The story goes something like this. During World War I, a Jew loses his way along the Austro-Hungarian frontier. Wandering through the woods late at night, he is abruptly stopped in his tracks by the screaming challenge of a nervous border-guard: “Halt, or I’ll shoot.” The Jew blinks uncomfortably into the beam of the searchlight and retorts with obvious annoyance: “What’s the matter with you? Are you meshugga (crazy)? Can’t you see that this is a flesh-and-blood human being?”
In principle, the Jew’s behavior in this parable is utterly sensible. Yet, in the disturbingly “real” world, it is plainly idiotic. While, in the best of all possible worlds, no human being could ever imagine shooting another of his own species, or even fabricating the weapons needed to allow such harms, this is not yet (in case you haven’t noticed) the best of all possible worlds. In this painfully imperfect world, we must all calculate according to what is, not to what might have been or what might someday come to pass. The same obligation extends to states in world politics, especially to the most imperiled ones.
How shall we Jews survive in such a world, as individuals and as citizens or supporters of the Jewish State? Wishing always that the non- Jewish world will finally and fully acknowledge his or her common humanity, the individual Jew has hoped for millennia that a more humane pattern of interpersonal interaction will ultimately emerge. Similarly, since 1948, the State of Israel has tried, again and again and again, to impress its relentlessly hostile Arab neighbors with the promisingly cosmopolitan vision of a shared humanity. Sadly, anti-Semitism is now resurgent throughout the world, particularly in the Arab/Islamic Middle East, and hatred of Israel – of the individual Jew in macrocosm – is virulent, widespread and (considering the spread of various existential weapons of mass destruction) altogether ominous.
In Muslim parlance, as dictated by the Shari’a, the world remains divided in two: the House of Islam (dar-al-Islam) and the House of War (dar al-Harb). Within the House of Islam, Muslims rule and the law of Islam prevails. In the House of War, which comprises the rest of the world, constant struggle against the unbeliever is morally, legally and religiously obligatory. No authentic political compromise is possible. No conclusion to the struggle can be acceptable short of a final and total military victory. Still, the law permits the state of war to be interrupted when expedient by an armistice or treaty of limited duration. The state of belligerency can never be terminated properly by a peace that is not founded upon a final defeat of the despised enemy.
Jihad or Holy War calls upon all those who have accepted G-d’s message and G-d’s word to strive (jahada) to convert or to subjugate those who have resisted conversion. In reference to Israel, this sacred obligation is not bounded by limits of either space or time. Indeed, this obligation must continue until the entire world has embraced Islam or has at least submitted to the power of the Islamic states.
For Islam, the unsubjugated unbeliever – especially the Jew – is by definition the enemy. A part of the dar al-Harb, the House of War, he is differentiated sharply from the dhimmi, the unbeliever who submits to Muslim rule. As to a Jewish State, one that rules over Muslims and that “occupies” Muslim lands, it is nothing less than the incarnation of unbelief, an intolerable source of contamination and a codified inversion of G-d’s will. Such a state is presumably fit only for “liquidation.”
When Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spoke together with Hitler on Berlin Radio in 1942, he cried out: “Kill the Jews – kill them with your hands, kill them with your teeth – this is well-pleasing to Allah.” Today the PLO call for annihilation of Israel still remains at certain official PA websites and publications, and the Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) still calls for the “realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, killing them.'”
How shall we Jews survive in such a distorted world, both as individuals and as the always-fragile Jewish State? In our collective form, shall we truly “Seek peace, and pursue it,” when our enemies’ brand of “sanity” lies relentlessly in genocide and war? Or shall we reluctantly resign ourselves to ceaseless conflict as the unavoidable expression of sanity in an undeniably insane world?
“Seek peace, and pursue it.” A clear Jewish imperative. At the same time, to seek peace where it is evidently unattainable – as it is today, with the Palestinians who “love death” and with their undiminished hatred of Jews – could be fatal to Israel. Recalling the unforgivable Oslo Agreements, shall it now be Israel’s position to accept a “peace” that places it in mortal danger and then hope for a miraculous rescue? Here we should remember the words of Rabbi Yanai: “A man should never put himself in a place of danger and say that a miracle will save him, lest there be no miracle, and if there be a miracle, his being thus saved will diminish his share in the world to come….” (Talmud; Sota 32a and Codes; Yoreh De’ah 116) These words apply, strictly speaking, only to “a man,” but it would be hard to argue persuasively that they should not now apply even more importantly to the Jewish State. We Jews must assuredly show forbearance in searching for peace – if necessary, even long and arduous and unreciprocated forbearance – but not INFINITE forbearance.
(To be continued)
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LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security matters and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for THE JEWISH PRESS, and Chair of “Project Daniel.”