Why Israel can't survive
Sixty years on, the country is facing a choice of two futures: it can be Jewish or democratic —but not both
On a clear day, from a hilltop outside Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority’s quasi-autonomous territory in the West Bank and just about dead centre of all the land controlled by Israel, it is possible to look east and see the mountains of Jordan, another country, then turn around and see the smudged skyline of Tel Aviv and, a little farther on, the ocean.
One sweeping glance captures the boundaries of a conflict that has persisted for 60 years and whose foundations haven’t changed. Israel’s earliest advocates understood the challenge their dreamed-of homeland would face years before the Zionist project really got under way. Shortly after Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, published TheJewish State in 1896, two Viennese rabbis decided to travel to the Middle East to explore for themselves Herzl’s idea of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Their visit resulted in a cable home in which the two rabbis wrote: “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” Since then, Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state has been realized, although he never lived to see it. And Israel’s success in its first 60 years has been staggering. It has created a home, and a nation, for Jews from all over the world who often shared little in common other than faith—and sometimes barely that. Hebrew, a once near-dead language, has been revived and is now used to write both poetry and computer programs. Most importantly, Israel has survived surrounded by people and countries that wish it didn’t exist and have tried to erase it. And yet, as Israel prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, it is its refusal or inability to deal with this most fundamental reality—that Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, has two suitors, Jews and Palestinian Arabs—that most threatens Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state.
The threat posed to Israel by Palestinians isn’t military, or even necessarily violent. Roadside stabbings, suicide bombings, skirmishes, even rockets from Gaza hurt Israel. They will never destroy it. It is also true that Israel faces other serious, even existential, martial perils. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia guerrilla army, bloodied Israel two summers ago, and a nuclear-armed Iran would jeopardize its very future.
But Israel is ready to confront both these dangers. The Winograd commission, which examined the country’s actions in the war against Hezbollah, has been scathing in its criticism of the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF will draw, and apply, the necessary lessons the next time it faces Hezbollah, which will likely be soon. The Iranian threat is more momentous and grim, but Israel will face it
also. Eran Lerman, a former intelligence officer in the IDF, told Maclean’s that Israel will not admit it is ready to use force to stop Iran from getting the bomb—in part because it doesn’t want to give the international community an excuse to avoid tackling the issue itself. But, he said, Israel is absolutely committed to keeping nuclear weapons from the Iranian regime and will do what is necessary to prevent this from happening. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, confirmed that Israel is unwilling to rely on deterrence—the idea that fear of Iran’s own destruction in a retaliatory strike would prevent Tehran from launching nuclear strikes against Israel.
Palestinian Arabs present a challenge to Israel that is at once more straightforward and infinitely more difficult to solve. Within one or two decades, the number of Muslim and Christian Arabs living under Israeli control (including in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel itself) will surpass the number of Israeli Jews. When that happens, if there is still no Palestinian state (and in the absence of largescale ethnic cleansing), Israelis will be forced to choose between two futures. Their country will either be Jewish, but not democraticin other words, a Jewish minority will control a land mostly inhabited by Palestinians—or Israel will be democratic, but not Jewish, because Arabs will form the majority in what will become a bi-national state.
Israel will be Jewish, or democratic. It can’t be both. And if it can’t be both, the Zionist dream on which Israel is founded will end. This is the gravest threat Israel faces on the eve of its 60th anniversary. It won’t have another 60 years to address it.
Israel’s current crisis grew out of its most glorious victory. The 1967 Six Day War saw the fledging state defeat the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, which were backed with additional arms and troops from other Arab countries. Within less than a week, Israel captured the Sinai peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank, increasing the amount of territory under its control several times over. Most significantly, it now controlled all of the holy city of Jerusalem.
David Rubinger, a photographer who, as a 15-year-old boy in 1939, had fled Nazi-occupied Vienna for Palestine, leaving behind his mother who perished in the Holocaust, was there. He watched as Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of the Israeli armed forces, arrived at the Western Wall, all that remains of the Jewish Second Temple, with a Torah scroll and a ram’s horn. And he watched as three young paratroopers paused beneath the wall, one with his helmet in his hands, another with his arm around his comrade’s shoulders. He snapped
their picture. The image is now the most iconic photograph ever taken in Israel. For many who see it, it captures a moment when anything and everything seemed possible.
“I was crying when I took that picture,” Rubinger said in an interview with Maclean’s. “I didn’t cry because the Western Wall is holy. I couldn’t care less about these stones. It was the relief. Suddenly, you’re not doomed any longer. Three weeks before, we were living in a feeling of total doom. We were sure that we were facing another Holocaust. The stadium in Tel Aviv was planned as a burial ground for 40,000 people. Now, if they put you up on the gallows, put the rope around your neck, just when they’re about to let it drop you’re not in a very good mood. You’re scared. You’re probably s-tting in your pants. And then somebody comes up, takes off the rope and says, no, no, you’re pardoned. And not only are you pardoned, you’re rich, and a millionaire, and a king. You’ll go nuts.”
This, according to Rubinger, is exactly what
segments of Israeli society did, when they rushed to settle Israel’s newly captured territory. “Many people who were even slightly religious felt that a victory like this couldn’t be man-made. It was divine,” he said. “That was the moment when the messianic movement was born, the settlers. ‘God has given it to us, and we’re not allowed to reject it. Because it’s God’s gift.’ I cried because of relief. But for many religious people, this was a religious experience. ‘God saved us. We were doomed, and God gave us a sign that all of Israel is ours. We’ll settle the land, and to hell with the Arabs. And the word occupation doesn’t exist, because God has given it to us.’ ”
Rubinger, now 83, with a goatee, a thick, muscular frame, and white chest hair spilling out of his shirt, is an engaging and somewhat wry man whose adult life has encompassed the length of Israel’s existence as a modern state. He has known most of the country’s prime ministers, and their photos adorn the walls of his office—including one of Ariel Sharon, signed and addressed to “My friend, who will never vote for me.” Israel’s victory in the 1967 war was, he says, the greatest disaster that has befallen the country. Then he pauses and peers up from beneath bushy eyebrows. “If you quote me only on that, I’ll kill you. Because there could have
been one greater disaster—not to win.”
Still, the consequences of Israel’s victory —namely the settlement of occupied territories—have frustrated prospects for peace in the decades since. And now, with Israel perhaps irreversibly entangled in the West Bank, these same fruits of victory threaten Israel’s future as well.
Today, there are some 280,000 settlers in the West Bank, and another 200,000 in the eastern suburbs ofjerusalem. Some live there for economic reasons. Others, more vocal and politically influential, believe the West Bank—or Judea and Samaria, as they prefer to call it—is an unalienable part of Eretz Israel, which they, as Jews, have a duty to settle.
Many settlers are reluctant to talk to journalists, especially foreign ones. Nadia Matar is different. Energetic and animated, she is a very public face of the right-wing settler movement and is co-chair of the pro-settlement group, Women for Israel’s Tomorrow. Matar was born in Belgium, but her accent, when she speaks English, reflects the American origins of her husband. She describes herself as “modern Orthodox,” wears pants
or jeans rather than billowy skirts, and keeps her hair uncovered except for a baseball cap.
When visited by a Maclean’s reporter, she has a presentation prepared, which she delivers rapidfire, complete with brightly coloured, laminated maps to show that historic Israel included not only the West Bank and Gaza, but also Jordan. Another map compares the size of Israel with Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. The whole thing has the feel of a pitch designed for young teenagers, and indeed Matar says she often speaks at local schools. Her presentation ends with a photograph of her extended family, all of whom were murdered at Auschwitz. This, she says, is why Israel cannot give up land in Judea and Samaria. “The new Nazism today is Islam. And they want to do it to me first, and you next. We have to do to them what the Americans did to the Nazis. Kill all their leaders. Kill all the collaborators. Then, we’ll find those willing to make peace.”
Matar is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state and believes Israel must annex the West Bank and Gaza. When she is asked how Israel could continue to exist as a Jewish state if Muslim Arabs were the majority, she looks genuinely surprised by the question. “I’m not going to give them voting rights,” she says. “I will give them the basics of basics and do everything to make them want to leave. If there’s a democracy, they’ll use my democracy to succeed in doing what they wanted to do by terror. Democracy isn’t something holy. What worries me is that you worry about their rights. What about the rights of Jews to live?”
The number of settlers in the West Bank has grown over the last 15 years, despite various peace initiatives proposing a freeze. In addition to government-approved settlement blocks, there are dozens of illegal “outposts” that are typically established on hilltops deep in the West Bank by particularly devoted settlers with trailers, portable electrical generators, and water tanks. Where possible, they tap into the water and electricity supply of a nearby settlement; soldiers are sent to protect them; and the outpost becomes a fact on the ground. Only a handful have ever been dismantled. “I know we still have much to do, but this government has moved more to curb growth of settlements than any other
Israeli government,” Mark Regev, the prime minister’s spokesman, told Maclean’s. “We are not happy with our performance on it,” he added, referring to these outposts. “We’re not proud of our performance, and we have to do more.”
Nadia Matar offers to take us to one such outpost, called Maaleh Rehavam. It is located on a hilltop far beyond the security barrier that Israel has been building since 2002. As we approach by car, Matar points to the surrounding barren hills. “Can you see any Arab village or city? Any nomads? Nothing. But they say these settlements are encroaching on Arab land. How is this place bothering George Bush or Condoleezza Rice? I have no answer but anti-Semitism.”
We are greeted by one of Maaleh Rehavam’s residents, Danny Halamish, 37, and his dog, Jihad. Halamish founded the settlement in 2001 with one other person. They drove their trailers to the site in the middle of night and parked. Others arrived within a week. The settlement now consists of seven or eight mobile homes that house 30 people.
Halamish says he’s not particularly religious, but he believes in God. In 2001, he was living in Britain but decided to move back to Israel, where he was born. “I realized that my place was here. In a war, this is the front line.” Today, he says he loves living on a frontier. “In so many ways we are beyond the law and can do what we want. I don’t think anywhere else in Israel has this freedom.”
Halamish believes the Palestinians living in the West Bank must be forced out. “The exact method is not important. It could be fast and violent, as in a war. It can be a very slow and gradual process that’s led mostly by economic pressure and other means. The important thing is that we do it,” he says. “Had the Arabs accepted our ownership of the land, they could have stayed here. But because they do not accept our ownership of the land, they are our enemies and cannot.”
Driving back to Matar’s home in Efrat, we pass the wadi where, in 2001, two Israeli teenagers, Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran, were bludgeoned to death after they skipped school to go hiking. At times it seems difficult to travel far in Israel or the West Bank without stumbling on places stained with similar histories.
Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages are already so enmeshed throughout the West Bank that keeping the two peoples apart is virtually impossible. There are roads for settlers and roads for Palestinians—easily distinguishable by quality—but often the highways are shared. Different-coloured licence plates allow soldiers manning checkpoints to tell who is who. In the fields surrounding
some Arab villages, hundreds of olive tree stumps stick out of the ground. The groves have been cut down by Israeli settlers—part of the strategy described by Halamish of pressuring the Palestinians to leave.
Maclean’s spent a few days in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, with a Palestinian car and translator. We travel first to Hebron, probably the most politically charged city in the region. Here, in the middle of about 150,000 Palestinians, some 700 Jewish settlers live in an enclave focused around the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and several members of his family are said to be buried. The site is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and both faiths worship there—although they must use different entrances to the complex that has been erected over the tomb, and the building is divided inside. The Jews of Hebron have suffered numerous terrorist attacks over the years. It is also where, in 1994, the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslims praying at the tomb.
Several days earlier, I had visited the Cave of the Patriarchs driving in an Israeli car. It was a simple, if tense, matter of passing through the Muslim neighbourhood, where Israeli cars have been attacked in the past, directly into the Jewish enclave surrounding the tomb. Today, approaching on foot with Mohamed, the Palestinian translator hired by Maclean’s, it is a much more difficult affair.
It takes us three attempts, each time trying from a different direction. We are sent back the first two times, despite Mohamed attempting to joke with the Israeli soldiers, who are Bedouin Arabs, manning the checkpoint. Finally we reach a barrier of revolving gates at the end of a covered market that is now deserted, most of its shops shuttered and locked. On the other side of the barrier, which we are permitted to cross, the street is reserved exclusively for settlers and three or four Palestinian shop owners with special permits. Occasionally, international activists or tourists arriving to see the tomb wander down to the end of the street and buy some cheap souvenirs. But Manas Kefishey, a shop owner who works about 10 m inside the Jewish enclave, says he hasn’t sold anything in five days.
Kefishey says the idea of a two-state solution, in which the land would be divided between an Israeli and Palestinian state, is a daydream that will never happen. He wants the Holy Land to become one Islamic state, with Jews as dhimmi, a word that literally means protected subjects, but is in practice a status that has required the religious minority to acknowledge Muslim supremacy. “It will be like the Jewish state today, but in reverse,” he says. “Jews have never had an independent state in history.
Why should they have one now?”
Kefishey’s rhetoric echoes that of the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahir, although he does not say he supports the organization. He says he has come to reject the idea of a negotiated two-state solution through daily experience. “You want to know why I think this?” he asks. “I sit on my chair right there at the front of the shop, my neighbour beside me. Every day, the settlers walk in front of me and draw their fingers across their throats. Every day. We try to explain this to the soldiers, and they shrug. If they can’t do anything for me, what can they do for Abu Mazen [the Palestinian president, also known as Mahmoud Abbas]?”
On the way back from Hebron, we are pulled over at an Israeli checkpoint. Mohamed is a mild-mannered man who understands Hebrew but refuses to speak it to Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, even when pulled over. “If they’re going to occupy me, the least
'Do you think that the settlement policy is oneway?' asks Jarbawai. 'It’s an entanglement.’
they can do is learn Arabic,” he says later. In the event, it hardly matters. The soldier who orders Mohamed out of the car is an immigrant from Ethiopia and barely speaks Hebrew himself. He glances in our trunk while his partner steps around the car to get a clear view into the passenger seat and aims his rifle somewhere around my shins. Within a few minutes we’re on our way.
Our road home skirts the Israeli security barrier. It has been credited with dramatically decreasing the number of terrorist attacks inside Israel, though Palestinians decry it as a land grab because much of it runs inside the West Bank, essentially attaching territory captured in 1967 to the rest of Israel. Mohamed doesn’t think the wall has much to do with
security because, he says, he’s able to cross it at will. Doubtful, I ask him to show me where. We soon pass a ladder that has been thrown up against the wall. Palestinians will use it to jump the fence when it gets dark. A little farther on, a large drainpipe, about five feet in diameter, runs beneath the wall. Within the space of two or three minutes, a woman emerges from the Israeli side, and an old man and boy cross in the opposite direction.
Back in Ramallah, I meet with Ali Jarbawi, a professor at Birzeit University, and a man who understands that Israeli settlement of the West Bank threatens Israel as much as the Palestinians who live there. Like many, perhaps most, Palestinians, he favours a twostate solution with borders corresponding to
the ones that existed before the 1967 war. But he thinks that Israel will only ever agree to what he describes as “a state of leftovers”— a fragmented patchwork of territory, surrounded by Israeli settlements. The Palestinians should continue to negotiate in earnest until the end of the year, he says. But, if by that time, a viable state is not on offer, they should change course, dissolve the Palestinian Authority, and ask Israel to formally annex the West Bank.
“I would say, ‘Come, and settle wherever you want,’ ” he said. “Do you think that the settlement policy is one-way? It’s an entanglement. Do you think you can put all these settlements and not be entangled with us? How can you imagine having all these enclaves and not be entangled with the Palestinians? Now, you divide the roads and you can have
enclaves. But for how long can you continue with this if the end result is not a leftover state? We should tell Israel this: ‘Do whatever you want. Put as many settlements as you want, wherever you want. And we’re not going to talk to you, from now until 20 years.
But after 20 years, we will go to the table. We will have a model of South Africa. What are you going to do?’ ”
Jarbawi might as well have been quoting Zalman Aran, the Israeli politician and Zionist leader who, following Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, warned against keeping the territory it had conquered. “I’m telling you plainly that we don’t need the West Bank,” he said. “It will do us more harm than good. We will choke on it.”
The settlers and their supporters, though politically powerful, represent a small minority of Israeli society. Most Israelis favour a two-state solution. Israel’s diverse political landscape, which results in perpetually fragile governing coalitions, makes it difficult for politicians to move this agenda ahead, even when there is a genuine will.
The other major obstacle stems from the Palestinian side. Politically, Palestinians are divided between Fatah, which favours negotiating a two-state solution, and Hamas, an offshoot of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which does not. Fatah controls the West Bank, and Hamas now controls the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army has been involved in several deadly firefights with Hamas during the past weeks. Many Israelis fear that any deal signed with Mahmoud Abbas, a member of Fatah, would be meaningless because he doesn’t speak for all Palestinians and would be too weak to deliver a peace deal opposed by Hamas.
This wasn’t always seen as an insurmountable problem. In 2004, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon proposed that Israel could unilaterally withdraw, or “disengage,” from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Israel removed all its settlers from Gaza the following year. It now faces daily rocket attacks from the territory. “Three or four years ago, the thinking was that we could pull out and have a fence,” says Mark Regev. “If our neighbours were good, the fence will have gates. If it’s a Taliban-style state, fine, lock the gates” Today, “with all the rockets in Gaza, we know you can’t pull back and throw away the keys. You have to give the keys to someone who will act like a responsible adult. We can’t pull out in a unilateral way.”
Most of the rockets launched from Gaza target Sderot, a working-class city whose residents are primarily descendants of Moroccan, Kurdish Jewish and Soviet immigrants. Sderot has endured thousands of attacks since the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, and they are ongoing. On the day Maclean’s visits, a faint red-alert siren sounds as we drive into the city. There is no time to react before a muffled crunch is heard, the sound of a distant explosion.
The rockets, crude, homemade, and impos-
sible to aim well, have killed at least ll people in and around Sderot—a small number of victims given the quantity of attacks. But the psychological damage has been severe. Many children suffer from traumatic stress syndrome, says Nitai Shreiber, the executive director of a social welfare agency in Sderot. To call it post traumatic stress disorder is not accurate, he notes, because the stress is ongoing. Houses are usually equipped with one reinforced room. In some homes, everyone sleeps there. “It’s impossible to have a normal family life,” Shreiber says.
“My daughters are always asking me why we don’t leave. They say, ‘You came here for ideology, but it’s hurting us.’ They spend most of their time in Ashqelon. We’re a family that loves each other, but we can’t live in the same place. One of my girls asked me, ‘If I get wounded, can we leave Sderot?’ I said yes. ‘So,’ she asked me, ‘Why are you waiting?’ ” This February, a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza dropped into Or Adam’s yard, tore off the tops of his rose bushes, hit the wall of his house, and exploded into his living room. His wife and three daughters were home at the time. He was talking to his wife on the phone when the red-alert siren sounded and she quickly hung up. All survived. He invites a Maclean’s reporter into his house and apologizes for the state of his couches; the Qassam destroyed the old ones, he says, and he was sent the wrong replacements. Adam, a lawyer whose family emigrated from Poland and Russia during the 1920s, is somewhat unique in Sderot. He could likely be successful anywhere in Israel but has chosen to live here as part of an urban kibbutz in which all members pool their incomes for the good of the collective. Adam says his seven-year-old daughter is having a difficult time dealing with the attack. “She’s seeing a shrink, a psychologist for kids,” he says. “She’s doing paintings and stories about the Qassams. It helps. She’s very strong.”
Almost losing his family hasn’t dented Adam’s belief in the possibility of peace. He had hoped there would be a window for negotiations after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and admits the escalating rocket attacks that came instead have been “frustrating.” Still, he believes that negotiations are both possible and necessary. “It’s a long process of trying to understand each other’s suffering,” he says. “If seven-year-olds grow up today seeing the other side as human beings, maybe in 30 years we’ll have a settlement. They might do a better job than us.”
Despite the ongoing, low-level war with Hamas, Israel may ultimately be forced into negotiations with the Islamist movement. For the time being, it is trying to bolster
Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah government to marginalize Hamas—a process Regev compares to creating a West Germany in the West Bank as an example to Palestinians living in the East Germany of Gaza. But ever since winning the majority of seats in the 2006 parliamentary elections, Hamas has unavoidably become a major player in Palestinian politics.
Maclean’s travelled to the village of Zatara in the West Bank to meet with Khaled Tafesh, one of the few senior Hamas members currently not in Israeli or Palestinian jails. Tafesh was described by Israel in 2002 as “one of the architects of the policy of terrorist attacks adopted by Hamas in Bethlehem” and spent the next five years in jail. He was released after another five-month incarceration in March and is now a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He lives in a well-built house with a green Hamas flag flying from the roof and a tile plaque above the door that declares: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” He is a thin, austere-looking man, who sports a typical Islamic beard and wears a long, loose-fitting shirt and baggy pants—more common in the Arabian peninsula and South Asia than the Levant. His speaking style is quiet and measured.
“Israel’s creation on Palestinian land is illegal,” he says. “But we understand the balance of power and the unlimited funding and support from the United States and Europe for Israel. Under these circumstances, Hamas decided to offer this long truce.” The “truce” described by Tafesh would require Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and accept the return of all refugees who were expelled or fled during the 1948 war. Tafesh says such a truce could last 30 or 50 years, “and then God will create something we cannot predict.” When asked whether Hamas would not simply use any truce or ceasefire to gather strength, he dismisses this by saying that Israel has nuclear weapons that it could use to counter any military threat posed by Hamas.
Tafesh confirmed that Hamas is in fact already involved in “indirect talks” with Israel, mostly having to do with the fate of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was abducted in the summer of2006. He also said that Hamas has held talks with U.S. State Department officials, which, if true, makes Washington’s criti-
cism of former president Jimmy Carter for his recent meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus rather disingenuous. Tafesh admitted that Hamas receives funding from Iran, but denied that any of its members have been trained there. Pressed about Hamas’s use of suicide bombers and rocket attacks on Sderot, he agreed it is unethical to kill civilians but defended Hamas’s use of suicide bombings and unguided rockets as a normal “reaction” to Palestinian suffering.
Throughout the interview, one of Tafesh’s
'If there is no two-state solution here there will be continuous warfare1
sons brings trays of tea and baklava. He wears a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of Firas Salahat, a Bethlehem man who was killed in October 2001, reportedly while trying to fire a mortar or rocket that exploded. Tafesh’s son looks to be about nine years old.
Israel approaches its 60th anniversary facing another potential war with Hezbollah and the menacing possibility of a nucleararmed Iran. These threats tend to overshadow the fact that, unless Israel can disentangle itself from the West Bank, or is prepared to expel most of the Arabs who live there, its very future as a state that is both Jewish and democratic is doubtful.
“If there is no two-state solution here, there will be continuous warfare until one of the ethnic groups between the river [Jordan] and the sea wins,” Israeli historian Benny Morris
said in an interview with Maclean’s. “If the Arabs win, they will probably push the Jews into the sea, or gradually push them out. They’ll probably go off to America, if they’re not killed first. If the Jews win, my assumption would be that at the end of the day many of the Arabs would be driven out.”
Israel captured the West Bank, which is rich in Jewish history and tradition, in a war that likely saved the country and its citizens. Many Israelis feel a deep bond to the land there. But as Jewish settlements multiply and spread, until they will inevitably overlap with Palestinian villages and towns, one is reminded of the cat in a poem by Spyros Kyriazopoulos who licked an opened tin for hours without realizing that she had cut her tongue on its jagged edge and was drinking her own blood.
David Rubinger, the photographer, still remembers the exhilaration that accompanied the Nov. 29, 1947, United Nations vote to partition Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. “There wasn’t a person in Jerusalem who stayed home,” he said. “They all went into the streets.” His wife tried to buy cigarettes and couldn’t get the shopkeeper to accept her money.
Rubinger was also jubilant that night. At the time, he said, Israel meant the same thing it does today: “A home for the Jews, where what happened to my mother could not happen to another woman.” Rubinger barely noticed when independence was formally declared the following May. By then, a member of the Haganah militia, he was holed up in a building opposite Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, under fire from the Arab Legion.
Sixty years later, Rubinger doesn’t think he’ll celebrate this anniversary either. “I’m not in the mood,” he said. “If my friends’ sons have to chase Arab kids, that’s not what I want. True independence will be when peace comes.” M
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