Israel, Palestine, Israel/Palestine or Israel-Palestine?
Our call this week will be at its regular time, Friday at Noon EST.
Our guests will Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Noor Awad from the organization Roots. I reached out to Rabbi Schlesinger because he’s an Orthodox settler rabbi who has undergone an unlikely transformation into a supporter of Palestinian equality. I want to ask him about the attack in Hawara and the terrifying ideological and theological currents that are coursing through parts of the Jewish settler population. I want to ask Noor, who lives in Bethlehem, about the dangers facing Palestinians and the challenges of working with Israeli Jews in support of political equality.
As usual, paid subscribers will get the link this Wednesday and the video the following week.
Sources Cited in this Video
Ran Kohn’s comment critiquing my use of the term “Israel-Palestine.”
Hillel Schenker, who I’m honored to say subscribes to this newsletter, co-edits the Palestine-Israel Journal, and there may be good reason to put Palestine first. My inclination is to alternate between “Palestine-Israel” and “Israel-Palestine” but maybe Hillel will explain his reasoning to us one of these days.
Things to Read
Steve Berman, whose letter apologizing to Jimmy Carter I quoted last week, has written a column about the experience.
After I quoted Rabbi Dovid Katz in last week’s newsletter comparing Bedouin Palestinians to Amalekites, he released a new podcast episode clarifying that “I’m not equating that”—the story of King Saul and his slaughter of the Amalekites—"with the current situation in Israel.”
On March 22, I’ll be speaking on a panel for the Quincy Institute in Washington on the lessons of the Iraq War, especially for the media.
In 972mag, Edo Konrad wonders whether Bezalel Smotrich is as different from other Israeli politicians as many American Jews want to believe.
What if oppression creates Amalek?
Last week, settlers returned to terrorize Hawara, on Purim.
On Sunday night, members of the anti-occupation Jewish group If Not Now were arrested while protesting Bezalel Smotrich’s speech in Washington, DC. But before their arrest they davened Maariv, the evening prayer, in response to the settlers who davened Maariv while Hawara burned.
See you on Friday,
Our call this Friday at our normal time, noon ET, will be with Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Noor Awad of the group Roots. I wanted to talk to Rabbi Schlesinger in the wake of Hawara. I’ve really been thinking about trying to figure out how to understand better the currents that are coursing through some Jewish settler communities in the West Bank in the wake of the attack in Hawara. Rabbi Schlesinger, for those who don’t know, is an Orthodox rabbi in the settlement of Gush Etzion, but a man who has had an extraordinary transformation as a result of his interactions with the Palestinians in nearby communities to the point where he now supports equality and freedom between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, which obviously makes him a small minority in his community. And Noor Awad is one of his Palestinian partners who lives in Bethlehem. So, I wanted to talk to Rabbi Schlesinger about what he thinks is happening among settlers in the West Bank and how it can be combated, and to talk to Noor about what life is like in Bethlehem for Palestinians, and about what it takes for him to be working with an Orthodox settler rabbi in pursuit of a vision of equality for Palestinians and Jews. So, that will be on Friday for paid subscribers. I hope you’ll join us.
One of the things that I really like about doing this newsletter is that I find just a lot of really interesting people engage with it. People who are interested in some of the same things that I am, but people from very different perspectives: a lot of Palestinians, Jews who might define themselves as anti-Zionist or liberal Zionist, and many other really interesting folks who have a lot of experiences and insights that I don’t have. And I really appreciate when people who have views that are different than mine are still willing to listen and give their thoughts, because I know that can be difficult.
And one of the people who does that a lot is a guy—I don’t know him personally—his name is Ron. And he generally pretty much disagrees with almost everything I say. And he asked a question the other day that really stuck with me, and I thought I would spend a couple of minutes trying to answer it. So, one of the things that I guess bugs Ron a little bit about the way I talk is that I refer to the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan as Israel-Palestine, or sometimes as Palestine-Israel. And he said, why aren’t you just calling it Israel? And so, I thought I would explain how I kind of came to this terminology.
So, if I’m referring to the state, I would call it Israel. So, I would say Israel normalized diplomatic relations with Bahrain. I wouldn’t say Israel-Palestine normalized diplomatic relations because this is the action of the state. So, I refer to Israel-Palestine when I’m distinguishing the state from the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. Why don’t I just call that Israel? Well, I guess for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it’s not clear where Israel’s borders begin and end. Israel has not defined that, really. So, would I be referring to just the territory along the Green Line? If so, then what term would I use to describe the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, and Gaza, which are occupied under international law? And if I’m using the term Israel to refer all the territory Israel controls, which includes Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, and I call all of that Israel, then what does that mean about all the Palestinians who live under Israeli control without citizenship and the right to vote for the government that controls their lives? That would kind of make them Israelis. But they’re clearly not Israelis. They’re colonial subjects under Israeli control. They’re not Israelis because they’re not and cannot become Israeli citizens.
And to call all of this territory Israel would be to participate in the erasure of all of those millions of Palestinians who live without basic rights, and it would be to participate also in the erasure of the 750,000 or so Palestinians who were expelled in Israel’s founding. And in a way, it would even be to participate in the erasure of the Palestinian citizens who live in Israel, who in Jewish communal discourse, are often referred to as Israeli Arabs. But that’s kind of a term that’s used to suggest that, somehow, they’re not really Palestinian. So, it’s also just important to make this clear. I think people often just gloss over it, right? The term Israel is a term that means the Jewish people, right? Israel is the term that was given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel, right, and then his children were called the Children of Israel, Bnei Yisrael, and that became then a kind of name for all of the children of Jacob, all of the Jews who followed, right? And so, to refer to this territory through a name that means the Jewish people is a way of suggesting, as the nation-state law did in Israel in 2018, that there is no other nation here, that there is only one nation in this territory. So, it erases Palestinians as individuals, and it also erases Palestinians as a nation.
Now, many people on the left, and many Palestinians of course, simply refer to the entire territory as Palestine. And I’ve actually noticed that more people on the left, even on the Jewish left, refer to the territory now as just Palestine than used to before. And I understand doing that as an act of combating that erasure, the erasure of Palestinians, the erasure of Palestine. And I think it reflects a view that there was a territory called Palestine. It had an identity even before the British, and then the British created this colony, were given this mandate over this colony, Palestine, just like they had control over Iraq and Transjordan, and the French had Syria and Lebanon. And, as happened in these other territories, there was a national identity that solidified, and then those countries became independent. So, Iraq became an independent country, or Syria, or Transjordan. And so, I think to say Palestine, as I interpret it, is to say that that was the natural and just course of events for this colony called Palestine to become a nation called Palestine. And that was interrupted by this settler colonial enterprise of Zionism that ended up creating an Israel instead, and that Israel and Zionism are illegitimate, and this territory should be called Palestine because that’s what it was, and that’s the natural course of events.
The reason I don’t call the territory Palestine is because I believe that there is, in addition to the Palestinian nation, the Palestinian people, there is a Jewish nation that has emerged in Israel-Palestine, or if you want to say it’s kind of been reborn. And if you call the territory Palestine, as I imagine it, then you envision a future in which there is one Palestine between the river and the sea, and all of the people in it are Palestinians. I know there are people who hold that view. And I think Omar Barghouti, for instance, who I’ve interviewed on the Substack, would take that view, and there would be Palestinians who were Muslim and Christian and Jewish. And I know people like him, I think, believe that in good faith that Palestinian is an identity that is not religiously defined, and therefore there were Jewish Palestinians before Zionism, and there should be Jewish Palestinians again. But that’s not my view. I believe that Jews are a people, not just a religion. And that in this territory, there is very clearly a very strong national identity, a peoplehood identity, particularly among Israeli Jews. And so, it doesn’t seem to me remotely plausible to imagine a future in which that disappeared and Israeli Jews simply became Jewish Palestinians. And that’s why the term Palestine to describe all of the territory erases Jewish peoplehood, the Israeli Jewish national identity, the desire for self-determination that Israeli Jews have, as Palestinians have, and so that’s why I’m not comfortable using the term Palestine.
Now there’s a third option, which is also pretty common in kind of leftist circles. And I think Ron suggested that maybe this would be better, would be to do Israel/Palestine (Israel slash Palestine), right. And, actually, the publication that I write for, Jewish Currents, I think generally does this Israel/Palestine. So, it suggests that some people call this Israel, some people call it Palestine. And by saying Israel/Palestine, you kind of leave open the possibility that it could be either. The reason I don’t choose that is that, to me, it seems that it makes it a choice. It’s either Israel or Palestine. And to me that suggests that either one national identity has to win or the other. It’s either going to be Israel, or it’s going to be Palestine, or there are these two groups that have these whole different views, and it doesn’t suggest any way of reconciling that other than essentially a permanent difference of a view, or one maybe ultimately subsuming the other.
I like Israel-Palestine (Israel dash Palestine) because to me it suggests not Israel or Palestine, but Israel and Palestine. And that reflects my vision of which the Palestinian-Israeli political theorist Bashir Bashir calls egalitarian binationalism. Which is to say, to recognize that there are two nations in this territory. They both have the right to self-determination, but not self-determination meaning exclusive sovereignty, which denies the rights of other people, but self-determination meaning communal autonomy within a framework of legal equality for both people’s absolute legal equality in a binational state. And so, for me, Israel-Palestine reflects the vision that I imagine the country could be called Israel-Palestine, or it could be called Palestine-Israel, or both. But the term Israel reflects the Jewish national character. The term Palestine reflects the Palestinian national character. And putting the two together suggests that these can coexist, and perhaps the even enhance one another. And one of the things that I have been most profoundly moved by over the years through this newsletter and other ways through interactions with Palestinians is that it has helped me as someone who grew up in a pretty cloistered Jewish environment, a pretty cloistered unquestioning Zionist environment, to begin to imagine much more the way in which a truly equal, truly free binational country could be a much richer and more dynamic and more exciting place not just for Palestinians, who would gain basic freedoms that they don’t have, but also for Israeli Jews and Jews around the world, who instead of seeing Palestinians as enemies that need to be kept down and brutalized, actually could be so deeply enriched through a genuine equal interaction in a context of egalitarian binationals.
So, that’s why I use the phrase Israel-Palestine. But I’m curious about folks who, like Ron, disagree. And I also just want to say to Ron, who I’ve never met, I really appreciate you participating in this. I know that your views are very much a minority, but I really like having you in this conversation. So, again our conversation this Friday at noon ET for paid subscribers will be with Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Noor Awad. I hope you’ll join us.