Jewish Law is democratic in the sense that it belongs to all of the people, a principle reflected in the Talmudic position that each individual can approach G-d in prayer without priestly intercessions. Hence, a fundamental goal of Jewish law must always be to encourage initiative, to act purposefully on behalf of rescuing and improving both state and society. When this criterion is applied to expected instances of civil disobedience in Israel, it is apparent that the protesting opponents of the Road Map − more than any other citizens of Israel − shall be acting according to law.
In Claude Lanzmann’s monumental documentary, SHOAH, one of the surviving leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising remarks: “If you could lick my heart, it would poison you.” Sadly, the time may still come − if Jerusalem is permitted to continue following Washington’s cartography − that surviving Israelis will someday express similar sentiments. In fact, it is precisely to prevent such an unforgivable repetition of Jewish history that hundreds or thousands of Israelis may soon need to embark upon wider civil disobedience and larger-scale military refusals. After all, what would be the point of sacrilizing IDF “superior orders” at the expense of Israel’s physical continuance?
The Road Map to Peace in the Middle East still being forced upon Israel by the United States, Russia, the European Community and the United Nations calls for the incremental surrender of Judea and Samaria that are indispensable to Israel’s organic survival as a Jewish state. This one-sided piece of diplomatic cartography would open up the entire country to expanded terrorism (including mega-terrorism involving chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons) and to authentically genocidal wars of aggression launched by one or several enemy states. Moreover, in the obvious aftermath of what has happened in Gaza, these pieces of Jewish land carved from the still-living body of Israel would also quickly become a staging area for terrorism against various cities in Europe and the United States. It follows that the Road Map could bring chaos and catastrophe not only to Tel-Aviv, and Hebron, but also to New York, Washington, Paris and London.
Israel’s government is assuredly under no moral or legal obligation to proceed with the Road Map. Steady promises from Washington of billions in new military assistance is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but even such a staggering infusion of American money could never offset the existential security risks of additional “disengagements” or “realignments.” So long as Jewish soldiers actually believe it is their obligation to evict fellow Jews from their homes in Judea/Samaria, not even trillions could save Israel from itself.
America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, already understood what has obviously eluded every Israeli Prime Minister from Rabin to Olmert (and arguably even from Begin, who began the post-1967 land surrenders with his departures from Sinai). Writing in 1793, in his Opinion On The French Treaties, Jefferson stated: “The nation itself, bound necessarily to whatever its preservation and safety require, cannot enter into engagements contrary to its indispensable obligations.”
In the years just before the Civil War, thousands of Americans organized an Underground Railroad to help those fleeing from slavery. At the time, those who participated in this heroic movement were judged lawbreakers by the Federal government, and were imprisoned, usually under the Fugitive Slave Act. Today, however, it is generally recognized that the true lawbreakers of that period were actually those who had sustained the system of slavery, and that every individual act [performed] to actively oppose this system, had been law enforcing. Similar patterns of recognition should now emerge in regard to IDF refusals to follow manifestly anti-Israel orders.
Through the centuries, distinguished legal theorists (e.g., Bodin, Hobbes, Leibniz) have understood that security is always the first obligation of the state. Where the state can no longer provide even the most elementary security, its leaders can no longer expect obedience. Where the state actively avoids the provision of basic security, as is still the case today in Israel, all citizens have a distinct obligation to resist relevant state policies. In fact, as the government’s idea of “peace” could lead even to another Jewish genocide (let us recall that, jurisprudentially, war and genocide are not mutually exclusive), this strenuous obligation could arguably go beyond more gentle forms of civil disobedience and military refusals to substantially more vigorous expressions of lawful opposition. International law is not a suicide pact, nor is Israel’s Basic law or Jewish Law.
“If you could lick my heart, it would poison you.” We must never again hear such a tormented remark from the victim of yet another Jewish tragedy − especially from the self-inflicted disappearance of Israel in presumed “compliance” with military orders. Strategically, the correlation of forces is increasingly stacked against Israel, and it will soon take far more than operational ingenuity to save the Jewish State from its recalcitrant enemies.
We Jews have enough trouble from others. We should not now also have to worry about saving the Jewish State from itself.
Finally, some mention must be made of interpenetrations with American politics. The incoming Obama administration will almost certainly wish to proceed with the “Peace Process.” Although entirely well intentioned in this regard (it is simply wrong to assume that Barack Obama is in any way “anti-Israel”), the new president will still not be helping Israel by reaffirming long-standing chants for a “Two State Solution.”
A special danger here will be the American Jewish Establishment. Anxious to please the new president, and predictably visceral in supporting all U.S. presidential policies for the Middle East, these large Jewish organizations and lobbies will thus follow Jerusalem’s lead on international diplomacy and negotiations. They will adopt this position irrespective of any independent analysis, or the obviously failed history of “Oslo/Road Map.” It is altogether likely, therefore, that this Establishment will automatically side with the Israeli government in supporting blanket condemnations of Jewish civil disobedience. If this should happen, individual Jews in the United States who also care about Israel should avoid making the same mistake. Let them recall, in this matter, that during the Holocaust, the American Jewish Establishment largely refused to “rock the boat.”
Memory is always the heart of redemption. We are all obligated, as Jews, to remember and honor the souls of the 6 million, of the Kedoshim. To meet this sacred expectation, we must never separate ourselves from the fate of our fellow Jews in Israel. If necessary, this means that we must even stand opposed to the Jewish Establishment in the United States.
The forms of Jewish nationalism exhibited by coming waves of civil disobedience in Israel will play a role beyond Israel’s own physical survival. The redemption of Israel is essential to the redemption of all humanity. Jewish nationalism is much more than a highly valued national security position. As goes Israel, so will go our entire world. Those who continue to honorably disobey policies of “Land For Nothing” will be acting not only to preserve the Jewish State, but also to sustain our entire, imperiled world.
Copyright © The Jewish Press, December 5, 2008. All rights reserved
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D. Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with international law and Israeli security matters. Strategic and Military Affairs analyst for The Jewish Press, he lectures and publishes widely on terrorism, counterterrorism, nuclear strategy and nuclear war.