I am very proud of the role my father played, as small as it may have been, in the establishment of the State of Israel. In 1943, at the age of 16, he left Alexandria, Egypt, for Palestine to join the Hagana.
A little over a year later, after seeing action in Palestine as a Hagana member, he fought the Germans in northern Italy as a member of the Jewish Brigade.
After World War II, he returned to Palestine and took part in the Jewish armored convoys that brought vital supplies to the besieged Jewish community in Jerusalem. Later my father fought in Israel’s War of Independence. In the next Zionist chapter of his life, in the early 1950s, he was stationed in Morocco for five years in a clandestine mission to help Jews immigrate to Israel. That role eventually led him to a long career as an Israeli diplomat.
My father’s generation in the Jewish community of Palestine was unconditionally Zionist. They were willing to make heroic sacrifices and fight against all odds for what seemed so impossible, a Jewish State. They envisioned a democratic state that would be a manifestation of Jewish sovereignty over all aspects of their community. As it turns out, in 1948 they had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Almost 20 years later, in the course of defending itself, Israel had achieved another miraculous feat, resoundingly defeating its Arab enemies in the Six-Day War. Consequently the Gaza Strip and the West Bank came under its control. Naturally there was great euphoria. Land with long and deep Jewish history had come back into Jewish hands. Often the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is discussed as primarily a territorial dispute. However, the war had unintended consequences. It brought a significantly large Palestinian population under Israeli control. This development put in serious jeopardy the Zionist enterprise for which my father’s generation fought so heroically.
If the aim of Zionism was to establish a democratic Jewish state in the ancient homeland, then what should Israel seek to do in regard to the large Palestinian population in the territories captured in the Six-Day War? The danger is that demographics can turn out to be the silent killer of the Zionist enterprise.
Israel has three choices: One, keep the Palestinian population under its control and grant it civil rights; two, keep the Palestinian population under Israeli control without civil rights; or three, pursue a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the framework of a two-state solution.
Keeping the Palestinian population under Israeli control and granting it civil rights means that Israel will continue to be a democratic state, but it would lose its Jewish identity. The population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is roughly half Jewish and half non-Jewish. The non-Jewish population is not just the Palestinians, but also the Israeli-Arabs and other smaller minority groups.
Keeping the Palestinian population under Israeli control without civil rights — the de facto situation — means Israel will concede its democratic character. Obviously, the first two choices would undermine the fundamental identity of the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the framework of a two-state solution, on the other hand, is the only way for Israel to remain democratic and a Jewish state. The path to a two-state solution is full of risks, challenges, and obstacles. But we have to start by admitting that a two-state solution is not a favor to the Palestinians but rather a core Israeli interest. Having such a large and hostile population under Israeli control is not sustainable. The two-state solution must hinge on clear security measures and guarantees for Israel. It also must address the role of Hamas and its uncompromising approach to the conflict. But despite all the risks, doing nothing is a much greater risk because it means allowing, in time, the demographic situation to rise to a crisis level, where Israel will have much less of an opportunity to help shape a solution it can live with.
In the home in which I grew up Israel’s security and Jewish identity were paramount. The current situation is neither contributing to Israel’s long-term security nor is it strengthening its Jewish identity. That is why it’s in Israel’s best interest to resolve the conflict without delay.
I decided to join J Street, an important voice in the Jewish community, for the sake of giving voice to my father’s legacy. J Street’s vision addresses my concerns for the future of Israel. At J Street I find, from the grass-root level all the way to the organization’s leadership, unequivocal support for Israel. I see very deep concern for Israel’s security and a profound commitment to preserve its Jewish and democratic character for generations to come. It is because of this commitment that J Street advocates a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the framework of the two-state solution. History will judge these times very harshly if the Zionist enterprise will fail under our watch.