The conflict in Israel is about more than borders. It’s about faith.

Israelis wave national flags outside the Old City's Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 13, 2018. Israel is marking the 51st anniversary of its capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)Israelis wave national flags outside the Old City's Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 13, 2018. Israel is marking the 51st anniversary of its capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

It is tempting for those of us who support Israel to speak of the ongoing skirmishes on the Gaza border in the clinical language of field commanders and military analysts. It is tempting to point out that the riots we are witnessing were instigated by Hamas, a murderous terrorist organization, that many of the casualties have been militants and not civilians or that attacking another nation’s sovereign border with explosive devices and Molotov cocktails is an act of aggression no country would ever tolerate.

These are all valid points. And yet all are strangely irrelevant. At its core, this conflict is not about tactics and objectives; it is about history and faith.

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Just listen to Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader. “Our people can’t give up one inch of the land of Palestine,” he said earlier this year when asked to explain what it was that his organization hoped to achieve. “The protests will continue until the Palestinians return to the lands they were expelled from 70 years ago.”

At its core, this conflict is not about tactics and objectives; it is about history and faith.

You hardly have to be a Middle East expert to understand that such a return would mean the de facto end of the Jewish state, which, sadly, is precisely what Palestinian leadership of all stripes has long considered the end goal. Just last month, for example, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave a controversial speech in Ramallah where, in addition to blaming the Holocaust on the “social behavior” of Jews, he argued that historical Jewish claims on the land of Israel were bogus.

“Their narrative about coming to this country because of their longing for Zion, or whatever—we’re tired of this,” Mr. Abbas said. “The truth is that this is a colonialist enterprise, aimed at planting a foreign body in this region.”

Such talk is a much greater threat than combatants marching on the border. It suggests that despite 70 years of tense coexistence and two decades of purporting to seek peace, Palestinian leaders have yet to concede that their Jewish neighbors have a history and a connection to the land that goes back millennia and is at the very core of the Jewish faith.

When my ancestors, exiled to all corners of the earth after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., prayed to God each morning, they prayed for their swift return home, to Zion, to the land God had promised to Abraham, to the home that Moses glimpsed from afar and that Joshua reclaimed. This yearning sustained the Jews for generations, even as larger and mightier peoples faded into the mists of history. And it continues to sustain us now that we’ve once again been blessed with a strong and independent Jewish nation. To deny all that is not only to deny us the basic right of self-determination—it is to deny us our right to exist.

We are ready to make peace. Now, all we need is a partner that is ready to listen to our story.

It is a grim state of affairs, but the path forward, thankfully, is clear even if it is uneasy. It begins with each side offering a simple, human recognition of the other side’s beliefs. Israel took an important step in that direction 51 years ago: Almost immediately after reuniting Jerusalem in the war of 1967, the Jewish state handed over the Muslim holy sites to the Waqf, an Islamic religious trust that remains the custodian of these sacred spots. It was a way of letting the Palestinians know that even as bitter conflicts are likely to emerge when two tribes with competing and equally valid claims try to share a small sliver of the earth, Israel would never deny its Muslim and Christian neighbors their heritage or their faith.

It is past time the Palestinians return the favor.

If they do so, what they are likely to see is nothing short of a miracle. The same Israelis who now rightfully balk as armed men attack its border would be delighted to hear their adversaries concede, for the very first time, that maybe there is room for two nations and two stories in this much-too-promised land. If that recognition were ever to come, most Israelis, as polls have consistently shown for years now, would gladly assent to painful territorial concessions, as they did when the unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

That is because most Israelis, versed as they are in Scripture, realize that the land, ultimately, belongs not to any one side but to God and that God has not, historically, been hesitant to suspend the Jewish occupancy of Zion whenever our behavior fell short of the spirit of the Covenant. The Talmud teaches us that our temple was destroyed and our sovereignty in Jerusalem severed because of excessive hatred, a lesson we have had nearly 2,000 years to contemplate.

We are ready to make peace. Now, all we need is a partner that is ready to listen to our story.

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J Cosgrove
7 months 1 week ago

The other side is given some space. What happened to America, the magazine?

You can almost guarantee that most of what you read is fake news. It will be hard to figure out the truth.

Dolores Pap
7 months 1 week ago

Why is it America's business?

James Greff
7 months 1 week ago

I understand your hopes but while I sympathize with both sides I don’t see Palestinians bulldozing neighborhoods and putting up walls in Israel and I don’t see that Israel has anyone’s approval except their own to take possession of a city that quite honestly belongs to the world.

The miracle will occur when Israel stops killing in Gods name for political and capital gains.

William Bannon
7 months 1 week ago

James...they took possession of it in the six day war and eventually Jordan accepted that.
You and I are living on Indian land that Indians lost in wars with Europeans.

Claudio Ruiz Pilarte
7 months 1 week ago

You have a twisted perception of history. The Europeans did not win these lands through wars. They occupied it and ultimately stole it. The natives simply reacted to this reality the same way that you would react if I moved into the backyard of your house because you were not using it. Your analogy is completely off.

William Bannon
7 months 1 week ago

Or you err. Check if or rather which Indians had a sense of property and which were roamers. Which ate and traded with whites and which were called the French word for snakes by other Indians....which tribes enslaved other Indians and which did not. Which raped and pillaged and which did not. You suspect all this....that it’s more complicated than your above cliche....that’s why you are not looking even for creative Algonquins to take over your backyard and home in restitution.

Claudio Ruiz Pilarte
7 months ago

Your argument simply shows your cultural bias. I fail to see how the conflict natives had with each other proves or supports the argument you are trying to make. Additionally, the lack of a codified sense of property does not mean that they did not have a sense of what their lands were.

William Bannon
7 months ago

Then you are looking for Algonquins to take your house and land....in restitution....or no?

John Corcoran
7 months ago

An alternative way took place in New Zealand! The Europeans signed a treaty with the Maori, and subsequently NZ has paid retribution for later injustices. In justice cries to the heavens for resolution over 70 year 140 years or 260years . Justice denied festers as a wound in the community!

Andrew Wolfe
7 months ago

It's hard to believe you sympathize with the Israelis at all with statements like this ignoring Palestinian violence.

Robert Lewis
7 months 1 week ago

No Israeli government will uproot the settlements, which already make a contiguous, autonomous and independent Palestinian state impossible. The "two state solution" is finished. The only solution to this conflict that is left is a pluralist, non-theocratic and secular state of Israel-Palestine, with a limited "right of return", and a settlement that gives Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Israelis the same, equal civil rights in ONE state. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have never had the kind of leader--cut from the same cloth as a Mahatma Gandhi or a Martin Luther King--who would lead them in a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience, "ahimsa," that, though it might cost lives, would alert the whole world regarding the transformation, under the influence of an ethno-nationalist, right-wing ideology, of Zionism into something that its nineteenth and twentieth century founders never intended. I predict, however, that that day is coming, and that what will mark its imminence will be the decline, in America, of the influence of "dispensationalism."

Randal Agostini
7 months 1 week ago

So delightful to read a non partisan essay for a change - there is Hope.

Roy Van Brunt
7 months 1 week ago

These are such wise words. The land is God’s. Not exclusively the Jews’. But both peoples should be drawn to recognize that reality and find ways to live together on it in peace. Until their leaders stop playing King of the Sandbox, that is not likely to happen People learn to share in kindergarten. Reflect on that.

Gail Bederman
7 months 1 week ago

Mr Liebovitz--My ancestors, too, prayed to return to Jerusalem; and at the end of Pesach seder every year, my parents and grandparents would shout joyfully, "Next Year in Jerusalem." Yet never, never, never did they imagine a day when Israeli snipers--Jews!-- would kill 55 Palestinians and shoot 2,700 more in the course of one day alone, and blame the victims because a minority of those killed had violent intentions. In the name of my Jewish ancestors, I am deeply ashamed and horrified. How dare you suggest that it is "us or them"--that the Palestinians have any less right to the land where their own ancestors lived for millennia, while Jews were scattered to places like Europe. To quote your article (slightly altered), "Despite 70 years of tense coexistence and two decades of purporting to seek peace, Israeli leaders have yet to concede that their Palestinian neighbors have a history and a connection to the land that goes back millennia and is at the very core of" their national identity. And, alas, I completely agree "that God has not, historically, been hesitant to suspend the Jewish occupancy of Zion whenever our behavior fell short of the spirit of the Covenant. The Talmud teaches us that our temple was destroyed and our sovereignty in Jerusalem severed because of excessive hatred, a lesson we have had nearly 2,000 years to contemplate"--a lesson that apparently it has taken Israeli citizens only seventy years to forget.

Henry George
7 months 1 week ago

Gail,

I don't think the "Israeli Snipers" shot 2,700 people.
Many of those injuries probably came from Tear-gas.
It is a tragic situatation all around, but let us try to sort out what really happened.

Gail Bederman
7 months 1 week ago

Henry: I apologize. You’re right: : Not all were shot by the Israeli army . According to Doctors Without Borders, "The death toll” today was “55 dead and 2,271 wounded—including 1,359 wounded with live ammunition.” . I apologize for alleging that the Israeli Army shot 2,700 people, when their bullets killed only 55 and wounded only 1,359. I am indeed grateful that the other 912 wounded people escaped the bullets

Steve Magnotta
7 months 1 week ago

Well said, Gail.

Rhett Segall
7 months 1 week ago

This Biblical evaluation of the Jewish right to the land is couched accurately enough: the promise of the land was contingent upon faithfulness to God alone and to love of neighbor. Regarding its application today what is particularly pertinent is Psalm 37:11 : "But the meek shall possess the land, they shall delight in abounding peace." Jesus underscored this beatitude.

William Bannon
7 months 1 week ago

Rhett....the land there is the renewed resurrected world predicted by Isaiah and by the NT. The meek inherit very little land or peace in this pre resurrected world....travel to Honduras or El Salvador....the truly meek will reach the resurrected world...the place of everyone just who resurrects to eternal life where according to Aquinas, all will resurrect at their peak age thus you and your parents will be with each other at about Christ’s resurrected age. You and your parents and grandparents hopefully will all be the same generation so to speak. In this world, the meek often are murdered. In the resurrected world, they inherit the new earth.

Rhett Segall
7 months 1 week ago

William,
I think those for whom might is right "occupy" the land but do not possess the land, it possess them. They're in constant fear of loosing it and that fear eats into their ability to enjoy the land. St. Francis of Assisi knew how to enjoy "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" with out denying it to others. Creation belongs to God and God wants us to share it.

Aminah Yaquin Carroll
7 months 1 week ago

There was a time post WWI when the nation of Palestine preferred to trust the Sephardic Jews to govern their invaded and annexed land, rather than the colonial British. It was the influx of Ashkenazi Jews with imperialistic and bigoted attitudes of self-righteous "manifest Destiny of Israel" that primed the pump for the bitter enforced exile of Palestinians and generations of "Jim Crow" apartheid (no intermarriage, no shared schools, no actualized political voice" that still festers. This is not to say that the reality of a Jewish homeland was not also an historical antidote to the hideous anti-Semitism that resulted in the Shoah. Still, the Nakba is commemorated on May 15th and is a day of international mourning for the Palestinians who have been disposed of and humiliated, beaten down and broken for generations longing and working for peace by both sides. This conflict resolution came closest to actualization with President Carter's diplomacy in 1981, but crashed and burned when Anwar Sadat was assassinated by one of the later perpetrators of the World Trade Center bombing. Once again, when the Oslo peace process resulted in a momentous approach to resolution of differences through negotiations rather than violence, a terroristic Jewish settler assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. There have been no further successful serious attempts to respect and include both sides as equal partners. The tone of this article is so telling. it is the same old same old Jewish mythology 101 that fueled ignorance of the costs of the Jewish homeland to a settled people to whom it was a far more recent yet millennia's worth of home: "A people without a land for a land without a people" a self-absolving, blindly opportunistic, rationalizing anthem that perpetuated anathema among the Palestinian people dumped into refugee camps and rendered stateless and jobless as well as homeless who after decades of dreadful displacement , still hold the keys to their ancestral homes. It is not a willing partner that is needed, it is truth telling in place of wishful fiction. It is respect in place of patronization. It is the hand of friendship rather than the rod of steel and policies of hate. It is hearts of hope and faith in God, not hearts of stone. the majority of the Palestinian people have such hearts. if they ever meet with like on the Israeli side checkpoints of hell, then peace will come. And by the way. I am Muslim, but I am a realist. I do believe the American embassy should be in Jerusalem. I also believe that as the Pope stated so simply it is eloquent: there is no such thing as a religious terrorist. Let us all LIVE our faiths and in that transcendence of the violent, savage, selfish, revengeful, dominating nature of humankind, the majesty of God's mercy, understanding, and goodness will elevate us all. May it begin in Israel.

Steve Magnotta
7 months 1 week ago

Amen, Aminah.

Will Niermeyer
7 months 1 week ago

Israel belongs to the Jews. It is their blood. Palestinians must be removed from the land. Peacefully or with iron fists.

Aminah Yaquin Carroll
7 months 1 week ago

This seems to me a very Stalinesque position right to the "iron fists". The land in Israel has soaked up the blood of more Palestinians than Jews, so perhaps their claims are stronger, according to your bleak and culturally chauvinistic analogy. I doubt that many Jews of faith rather than "bloody politics" would agree with you.

Robert Lewis
7 months 1 week ago

Unfortunately, I think he represents the dominant position in current Israeli politics, Aminah.

rose-ellen caminer
7 months 1 week ago

This; blood -and- soil- , remove- them -with- iron- fists, is a policy of genocide.Yesterday we saw the thugery of both the US and Israel celebrating the symbolism [ you people don't count, and have no rights] of the Jerusalem move, while nearby people were being massacred by the Israeli military. Surreal that this can be happening with the joy and support of the " why- do- they- hate- us- , we 're -such- good- people -we- know- we're- such- good -people", 21st century Americans. Do any of the Christian evangelicals have a conscience about their role in this provocation, or have they so dehumanized the Palestinians that they can be smiling and cheerful like God's in His heaven and all is well and good, in Israel as people are being maimed and killed nearby? Appalling!

John Corcoran
7 months ago

Will perhaps you forgot the bit about "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, "

Denis Jackson
7 months 1 week ago

To talk about faith and history is the key to,peace yes!
However we must go back further .....the promises of God almighty in the OLd Testament ok, and later in the New Testament and the example & words & actions of the Messiah : Jesus of Nazareth .
Until the Jewish faith accepts and recognises Jesus as the King of Kngs and the Messiah then we are all wasting our little breath ! Only when the Jews and Muslims etc accept this fact of faith will there be world Peace . All else is hot air & rubbish .

Jerome Kiley
7 months 1 week ago

“Today, the embassy of the most powerful country on earth, our friend and ally, the United States of America, opens in Jerusalem. … We have no better friends in the world.” -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

"Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord! … The Egyptians are men, and not God … Turn to him from whom you have deeply revolted, O people of Israel." -- Isaiah 31:1,3

The author points to the source of the tension between Israelis and Palestinians as the Palestinians' failure to "concede that their Jewish neighbors have a history and a connection to the land that goes back millennia and is at the very core of the Jewish faith." But to write that is to reveal that the author himself is the source of the problem. To say "it is all the fault of the other side", without admitting one's own role, well, that is the real source of the problem.

Now that we know what the Palestinians are doing wrong, let's look at the mistake of the Israelis, through the eyes of history and faith.

We see in the Scripture that the Israel of God enters and returns to the promised land without partnering with the powerful militaries. It is a testament to Israel's relationship with God as His chosen one: God Himself provides. And that is Israeli's role as the chosen People: to give witness to God. The Scriptures are full of Israel's praising God for all He's done for them in their relying solely on Him.

Yet, the modern return to Zion has been done through the help of Western powers, and under the umbrella of the mess that has been Western colonialism. And as the quote from Isaiah points out, this reliance on "Egypt" is a turning away from God to human support, a "falling short of the Spirit of the Covenant."

And it has been done in what can only be called an invasive way. In fact, one could justifiably say - as the Palestinians do - that Israelis, together with the Western powers, were the initiators of the problem by showing up and settling uninvited, without dialogue and agreement. The confusion lies in the fact that Israelis had the permission of the colonial rulers, but not the local residents. It seems fair to say that that is an act of participation in the colonial domination.

My parents' home has long been sold. If I show up there today and begin to live there uninvited by the owners with the forceful backing of the banks, surely there would be a neighbor problem. And if I say afterwards that the home is for everyone, it is a convenient way for me to justify myself and overlook my own offense: now, the other person is in the wrong for not accepting my uninvited occupancy! How rude and lacking in love of neighbor! This is the Palestinian perspective, and it is justifiable and fair, though it does not justify all the violence.

Everyone makes mistakes, errors, commits "sins". Those are not the problem. The problem is not admitting them, and instead putting all the blame on the other. That is the reason for the lack of peace in the Holy Land. Mistakes and sins don't cause problems; denying them is what leads to violence and wars.

Peace can only come when both sides admit their mistakes and offenses. And for the part of Israelis, until they can see the difference between a return to the promised relying on God and one relying on "Egypt", there will not be peace. Instead of blaming the Palestinians, Israelis can have and give peace only when they can admit their own mistake before God and their neighbor.

Yes, it all depends on history and faith.

Emmett Burke
7 months 1 week ago

This is the standard logic of Israel. Let the Palestinians give up all their demands and Israel will be so generous.
Sorry but I see no action on the part of Israel that would imply that.
I have worked with Israelis and while some are kind the majority are racists. And it only gets worse with the Adelson newspaper and Netanyaho.

Eugene Fitzpatrick
7 months ago

Why does America Magazine give Leibovitz space to trot out the same old shop-worn Zionist shibboleths used to put a veneer of righteousness onto the ongoing barbaric inhumanity that characterizes Israel's rape of Palestine? Affording a bully pulpit to mendacity should be anathema to the Jesuit press.

Vince Killoran
7 months ago

To base your nationhood on a fictive scriptural demand to modern statehood forecloses so much dialogue and hope for compromise.

The State of Israel is interwoven with good and not-so-good origins (i.e., a place for a persecuted people; a colonial project). In 2018 it is a state that maintains large internment camps known as Gaza and the West Bank. That is the reality.

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