What do people in the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. “settlers”) think about their Arab neighbors? I often see allegations – almost always false – about racism, hatred towards Arabs, and the resultant damage done to Arab limb and property. Being a Jew in Samaria, being an educator and a rabbi, I think I can testify and clarify.
Let me answer by first saying: everyone should have a hobby. My hobby is to guide in the Western Wall Tunnels, tunnels inadvertently created when support arches were built in the 13th century, adjacent to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount built by the king of Judea – Herod – over two thousand years ago. Sometimes I’ll guide a group of thirty five collected assorted individuals from different countries, cultures, and religions. Opposite a two thousand year old gateway to the Temple Mount, I squeeze the entire group together, in order to illustrate what I consider to be the most important point I wish to make in the ninety minute tour:
“See how crowded we all are here? Just imagine how crowded it was during the holidays, when Jews from all over the world gathered here in Jerusalem, as per the religious obligation in Judaism to go to the Temple three times every year. There could be hundreds of thousands of people in Jerusalem, so that any time you went up to the Temple – there could be thousands and thousands of people up on the Temple Mount. It could be so crowded that you’d probably be jostled around by the crowd. Now, isn’t that aggravating? How do you keep your peace of mind, staying tuned to the awesome holiness of the Temple, while being pushed about because of the crowd? The key is: you have to really, really love people – and if do you love people, then you don’t mind being in a big crowd of people. If you don’t love people, then I’d suspect you don’t love God who created all these people, and you think they’re superfluous. And if you think that – then sadly you probably don’t love yourself either, and maybe you’re thinking that you’re superfluous too, and you won’t try to realize all that potential that you have in you to make the world a better place! But if you truly love God – then you have to love all people, intrinsically. You don’t have to agree with all they do and say (and sometimes you must oppose them) – but you have to love them essentially. If you do love God and people, then happily you probably do love yourself, and you are going to try to realize all the potential that you have in you to make the world a better place!”
Where did I learn this message of love? From the source that serves as the spiritual inspiration for the movement of Jews to return to the heart of their ancestral land: the teachings of a particular rabbi and his son: Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the founding spirit of the modern chief rabbinate in Israel and one of the first chiefs rabbis in modern time, and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who was considered the spiritual father of the modern day movement to resettle Jews in Judea and Samaria. They cast a unique spiritual and moral light on modern Zionism, the movement of Jewish national liberation. One of the pillars of this outlook was love: love of God, love of Judaism, love of the nation of Israel and ultimately love of all humanity, too. They taught that the particularism of Jewish identity isn’t for selfish reasons, but rather seeks to bring a blessing and an uplifting influence to all humanity, through the existence of a unique nation dedicated to living a moral and holy life. Therefore this nationalism – though fiercely patriotic and full of courage – is also full of aspirations for universal progress and betterment for every other nation.
Racism in thought, hatred in feeling or damage to life and property in practice, are all the opposite of the basic spiritual and moral fundamentals of the “settler” movement’s world and national outlook. Love towards one’s neighbor – including our Arab cousins – is one of the basic tenets of the Jews living in Judea and Samaria.
To be continued…Dovid Ben-Meir