A Bloody House

By Eliyahu White

Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, "[It is] for Shaul, and for [his] bloody house, because he slew the Gib`onites." [II Sam. 21: 1]

For most all of the last two thousand years, we Jews have lived in various small communities without a state, and without the duties, privileges, and responsibilities of sovereign power. Other peoples were not our responsibility; our prime duties were directed inward; and our challenge was to survive, and to preserve our embattled ways of life and our denigrated Law. Our ghetto courts were internal affairs, aimed at compromise and keeping away outsiders. Roman governments had long ago outlawed Jewish enforcement of the Torah's death penalties, and our rabbis in general acquiesced. [Enforcement of a monopoly on the death penalty is the ultimate symbol and reality of sovereignty. (Enforcement of prison sentences, as e.g. in Western Europe, requires a covert or sublimated threat of death or at least of grievous suffering; and in many cases where a death penalty is repudiated, the execution of that threat of death is placed in the hands of uniformed or nonuniformed vigilantes.)]

In 1948, in culmination of war and bitter struggles, a Jewish state was founded on the edges of the land of our forefathers. In 1967, after still another war, the state of Israel gained effective control over more or less the entirety of that land and of all its indigenous peoples.

Suddenly we were faced with obligations to ourselves, to others, and to water reserves and natural resources which we had not known for millennia. How have we responded?


The duty of a delegitimized people under threat is to make the price of its annihilation too great. One way of doing so is by way of intrigue, indirect means, and assassination. On the other hand, the duty of a sovereign state is to provide order and justice for its inhabitants. (Justice, reward for good and proportionate harm for evil, is impossible in conditions of chaos; and terror and assassination almost always bring disorder.) A sovereign state need not establish democracy, but if it is to be worthy, it must achieve clarity, predictability, due process -- with justice.

(Raw force and cynical manipulation of interests maim bodies, blow up buildings and inspire terror, grabbing headlines and sometimes paving a quick road to rulership. But only political justice infused with personal love of God and men can build a healthy home, a strong economy and trust between neighbors, opening the patient campaign for day-to-day lawfulness and long-term greatness.)

Permit me an anecdote: My last tour of reserve duty with my old unit was in a major town of the "occupied territories" in the fall of 1984, some months before the so-called "entifada." When patrolling at a nearby refugee camp, we would regularly get stones, usually from children, as did our units periodically in the town itself. Patrolling in the "casbah," I recall a whistle, and moments later a big block shattering against our narrow street from over a wall several stories above us. Of course we were wearing helmets, but had the block hit a soldier directly, it probably would have killed him. The officer leading our little patrol ceremonially requested a couple tear gas canisters, which he fired rather indiscriminately toward some of the buildings engulfing us on both sides. -- This was a regular occurrence.

But what I recall most vividly was guard duty at lookout points overlooking various parts of the city. At one of those observation posts, on the roof of a strategic building, I remember talking on several occasions with one of the children (something not encouraged). He was a lad about thirteen, and said his father is a qadi. On being asked what he thought of the situation, he said the Jordanians would not have tolerated insurrection and would have put a quick and lasting end to the stone-throwing. He said that if this was not done, there would be disaster. [For any state worthy of the name must end open rebellion.] Shortly after this tour of duty, I journeyed to the U.S. to get married and to work on my dissertation, and would not return till considerable time after the alleged outbreak of the "entifada." Inquiring afterwards, I was told that this lad's father was murdered as a "collaborator." -- I do not know to what if any extent he had "collaborated," but the murderers of the boy's father were likely never apprehended; and if apprehended, they were probably freed, and may be part of the now-"governing" Palestinian Authority.

The point: We (you and I) have an obligation to that lad and to his father. We have similar responsibilities towards Arabs in Nazareth, in the Negev, and in Jaffa. If Israel cannot protect those who "collaborate" with her, if we cannot guarantee all of Israel's inhabitants life, order, and protection of property, we have no future here. We might best forget Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Torah, and maybe embrace an other-worldly Qabbalism in Brooklyn or Paris.

I have talked with numerous Arabs who, after a time and after establishing some rapport, declare that Yasser Arafat has brought disaster to the Palestinians. The PLO which he headed was the monstrous child of the KGB, but we Israelis are its foster parents. The so-called Palestinian Authority was not elected. It was shoved into power by our army (partly because there are those who imagine it easier to have a centralized [or Leninist] "someone to talk to" than to carry out justice with all the difficult details, different interests, diverse families and many peoples and divisions of power that this task entails - and perhaps not just a little in order to nullify "irreversibly" Israel's [the Likud's] August, 1982, high-cost gains near Beirut.)

A senior Israeli official is said to have remarked that it would be best to turn the territories over to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, because they know how to take care of opposition without any regard for human rights. -- In a normal state, such a despicable remark (a senior official endorsing abandonment of human rights for people that are under a nation's sovereignty) would be grounds for impeachment, not for a Peace Prize. The sin of letting Christian militiamen into the camps of Sabra and Shatilla pales up against the transgression of handing Palestinians into the hands of Yasser Arafat and his cohorts.

Palestinians, and in ineluctable harmony, Israelis, have suffered immensely from our inability to transcend ghetto mentality. (How often do fellow Israelis ask, "Is x good for the Jews?" -- as if `good [unlike hardship, work, and re-evaluations] for the Jews' must be, or can be, contrary to good [unlike hardship, work, and re-evaluations] for the Palestinians.) Although there might be a kind of coexistence beforehand, there will be no peace for Israel until there is both the perception and the reality that Israel's sovereignty is good for the peoples in our region.

Neither biblical Israel nor modern Israel can or should thrive without the stranger in her midst. The myth of "separation" means pining for Egypt's or Poland's or Brooklyn's ghettos; and there never has been a sovereign ghetto. -- Perhaps the closest historical approximation to a sovereign ghetto was Saul's narrow, failed kingdom. David's wider, successful kingdom, however, was a far cry from ghetto administration. An honest look at the biblical records and e.g. careful consideration of the names of the King David's officers and officials indicate the integration of outsiders (many of whom undoubtedly joined the congregation of Israel, all of whom were committed to Israel's rule) into the highest ranks. These one-time outsiders became leaders whose duties reached far beyond those of trackers and of menial laborers. David's kingdom was an ideological and religious power of wide-ranging magnetism (although David's son, Shlomo, in his later years would dilute David's thoughtful `missionaryism' into a distorted internationalism). The leadership of King David challenges his self-styled partisans to break out from the defenses of ghetto walls, even while affirming the God of Israel, the distinct integrity of the Jewish people, and the peculiar laws for our Land.

Jews' "right" to settle or even retain our ghetto in this Land, or any land, demands a just cause. Real estate (unlike the work of one's hands) is no people's "natural right." We Jews in 1948 changed the status quo, and we are called upon to show that our cause is just. The dynamic of our ancient faith, if it is not to be ossified, compels to build something new for ourselves.

Leaving our ghetto calls for abandoning the present absurdities of party rule of a system of totalitarian democracy (where "winning" coalitions take all, and losers get no finances in a state-controlled economy), and replacing our government with a tiered system of law. (Israeli law has been openly abandoned e.g. in certain agreements with the Palestinian Authority). It requires a federal system of (say) twelve regions each with far-reaching local powers and responsibilities, with all featuring a republican form of government, and all providing protections of life and property; and with foreign policy and defense under a strong but limited central government. It calls for an elected head of government and a (good) constitution. (The separate integrity of the offices of king and priest, the institutions indicated e.g. in II Sam. 5: 3 and II Kings 11: 17, and the Torah itself, all testify both to a federal system and to ancient precedent for a Constitution, or brit, between men and their institutions. They cry out for the necessary divisions of power essential to any genuinely Jewish state.)

No less importantly, eventual peace demands honoring and exuding the centrality of God-given religion in our own lives as well as the lives of our neighbors. Our struggles (with ourselves and with others) are primarily ideological, indeed, religious. Even Judaism, even Christianity, even Islam have often been humanizing movements -- and we can view the horror of cultures with no knowledge of the God of Abraham. In the present ideological wars [and religious war is what is going on in Jerusalem and Shechem and Bney Brak and Gaza and Tel Aviv (and in Bosnia, Sudan, Indonesia, Peru, and Manhattan)], possibilities for conversions (one way or the other) must be made more accessible.

What really happened in the past is the foundation of our being today. It is scandalous that Arabs who have lived here fifty years are unfamiliar with clear historical realities such as the fact that there really was a Jewish Temple, dedicated to God, just east of the Western Wall; and that Jews now for almost 2,000 years have prayed many times daily for their return to Jerusalem and to the Mount. (It is even our duty, moreover, to explain the more debatable fact that the life of the dhimmis, the lives of Christians and Jews [and many Muslims] under Islam [as is the case e.g. in Egypt with the Copts], has generally been a life of oppression. And by deed and example, we must work to change that reality for ourselves and for the world.)

Eventual peace here demands Jews' dedication to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It calls for wise involvement in the extra-ghetto affairs of all those under our responsibilities. We have a lot to learn from them, and they have much learn from us.

In other words the point here is not that Israel needs to protect its collaborators; rather the point is that Israel needs to protect all Arab and Jewish women and children and old men within her borders. The object here is even less to discuss the ethics of David handing Saul's children over to the Gib`onites, nor of the propriety of the Gib`onite's request, nor to discuss of the (largely irrelevant and very doubtful) hypothesis that II Sam. 21: 1 refers back to I Sam. 21 & 22, nor to consider even the (more relevant and more likely) theory that Saul's sons may have been personally involved in the elsewhere-unmentioned slaughter of Gib`onites. -- The point is rather that the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, here and in many other places, emphasize Israel's responsibilities to all her inhabitants, whether Jews or strangers.

No less than in past millennia, failure to meet our responsibilities here in the twentieth century will bring a "Palestinian State." If an anti-Israel "Palestinian State" such as presently projected rules in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria, it periodically will foment and exploit deliberate insurrection. With Palestinian officials appealing to the rights, prerogatives, duties, and integrity of an independent state, in future insurrections (regardless of various promises and international guarantees), waves of children will be backed up quickly by Palestinian mortars, rockets, anti-tank (and anti-schoolbus) missiles, tanks, helicopters, and planes made in the West. (The conflicts on Israel's borders and within, in the Negev and the Galil, Jerusalem and Jaffa, will rapidly make Israel's recent deadly adventures in Lebanon's "security zones" look like picnic outings.) Even more importantly, as is already the case, but soon even more blatantly, international guarantees from Egypt, Syria, and many others (guarantees which contradict other guarantees to Israel, but which will be more comfortable for oil-hungry powers to recognize) will cripple any meaningful Israeli responses. Excluding divine miracle, the prolonged insurrections, pleading issue after issue, in swift stages will end the possibility of a Jewish state for at least our generation and the generation to come. No continued Israeli capitulation or series of capitulations to the Palestinian state would prevent this outcome. They could hurry the end, but they could not make it more merciful.

We read that God's covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David are everlasting; but Jews here stand fragile and contingent on the current stage of history.

Accordingly, Israel must understand past errors, renew her sense of purpose, and must make it a goal to overthrow the Palestinian Authority (and get something better in its place) -- for (as Arafat knows) Israel and the Palestinian Authority (as constituted presently) cannot exist long on the face of this earth. Israel must act quickly, humanely, with strength, and wisely.

If not, we who have suffered much will suffer a great deal more. This is because the exclusive goal of a legitimate sovereign state (unlike the main objectives of private persons or of religious or secular organizations) must be "Justice, justice. . ." Nothing more, nothing less.

Eliyahu White lives in Beyth Shemesh, teaches English in local colleges, and since 1999 holds a Ph.D. in general philosophy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.