by Sondra Oster Baras
Last week I met with a group of high school students from the US. They were part of a program in Denver, CO which exposes them to the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict.” The director is a Palestinian-American. She contacted me and expressed interest in exposing her students to the “settlement” side of the issue. While I assumed that these students were coming to Israel armed with assumptions that ran counter to my own reality, I agreed to meet the group. I was not naïve enough to believe that I could change their opinions in the course of one hour but I felt that it was important that they at least be exposed to our side of the argument.
The students were very well behaved and articulate. We met in Efrat and there were three of us presenting the issues: the head of the Efrat Religious Council, who is an old friend of mine and a veteran, like myself, in advocacy for Judea and Samaria; my son, a rabbi and high school teacher in Efrat; and myself. We each took turns presenting different aspects of our story and then left time for the students to ask questions.
I sat next to the program director who was very friendly when she arrived. But as we presented our stories, I peeked at her, looking at her eyes behind her large sunglasses. She was seething. She remained quiet and did not interrupt our conversation at all but it was clear to me that she was very angry. I am sure that as a Palestinian she was not happy with the way we were presenting our ancient connection and claim to the land, both from a religious, a historical and a legal perspective. I wondered if she had ever heard our side of the story. She had certainly never presented our side to these students.
Some of the students remained apathetic as the conversation continued. Some seemed hostile and some seemed genuinely curious. When they stated as fact that our presence in Judea and Samaria contravened international law, I countered with a totally different interpretation of international law and referred them to legal scholars who have treated the subject intelligently and articulately. One student questioned our refusal to consider dividing the land into 2 states: Jewish and Palestinian. I explained that such a division had already occurred in 1923 when Jordan was created, that it had occurred again when Jordan illegally occupied Judea and Samaria. But each time the Arabs were not satisfied and went after the part that was left to us. The student then looked at me and said: “I never thought of it that way.”
And that was the one moment when I felt that maybe I had accomplished something after all. I concluded with a plea to the students: “Don’t believe everything you are told, or everything that the UN states or everything you hear on television. Read and study the issues and then decide.” As they left our meeting, one student asked me for my card so she could contact me and obtain a book I had recommended that would present these issues in a different way.
Much has been said about how Israel handles the PR war that is being waged against us, often quite effectively, by our neighbors. When Arab terrorists and their civilian stooges marched towards the fence that separates Gaza from Israel, the IDF shot into the mob in order to prevent them from crossing into Israel. When dozens were killed, the international media went into a frenzy, accusing Israel of murdering innocent civilians. Israel looked very bad.
When fires rage all over the Negev as Arab terrorists in Gaza send burning kites and incendiary balloons across the fence, nothing is mentioned in the international media. It was announced today that damage to cultivated fields and orchards reached close to $3 million, not including the damages to nature reserves and forests in the area. But when the IDF responds to this dangerous activity, shooting at the fire balloon launchers in order to protect the lives and property of Israeli farmers and residents, the international media accuses Israel of war crimes.
I do believe that Israel can be doing much more to produce effective media material that combats the distorted way in which our activities are being portrayed. But at the end of the day, there is a hatred for Israel that has taken hold of so many people all over the world and it is very hard to combat. We write books and articles, produce films and blogs but are we convincing anyone?
There was one moment in my encounter with the students that brought home to me where so much of the problem lies. We described our experiences with Arab terrorism and mentioned incidents where Arab youth threw rocks at moving cars. One student stated that rocks were not a big deal — why the fuss? And I countered: Rocks kill. They believed that Israel had no right to arrest Arab teenagers for throwing rocks at Israelis and I said that these teenagers were murderers or attempted murderers. I mentioned several cases where rocks thrown by Arab terrorists had killed children. They were unimpressed. But I didn’t care if I convinced them. I just stated what I knew to be true: “They say that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Well, I can tell you unequivocally — these are terrorists and I will do whatever it takes to protect our people, our families, our children.”
They had no answer to that. But I knew that I had said what I needed to say. I refuse to gloss over our reality and pander to a false ethic that will not allow a people to defend itself. In the past few days, thousands of Syrian refugees have streamed toward the border with Israel. With the exception of a few who require immediate medical attention, Israel will not let them in. These refugees are our enemies. They are members of a society who have been trained to hate us for decades. Admitting them into our country is tantamount to national suicide.
There is an attitude today that has become all too prevalent in the west. It denies the right of nations to defend themselves and to protect their unique and separate identities. It denies the rights of a nation’s military and police to protect its citizens. It denies the value of the state.
I am Jewish and my Jewish identity is key to who I am. It is key to what my nation is and it is key to the existence of Israel. We will not apologize for being. We will not apologize for defending ourselves. We will never tire of the attempts to seek peace with our neighbors but in so doing we will never deny who we are. I am Jewish and I am proud of it. And if there are those who hate me because I am Jewish, so be it. I will not apologize for who I am.