Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

When Aaron Hershler, the first terror victim in the fight for the land of Israel, was killed on Jan. 5, 1873, the Islamic State was not even a notion in anyone’s mind, nor was Hamas. The same can be said of the Zionist Movement or the Jewish state, as well as the allegations of “occupation.”

Hershler was killed nearly 150 years ago, in a struggle with thugs who had invaded his home, in Mishkenot Sha’ananim — then the first Jewish neighborhood outside the walls of  Jerusalem. Then, too, it seems, there were those who saw this as an illegitimate settlement — what could Jews possibly look for outside the Jewish Quarter in the city?. And even then someone claimed that the livelihoods of the Arabs of Silwan were compromised, hence their desire to riot and rob.


Since then, we have grown accustomed to looking for explanations for terrorist attacks. Each attack has a “valid” reason: it’s either the summer heat or winter’s rain; Ramadan or Eid al-Fitr, Nakba Day, which marks the “catastrophe” of Israel’s inception in 1948, or Naksa Day, marking the Arab defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Every attack also has its perpetrators, be it a lone-wolf, a local cell, or an organization the likes of Islamic Jihad or ISIS. Each attack also carries an apparent justification — an Israeli official who visits the Temple Mount, Hamas’ desire to pressure Israel for mitigations on the blockade, or a simple need for one terrorist attack to best one of its rivals.

The discussion about what drives terrorist attacks is important for the effort to prevent the next attack, but no explanation offers an answer that gets to the root cause of the problem. It is, quite simply, a 150-year-old land dispute: a struggle between Jews who seek to settle in the land and establish and maintain a state, and those who deny this right and seek to destroy their enterprise.

This generations-long struggle has its ups and downs and there are also victories and achievements. Thousands had fallen in the wars we have waged with Egypt, and since a peace treaty was signed with it in 1979 the border has enjoyed peace and quiet. The vast majority of Arab Israelis get up every morning to work, study and integrate into public life. And the IDF has repeatedly succeeded in preventing terrorist attacks from Judea and Samaria.

However, the root of the regional conflict remains strong. It is based on the refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, a deep denial of reality and perpetuating the notion that the Jewish state was “conceived in sin” by many among the Palestinians and, unfortunately, among Arab Israelis as well, who see Israel as “a wrong that cannot be made right.”

And so, even if life seems to be going on as usual, and everyone has seemingly come to terms with reality and seeks to live their lives, the flames of unrest continue to simmer, and are periodically fanned into destructive flames.

The 150 years of the Zionist struggle for the land are years of achievements and victories in which we can all be proud. At the same time, one must recognize the simple fact that the struggle continues and is far from over.


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Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University. This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.