It would be easy to write a pessimistic scenario for Israel on its 100th anniversary in 2048. There is no shortage of bad omens. Take for example the first day after Passover this year. The newspaper headlines dealt with the 15 Palestinian demonstrators killed on the Gaza border with Israel, and the electrocution belt for American death row inmates, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban threatening to obliterate what remained of democracy in his country. And that’s before the reports on the chemical attack in Douma, Syria. And if all that weren’t enough, this past winter in Israel was dry, warm and short. Rainy winters here have become a rarity.
But looking ahead, 30 years ahead, one might also look beyond the horrors of the present and the dark clouds on the horizon and ask whether a different horizon is possible, whether there are forces that can push things in that direction, even if they are currently not apparent. We can derive a bit of encouragement, for example, from the past decade.
In 2008, the global economic crisis erupted. In 2011, a major tsunami hit Japan. In 2014, Russia invaded Crimea. And in 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States. Any one of these incidents is a so-called black swan, an event that comes as a surprise and is rationalized in hindsight, the first in a row of dominos to fall on an expected route to a colossal catastrophe that brings misery to millions of families.
But the catastrophe didn’t occur, at least so far, at least for most of humanity. Murderous governments such as those that gained power in Europe in the 20th century haven’t come to power now. The economy has not collapsed and a new world war has not broken out. We should of course be leery of the prospect that disaster might still strike, and we shouldn’t forget, either, that murderous governments still abuse millions of people around the world.
But a fair look at recent years compels the acknowledgement that the bonds holding the world together have become stronger and have managed to avert global catastrophes. Anyone looking for a bit more optimism can consult charts showing the number of dead from war, famine, infant mortality and crime. All of them have fallen drastically in recent decades. The world has been changing and not always for the worse.
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The Middle East will also ultimately succumb to these forces. Despite the regular warnings of existential danger, it looks as if even the most extreme Muslim leader will be forced to take a complex constellation of considerations into account before attacking Israel, and even the most anxious among us would have a hard time finding a power in the region that could threaten Israel’s existence.
From all of this, the good news is that Israel will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The bad news is that it is reasonable to expect that it will be a very crowded country, impossible to partition, with two types of citizens: Israelis with full rights and Palestinians without the right to vote for parliament and without freedom of movement in the region. In a word: apartheid.
But even regarding the prospect of apartheid, it’s too early to despair. Contrary to the accepted cliché, for example, Israeli society will, in my opinion, undergo a process of secularization. Even now, many graduates of religious public schools distance themselves from religion before age 30. Will they and their children remain loyal to the political right wing?
The ultra-Orthodox bloc, a regular supporter of the policy of occupation, will also be changing. There is a good chance that ultra-Orthodox society in Israel will shrink in the coming decades, following a near-certain drop in the community’s birthrate. It’s a process that has occurred in every society as women become better educated. Departures from the ultra-Orthodox community and increasing numbers of ultra-Orthodox entering the workforce and the army will, despite their politicians, serve to reduce their numbers and redefine ultra-Orthodox Israeli identity. And with it, another component of the current right-wing political coalition will be out of the equation, or at least diminished.
And what about the secular public in Israel? Its economic situation is improving. It’s open to the world. On the assumption that the wave of right-wing populism in Europe and the United States will ultimately end, is it not reasonable that the children being born now will be ashamed in another 20 years of an Israeli identity based on discrimination against another people?
In general, it’s quite possible to expect that the two societies, Israeli and Palestinian, will tend towards more individualism in their goals, while their willingness to become martyrs or die for the homeland will decrease. Look around and answer frankly: Will the automatic consent of Israeli mothers and fathers to send their children to do military service in an army that is oppressing a huge civilian population still hold in another 30 years?
One can also ask what will happen to the blind, unconditional support that Israel gets from American Jewry. Will the next generation of American Jews, who are more liberal and less Zionist than their parents, continue to provide such critical political support to Israeli policy? In addition, sooner or later the coalition of women, blacks, immigrants and young people will return to power in the United States. Is it not sensible to assume that the somewhat juvenile support from the current U.S. president for Israel will be a thing of the past?
The removal of any one of these bricks is capable of bringing down the wall. And then the occupation really will come to an end. It won’t happen as we have dreamed it, and it won’t solve all of our problems. There will still be one country for two peoples and no equal rights between them, but the disparity in privileges will close, the violence will decline and life will be better.
It’s 2048, and the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been published on the eve of Israel’s 100th anniversary celebrations. The prime minister? She saw the headlines on the plasma television through the window of her secured cable car immediately following the Memorial Day ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery. The cable car hovered over Herzl Boulevard with a soft hum and she didn’t manage to read the entire news story before the car stopped at the Nakba Memorial Museum in the abandoned Palestinian village of LIfta at the entrance to Jerusalem. The Palestinian prime minister was waiting for her there so that the two women, the two prime ministers, could attend a Nakba remembrance ceremony together.
The handshake was cool. The president of the Israeli-Palestinian federation stood between the two prime ministers and the three women walked toward the museum. The heat was unbearable, and the president thought perhaps the time had come to increase the budget for the federal cloud-creation program. She recalled how her grandfather had told her once that when he was a boy, they would pray that clouds would cover the sun. That was in South Sudan.