Homeland - to each his own
There is a connection between what is said within the Arab room about the Israeli home and the ability of Jewish society to accept granting group rights to a minority.
On Sukkot we leave our permanent homes for temporary ones. Recalling the living conditions of the Israelites when they wandered in the desert, for one week each year between walls of nothing, under a sky concealed by only a roof made of natural material. For what purpose did Jewish tradition command this permanent reminder of the life of wandering and detachment experienced by the Israelites on their way to what was to be their permanent homeland?
The Sukkot festival has a public aspect, in addition to the personal aspect of internalizing the impermanency of human existence. We need the break from our stable surroundings as a reminder of the value and importance of our piece of land - the homeland. We carry out the symbolic act of a small-scale self-exile in order to mark the fact that the homeland cannot be taken as a self-evident or insignificant fact: It is reacquired through the mention of the harsh alternative of a life of wandering in meager booths (sukkot) in the no-man's-land of the desert.
But what is the importance of the homeland? Why is it necessary to be involved in acquiring it and developing a relationship toward it? Is it not a worthless idea, a relic of old-fashioned, nationalist concepts of existence? The idea of the homeland has gotten a bad name as something that encourages and nurtures dangerous primeval elements - blood ties, racial cohesiveness, the attribution of sanctity to a piece of ground. These elements have given rise to some of the greatest injustices in the history of mankind. Nevertheless, the fact is that the attacks on the idea of the homeland have clearly been unsuccessful: The longing for a homeland exists everywhere. Its expressions are endless. Wherever the human spirit reaches, we will find the search for a homeland. Many people are in need of an additional special something that is smaller than "the world" but bigger than "the home." What are they looking for?
We generally distinguish between two meanings of moledet, homeland: a person's first home and the political framework in which he lives. In pre-1948 Palestine, Jews lived in their homeland as a first home, even in the absence of a political framework. The establishment of the state led to the existence of the second, organizational aspect of a return to the homeland. The two aspects are related and connected. The homeland is a person's first home, the place where he was born and where his memories, culture, tastes, food, favorite local smells and entire orientation in the world were shaped. The meaning of the homeland as a first home is reflected in the way in which it is expressed in various languages. The Hebrew word moledet is related to birth, and it means the place where a person was born. In German, it is also translated as Heimat, and in English as homeland, in a manner that emphasizes the element of the home in the homeland. Leaving the homeland in this sense is exile from the area of initial ties.
However, a homeland as a first home is not sufficient. Human existence that is isolated and divorced from a link to a public space that expresses the uniqueness of the person's orientation is limited and unsatisfactory. In the absence of a political aspect, there is a decline in the ability of the individual to be a partner to the shaping of his cultural and national being. Human beings need others, a community and an organization, that share the components of their identity. The links are created primarily by building a public space where they are all family, as well as through communication between homes. Culture and identity attain their fullest expression within a defined geographical-political unit. Not only Jews will testify to that, but also Armenians, Kurds and of course the Palestinians.
Jean Amery, an Austrian intellectual whose Jewishness was forced on him by the Nazis and who was forced to leave his Austrian homeland, understood the great human need for a homeland, in both its aspects. He stated: "Anyone who does not have a nation-country, in other words, anyone who does not belong to an independent social body that constitutes a sovereign political unit, has no homeland either .... I believe that I have experienced quite clearly how a homeland stopped being a homeland the moment it was no longer a state." He understood that just as people are born into a language, a memory and a culture, in other words into a cognitive homeland that exists in time, so they are born to a geographical-political homeland that exists in space. This space is the bearer of memory and culture, in it the real activities of real people take place. The achievement of certainty, self confidence and a full realization of identity cannot be carried out in a private living space. Their existence demands a political space.
The early Zionists recognized the value of the homeland. Mainstream Zionist thought and action refused to turn the idea of the homeland into an abstract one; it demanded sovereignty over a geographical space. Its thinkers and those who shaped its path understood that the realization of ideas depends on that. A Jew in the Jewish nation state is not only a citizen but also part of a public mosaic of identity. The mosaic nourishes its parts and is built from them. Therefore Israel should and must work to preserve its character as a state with a clear Jewish identity. We must try to achieve Jewish expression in language, symbols, the calendar, law, education and culture. That is the desire of most of the citizens of the state, those returning from exile as well as those born into the homeland.
In addition to maintaining and strengthening the Jewish character of the state, we must recognize the value of the homeland not only for ourselves but also for those with an Arab identity who live among and around us. Anyone who has suffered from the absence of a homeland as we have, anyone who has experienced humiliating alienation and its evil consequences, cannot deny the other a full existence in a homeland of his own. This is an inevitable conclusion not only of an analysis of foreign relations or an internalization of liberal thought, but also of the Jewish ethical sources. If we recognize the existence of a basic need to realize human experience as a social-cultural being in the public arena, then we must not deny it to the other. Even a utilitarian analysis leads to a similar conclusion: The establishment of a sovereign political homeland for the Palestinian nation, in which it will be able to develop its identity, will strengthen the practical and ethical ability of the Jewish majority to deepen and strengthen the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
And what about the Israeli Arabs, those who remain within the Jewish state? We must not make light of or minimize the identity crisis of every fifth Israeli. Although the Israeli home is Jewish, we must set aside a spacious room in it for the Arab residents, a room in which their human rights as individuals will of course be protected unconditionally.
But that is not sufficient: Arab citizens of the state deserve to have their aspirations for a separate identity and for the preservation of their heritage honored, even after a Palestinian state is established. The political and legal systems have a permanent mandate to consider the maximum size that can be given to the Arab room in the Jewish home: whether and to what extent we should recognize rights that respect the uniqueness of Israeli Arabs as a native-born minority. In practical terms, it is clear that there is a connection between what is said within the Arab room about the Israeli home and the ability of Jewish society to accept granting group rights to a minority. Any majority group will behave this way; how much more so a majority group that is frequently attacked and is defending its life against the national group to which the minority group belongs. In any case, we must frankly admit that full group equality in the public arena cannot be implemented because the Israeli public space gives priority - and rightly so - to Jewish identity.
The Arab minority in Israel must recognize not only the futility but also the unjustness of the desire to prevent the Jewish majority from implementing its return to the homeland in every sense of the word. The Jews in Israel must recognize that Israeli Arabs have no other homeland. Their home is here. It is a tragedy: The Jewish nation state, which is a homeland for the Jews in both senses, both as a first home and as a political framework, can be a homeland for its Arab citizens only in the first sense. The Jewish citizens of Israel sit in a sukkah one week a year; the Arab citizens sit in a sukkah - in the sense of exclusion from the public sphere - all year long. The Jews sit in a sukkah in a symbolic sense, and in order to remember the past; for the Arabs it is a real and constant life situation that will continue to be insoluble. The Jewish majority group must consider the hard-pressed existential situation of Israeli Arabs and try to ameliorate it. However, we cannot consent to solving the distress by relinquishing the clear Jewish character of the political home. Such a concession would cost us the homeland.