The origin of the state of Israel is not religion or nationalism, it is the experience of oppression and murder, the fear of total annihilation and the bitter conclusion that world opinion could not be relied upon to protect the Jews.
Israel was the idea of a journalist. Theodor Herzl was the Paris correspondent of the Neue Freie Presse when he witnessed anti-Semitic rioting against the Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus who had been falsely accused of espionage. Herzl was then among the small corps of journalists who in 1895 witnessed the famous ceremony of disgrace in which Dreyfus was stripped of his epaulettes.
The experience led Herzl to abandon his belief in assimilation. He became convinced that Jews would only be safe if they had their own national home. Herzl became the first leader of modern Zionism. For many years many Jews resisted Herzl’s conclusion. My grandfather was among them. But the experience of Jews all over the world in the first half of the 20th century – not just in Europe but in the Middle East too – rather bore out Herzl.
So when Israel is urged to respect world opinion and put its faith in the international community the point is rather being missed. The very idea of Israel is a rejection of this option. Israel only exists because Jews do not feel safe as the wards of world opinion. Zionism, that word that is so abused, so reviled, is founded on a determination that, at the end of the day, somehow the Jews will defend themselves and their fellow Jews from destruction. If world opinion was enough, there would be no Israel.
The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.
Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again – again and again – the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.
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