fact that his gestures were only in English for the international audience while in Arabic he continued with his denial and hatred of Israel should have caused more than just the “extreme right” in Israel to question his authenticity. However, the show was allowed to go on.
Eventually Israel removed all of its soldiers from Lebanon, but instead of receiving the hoped for acceptance of its right to exist, rockets eventually reached Haifa. Continuing right along Israel removed all of its citizens from Gaza and once again thousands of rockets, rather than the elusive acceptance of its right to exist, was all that Israel could show for its undertaking. Then, after subjecting some of its southern residents to years of rocket attacks, Israel finally reentered Gaza to clamp down on Hamas and stop the rocket attacks. The result of course was more international condemnations and the heavily biased Goldstone Report. Finally there is the ongoing explicit threat by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the face of the map. In light of the above it should be clear that any future Israeli withdrawal from all or parts of Judea and Samaria would be just as futile in changing the trend.
Thus, the challenge to Israel’s right to exist is certainly not new. It’s been there for years, periodically changing its costume. Occasionally it’s in the form of military confrontation, something that appears on the horizon once again, while at other times it’s in the form of condemnations by international organizations or boycotts by various countries of Israeli goods or professionals.
Given the above, it should be clear that attempts by Israeli leaders to convince the world of our right to exist are bound to fall on many deaf ears. Although Israel nonetheless still needs to continue with and improve in the pubic relations game, the truth is that this is not the source of the problem. Much more importantly, the Jewish people themselves need to finally look in the mirror, something that is long overdue, in order to first convince ourselves of our unquestionable right to exist in this land.
In many ways the Jewish people in Israel have been living on borrowed time. Far too many Jews living in Israel have very little understanding of what is our purpose in the world and why it is important that we have our own sovereign state in order to fulfill this purpose. Not surprisingly, without this clear understanding the result is that many Jews have a hard time believing in the righteousness of our cause. Moreover, if we’re not fully convinced ourselves how on earth can we be expected to convince other nations?
Like a real estate bubble that continues to expand to dangerous levels before ultimately exploding and creating havoc, the Jewish people in Israel have been creating for years their own “right to exist bubble”. Either they take measures to slowly let the air out, in this case by initiating the long overdue and desperately needed process of finally understanding what is our true purpose here in Israel and in doing so convincing ourselves of our undeniable right to exist specifically in this land, or the bubble will eventually explode with all the negative ramifications.
Yoel Meltzer has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies and lives in Israel.