a mental fight
- I will not cease from Mental Fight,
- Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,
- Till we have built Jerusalem
- In England’s green and pleasant Land.
So ends William Blake’s poem And did those feet in ancient time, which was probably not intended to be taken literally. “Jerusalem” was more likely an idealized state, a Utopia, a goal worthy of the loftiest efforts.
In all the debate on the current madness in and around Israel, there is a proverbial “elephant in the living room” that few commentators seem willing to tackle head-on: the continued existence of the state of Israel in its present location. We have, of course, the pronouncements from Iran, stating that Israel should be wiped off the map, then suggesting that Israel be moved to somewhere in Europe. I’m not suggesting, for a minute, that it could ever be that simple. Speaking as an atheist, however, claims of “divine right” to land appear unsupportable, especially when contradictory.
It is worth reminding ourselves that Israel, as a state, is a relatively recent creation; less than sixty years old at time of writing. Leave aside, for a minute, religious or ethnic considerations, and consider the land alone. Three major religions all claim Jerusalem as holy ground, but it is Islam, as a rule, that places the heaviest emphasis on owning specific pieces of land, and Jerusalem is one of those. Never mind that its claims on Jerusalem are based on much less history and authority than the Jewish claim: it is considered fundamental to Islam, and the religious enmity is the next problem.
Under the 1947 UN Partition plan, Jerusalem was supposed to be a neutral zone, a religious free city under UN government, but that never happened, and has not been discussed recently. Even if that was possible, what about the rest of the country? A simplistic analysis of Israel’s geopolitical position makes the region look like one of those computer or board games, where a single piece surrounded by enemies stands little chance in the long term. Territory gained, territory lost, supply chains bolstered by foreign supporters.
So, here we are in the year 2006; one more border clash, one more ceasefire to come, during which both sides will re-arm and prepare for the next one. The word “disproportionate” is being bandied around by short-sighted commentators when discussing Israel’s response, and while they might be right in the short-term, it seems clear to me that the Israeli government is thinking in the longer term. It is determined to do as much damage to Hezbollah as it can, hoping for results that last beyond the ceasefire, that deter more than just the enemies they are fighting today.
How will this cycle end? When Iran builds nuclear weapons and uses them on Tel Aviv? When Israel loses their biggest supporters, the USA, by alienating the voters there into demanding the White House stops propping them up? When moderate neighbours such as Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia listen to their immoderate citizens and use their oil windfalls to build armies, in defiance of waning Western economic pressure? Could the Jewish people remain in Israel, but under an Arab government? Or, should the Jewish people consider rebuilding Jerusalem, in some other green and pleasant land?
Sad as it is to say, we may be coming to the end of a noble experiment, one born of post-colonial folly. The Jewish people kept their religion and culture alive, over centuries in the wilderness of diaspora. Surrounded by religious enemies who have no inherent reason to acknowledge them, who place even heavier emphasis on owning specific pieces of land than they do, they may be called on to re-enter the wilderness. It would be a surrender to irrationality and madness, but it may also be a chance to redefine just what “victory” is, in a war that may have started over land, but extends into politics, race and religion, leaving little common ground to build on.