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October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776

On Amalek and Doubt

February 24, 2002
Marc Rosenstein

So, what is to be done? Well, it depends on your understanding of the nature of Jewish history - or actually, on your understanding of human nature.

Most people here say, with the prime minister, that we are dealing with an implacable and bloodthirsty enemy. Whenever he attacks us, by knife or gun or bomb, targeting civilians at a bar mitzvah or soldiers at a checkpost, it is terrorism. The only language he understands is force. There is no point in negotiating with him, or reasoning with him, or trying to change his views by talk or persuasion, as he is inherently evil, part of the ongoing pattern of hatred of Jews and Israel that dates to ancient times. The best we can hope for is to beat him into submission, to make him realize that any action against us is not worth the price. Any suggestion of compromise on our part will be seen as a sign of weakness, will lead to further violence against us, and will encourage the enemy to think he can weaken our will and ultimately destroy us. “All the world wants the Jews dead.”

According to this view, the Palestinians - indeed, the Arabs in general - are the modern manifestation of the biblical Amalek, the devious and cruel enemy that God commands us to wipe out if ever we get the chance. No one suggested peace child camps with Hitler youth, dialogues with the Nazi leadership: there are times when evil is manifest in the behavior of individuals and groups, and we simply have to destroy it before it destroys us. Which means checkposts, and invasions of refugee camps and cities, and targeted killings, and whatever it takes.

But others say that the rage of the Palestinians is not due to their inherent evil, but to the way we have related to them over the past 35 years - or the past 120 years. We may have had a divine promise, a historical memory, and a British declaration on our side, but there does seem to be truth to the claim that in our eagerness to establish a Jewish state, we tended to ride roughshod over the promises and memories and human needs of the Palestinian Arabs who were living here when we came back. We weren’t as humane and liberal and democratic as we would like to imagine ourselves, not during the years of struggle before the state, not in 1948, not between 1948 and 1967, and certainly not since 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, it seems we have done some terrible things, and acted at times with arrogant blindness.

According to this view, the only viable solution is to remember the biblical injunction to behave mercifully toward the “stranger,” for we “know the heart of the stranger.” We will find peace here only when we find the way to create a society in which there are no second class citizens inside Israel, and to enable the Palestinians to create their own state side by side with Israel. This approach believes that Palestinian anger is not inborn, but can be defused and unlearned. It argues that our own behavior, some perhaps inadvertent and innocently misguided, some of it indefensible, is responsible for at least 50% of our troubles, and that we therefore have the power to change the situation by changing our own behavior.

If you are part of the pessimistic, “all the world wants the Jews dead” school of thought, you will support massive military action, and the sooner and more massive, the better. But what if you are wrong?

If you subscirbe to the optimistic, “end the occupation” school, then you are horrified by the military actions Israel is taking, sending tanks and F-16s against raggle-taggle militias in populated areas. But what if you are wrong?


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