Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Holding Onto the Land -- Some Thoughts about an AIPAC Rabbinic Briefing

On March 11th I attended an AIPAC rabbinic briefing presented by Raphael Danziger, AIPAC's director of research and information. During the question and answer period, I asked him about the current peace talks and tentative plans to evacuate settlements in Yehuda and Shomron. "How," I wondered (and still wonder), "with what we've seen from Hamas in Gaza, how they have shot rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel proper, can Israel even entertain withdrawing from areas adjacent to the major population centers? Won't the Palestinians simply begin firing missiles at all of Israel? What are they thinking?"
He answered that everyone agrees that were the Israeli military to withdraw from the areas behind the security fence (i.e. most of Yehuda and Shomron), without a doubt Hamas would seize control of the area. While America and Israel support the Palestinian Authority both financially and politically, Hamas clearly has the more motivated fighters and deeper ideological base, and clearly would begin shooting at every part of Israel it could reach. How then can Israel contemplate abandoning these areas? Well, he said, they distinguish between population and military withdrawal. No one thinks that the military should withdraw. Israel needs to maintain control of its territory and ensure that what has happened to Sderot does not take place in Tel Aviv. At the same time, why should the military need to protect and defend a small minority of the population from a large Arab majority? So, the proponents of withdrawal advocate not military, but population withdrawal as a step towards achieving peace.
But I -- and I think the Rambam -- would have a problem with that argument. Discussing the holiness of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, Rambam writes:
ולמה אני אומר במקדש וירושלים קדושה ראשונה קדשה לעתיד לבוא, ובקדושת שאר א"י לענין שביעית ומעשרות וכיוצא בהן לא קדשה לעתיד לבוא, לפי שקדושת המקדש וירושלים מפני השכינה ושכינה אינה בטלה, והרי הוא אומר והשמותי את מקדשיכם ואמרו חכמים אע"פ ששמומין בקדושתן הן עומדים אבל חיוב הארץ בשביעית ובמעשרות אינו אלא מפני שהוא כבוש רבים וכיון שנלקחה הארץ מידיהם בטל הכבוש ונפטרה מן התורה ממעשרות ומשביעית שהרי אינה מן ארץ ישראל, וכיון שעלה עזרא וקדשה לא קדשה בכיבוש אלא בחזקה שהחזיקו בה ולפיכך כל מקום שהחזיקו בה עולי בבל ונתקדש בקדושת עזרא השנייה הוא מקודש היום ואע"פ שנלקח הארץ ממנו וחייב בשביעית ובמעשרות על הדרך שביארנו בהלכות תרומה
And why do I say regarding the Temple and Jerusalem that the initial sanctity remains for all future time, and the sanctity of the Land of Israel with regard to the Sabbatical year and tithes and similar laws does not remain for all future time? This is because the sanctity of the Temple and Jerusalem come because of the Shechinah (presence of God) and the Shechinah cannot be negated, as it says, "and I will destroy your holy places," about which the sages said, "even though it they are destroyed, they retain their holiness."
But the obligation of the Sabbatical year and tithes throughout [the rest of] the Land is only due to the communal conquest. And, since the Land was taken from their hands, that conquest was nullified and [the Land] was exempted by Torah law from tithes and the commandments of the Sabbatical year -- for it is not from the Land of Israel.
But when Ezra returned to the Land and sanctified it, he did not sanctify it with conquest, but with the right of possession that they held onto the Land. Therefore, every place that the Babylonian returnees acquired and held onto and was sanctified with the holiness of Ezra is holy today, even though the Land was taken from us, and is obligated in the laws of the seventh year and the tithes.
Clearly, according to Rambam, possession (and occupation) of the land carries more spritual meaning than military conquest alone. Only those places that Jews actually settled and lived retain their sanctified status today as "The Land of Israel." Simply controlling a place militarily does not imply possession. Only when citizens of a country actually live there does land become the possession of that country.
Indeed, what we know from Rambam makes implicit sense to me logically as well. If the Israeli government were to evacuate the settlements and leave the IDF for protection, how long would it be for the Palestinians to call for the removal of an occupying force. In fact, the best excuse for an army's presence is the need to protect its citizens in the areas where it operates. Were there to be no citizens to protect, the justifications for the army's presence would be tenuous at best. Just look at what happened in Lebanon. After years of stability inside a 3-mile buffer zone in Lebanon, calls for the IDF's withdrawal - for needless military deaths to protect a piece of land unwanted by Israel -- prompted the government to remove the army from that buffer zone back into Israel proper. Hizbullah -- not the Lebanese Army -- wasted no time in securing that area, fortifying it, and establishing a secure base from which it could launch missiles at Israel with impunity.
The only way to protect Tel Aviv from bombardment is by maintaining an armed presence in the West Bank. And the only way to justify that presence -- and maintain a hold on that land both militarily, politically and spiritually -- is the continued presence of dedicated Jews willing to live their lives to hold onto that Land.