By Sondra Oster Baras
Last week, I took a friend to Itamar’s tallest mountain. There, with brilliant clarity, we could see the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal as well as the Mountain of Abraham, just above the modern community of Elon Moreh. It was on that mountain that G-d first spoke to Abraham in the Land of Israel and said to him: “To your seed I will give this Land.” (Genesis 12:7)
All week, we have wondered and worried about what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would say in this much-publicized address to the nation last night. Today, the morning after, I am not sure how I feel about his speech. The news has been full of Netanyahu’s perceived change in his willingness to recognize a Palestinian State, albeit demilitarized. Many on the right are angry that he agreed to this, as this is a concession on the right to the entire Land of Israel that we believe in so firmly. And yet, Netanyahu made it very clear that such a state would be less than a real state – it would be demilitarized, unable to enter into treaties with other nations and subject to Israeli control of its airspace. It would not include Jerusalem, which will remain the undivided capital of Israel. And Israel will not absorb any of the Palestinian refugees – these will be absorbed by the newly formed Palestinian state or in the countries where they are currently residing. Perhaps, then, this is really not that different from the autonomy that Menachem Begin offered the Palestinians back in 1978.
Netanyahu also did make some very strong statements about the Jewish right to the land and did not concede anything in that regard: “The connection of the Jewish People to the Land has been in existence for more than 3,500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked, our forefathers David, Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah – this is not a foreign land, this is the Land of our Forefathers.” He also made it clear that our right to a state was not a result of the Holocaust, a common Arab claim, but a long overdue right that may well have saved the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust had a State of Israel existed then. “The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: The Land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people.” I was proud to hear Netanyahu make these statements, for it has been far too long since an Israeli prime minister declared our right to this land unequivocally and with pride.
Netanyahu justified his decision to recognize a limited Palestinian State, however, in the fact that so many Arabs live here and in our desire not to rule over them. This is, indeed, the crux of the problem.
Netanyahu gave himself a great deal of wiggle room to continue building and developing the communities in Judea and Samaria. While he promised not to start new communities, he asserted our right to live normal lives here and did not commit to freezing growth and expansion of the existing communities. At the end of the day, his actions will speak louder than his words. If he, indeed, enables us to build freely and in response to the growing demand for housing in our areas, especially by young couples who have grown up here and want to start their own homes near their families, then our cause will not have been abandoned. If he continues to freeze building, he will have acceded to US and international pressure to the detriment of our country and our people.
But as I review the text of the speech over and over again, I can’t help but remember the incredible view I had of Mt. Gerizim, Mt. Ebal and Mt. Kabir, on top of that incredible mountain in Itamar. I could feel G-d’s presence in that landscape and could well imagine Abraham viewing what I was viewing when he first entered the land. I could feel G-d smiling down upon us as he saw the developing communities of Elon Moreh, Itamar and Har Bracha, as he watched the children at school and at play and the adults relaxing and sharing the day’s news with their neighbors. The prophet promises that there will be old people watching youngsters dancing in the streets of Jerusalem (Zachariah 8:4-5). As I stood there looking out upon the vibrant Jewish communities of Samaria, I felt that this, too, was prophecy fulfilled, not only in Jerusalem, but throughout the Biblical land. Why is it so difficult? Why are the Arabs who live in the valleys below Itamar, Elon Moreh and Har Bracha so eager to destroy us. Why have we made foolish concessions to them, time and time again, as each concession only breeds further terrorism and hatred? I cry out to embrace these hills, these scenes from my Bible which are also the landscapes of my identity.
Make no mistake – Netanyahu’s reference to a Palestinian State was the result of enormous pressure, coming especially from the US. As I try to put myself in Netanyahu’s shoes, I really don’t know what I would have done in his place. If I had to take responsibility for a harsh break in our relations with the US, could I look my people in the eyes and say we will be alright without the fighter planes that we purchase from the US? That our economy would continue to survive if we were boycotted by countries all over the world? We like to think we’re strong, but we are really such a small country, which has struggled to survive ever since we first became a modern state.
I hope Netanyahu will stand strong, build in the communities and protect our existence and our right to live in Judea and Samaria. But this is not the time to compromise on the stand you are taking. If Netanyahu hears a strong voice coming from the US and from countries around the world justifying Israel’s right to the land, he will have the courage to do what’s right and what his conscience is telling him to do. But if you lose your tongues, if you grow timid in the face of President Obama and the new world order he is trying to impose, we will have no one else to turn to. For it is you, our Christian friends, who have been the only strong and powerful voices on our behalf for years. Please, don’t let anyone silence you!
I am frightened and sad even as my love for this land, for G-d and for His word is stronger than ever before. There is no time to rest, no time to sit back and hope for better times. We must act. Now! And we must all pray to G-d, each day, for the courage to stand up for the truth and for what’s right. May He give us and our leaders the strength to remain true to His promises.
Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office
Christain Friends of Israeli Communities