The Four Sons, Re-imagined: Four Zionist Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Which perspective is wise? And which is wicked? You decide.

Calev Ben Dor
Calev Ben-Dor
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A file photo from May 28, 2012, showing a Jewish-Arab prayer of thanksgiving near Bethlehem, in the West Bank.
A file photo from May 28, 2012, showing a Jewish-Arab prayer of thanksgiving near Bethlehem, in the West Bank. Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen.
Calev Ben Dor
Calev Ben-Dor

The Haggadah speaks of four sons – wise, wicked, simple and one unable to ask. Over the generations, this theme was expanded to describe four different types of Jews, four separate generations of immigrants and four characteristics present in each one of us, among others.

In this context, I have tailored this theme to describe four different Zionist perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The 'Redemptionist' Son – what does he say? The whole of the historical land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people and any talk of ‘peace’ with the Arabs is dangerous utopianism. The world has an implacable hatred towards us and nothing we can do will change that. The international community may show us sympathy when we are weak, but it can’t stomach the resurgence of Jewish power and the return of Jewish sovereignty to our ancestral homeland. Even when we endanger our own soldiers to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties, we are accused of carrying out massacres and genocide. Any concessions aimed at gaining favor with the Arabs or ‘Goyim’ make us look spineless, and ultimately imperils more Jewish lives.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we shall always be an Am Levadad Yishcon, a "people that dwells alone."

Things may look bleak but redemption is within reach. We need to have faith, be steadfast and unify the people around true Torah values, one of which is settling over all the land of Eretz Yisrael.

The 'Realist' Son - what does he say? Peace with the Palestinians may be possible one day, but not in this generation. At the Palestinians’ core – their public statements, textbooks and television programs – they reject the right of the Jewish people to a state of our own.

Each Israeli withdrawal is not perceived as a sign of our peaceful intentions but rather as weakness and capitulation, evidence that we are no longer willing to fight and struggle for the justice of our cause. We withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza and in response received rockets. How can we consider a similar withdrawal from the West Bank?

We need to cause the Palestinians to internalize the fact that we are here to stay, that we have roots in this land, that we are not leaving. We can ultimately achieve peace, but it will take time, and we need to be patient. In the meantime, as the region around us falls apart, we need to sit tight and stand firm. Our situation may be dangerous, but with the correct education, Israeli society has the capacity to survive the storm.

The 'Pragmatic' Son – what does he say? I’m not necessarily a fan of the Palestinians, but Israel’s continued control over the West Bank is bad for our national security. The expansion of isolated settlements reflects a lack of strategy, especially as demography continues to erode the slim chances for a two-state solution. The occupation meanwhile causes our allies to desert us. We think our control over the West Bank strengthens us. Yet ultimately it weakens us.

The forces of religious extremism are on the rise. Unless we resolve our differences with those Palestinians who do support a two-state solution, the window of opportunity for a secure Jewish and democratic state may close.

Peace doesn’t mean we’ll eat hummus in Ramallah or stop calling up people for reserve duty. But in an unstable neighborhood in unstable times, an agreement that guarantees a Jewish majority in approximately 80 percent of Mandatory Palestine while ensuring normalization with the Arab world is worth considering, even if it entails painful concessions.

It is after all, a situation that original Zionist leaders could only dream of.

The 'Justice' Son – what does he say? The continued occupation over millions of Palestinians is poisoning and corrupting Israeli society, undermining our social fabric and is a betrayal of the core values of Judaism (and Zionism).

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragic struggle of right against right, with both sides holding legitimate claims and grievances. As a people, the Jews deserve the right to self-determination, the right to express our national values and dreams. But so do the Palestinians. They, like us, have religious, historical and cultural connections to this land.

Zionism is the national liberation movement for the Jewish people. But it loses its moral legitimacy when it denies that same thing to another people. We have a responsibility to partition the land and undo the injustice our (justified) presence in our homeland has caused the Palestinians.

Four sons, four approaches.

All that remains is for each of us to decide which child is wise and which is simple (nave)... And which is so blinded by their opinion that they are unable to even question?

And in our complex post-election reality, to resolve how each of these children can find their own legitimate place within our national family.

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