Israel Is a Stone's Throw Away From Becoming the Roman Empire

On Jewish holidays, we're used-to identifying as the resourceful downtrodden that manage to bring an empire to its knees. This year, as our gazillion-dollar army takes on masked Palestinian teens, we find our role reversed.

Ron Ben-Tovim
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File photo: Palestinian protester hurls a stone towards an Israeli army jeep during clashes at a protest against the Jewish settlement of Ofra, in the W. Bank village of Silwad, Sept. 19, 2014Credit: Reuters
Ron Ben-Tovim

The High Holy Days are upon us, and among the many benefits of this special time of year – the food, the family, the pleasant breeze, the spiritual introspection – there's that unmistakable feeling of being persecuted. Not personally, but persecuted as an idea – we wish death to our enemies on Rosh Hashanah, fast for our souls on Yom Kippur, and metaphorically flee from our enemies on Sukkot.

This tradition of being persecuted, not just because Jews were often and are often persecuted, but because of the inclusion of persecution into our spiritual DNA, finds its physical manifestation from generation to generation. Once upon a time it was Amalek and Haman, then it was Hitler (with a dash of good-ole-fashioned spontaneous pogroms), and, most recently, it was Iran. Well, the specter of Iran. Well, what we were told was the specter of Iran. Whichever.

This year, unfortunately, it seems that the bounty in the persecution pool is a bit on the scarce side. While Israeli officials are quite adamant that the newly signed agreement between Iran and the West doesn't rid us of the Iranian menace, I think everyone agrees a certain sense of urgency has escaped the issue. The best indication of that is the fact that Israel's number one source for everything Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is quieter on the subject than he's been in quite some time.

So, how are we, the Jewish people, to bear the endless parade of holy days without a concrete enemy in our proverbial sights?

Fear not! A solution has been found by your trusty friends in the Israeli government: Palestinian stone-throwers.

Now, some may say that I'm making light of the very real, very dangerous, and potentially deadly phenomenon in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. People, civilians with kids, are being targeted by these base attacks. But, as far as existential threats go, stone-throwing is probably lower on the ladder than, say, a nuclear holocaust, and as fodder to the Israeli fear industry, it could actually prove quite destructive in the long run, for two main reasons.

The first is that it's a particularly hard sell: Netanyahu is putting on his boldest face, threatening heightened, maybe extreme, and probably impossible policing measures, such as snipers, telling the world that Israel will not stand by as its citizens are attacked. One of Netanyahu's recent English-language tweets, one adorned by an oversized and quite dramatic signature, stated as much, albeit in a much more awkward grammatical structure: "Whoever tries to attack us, we will hurt him."

Setting aside the prime minister's Yoda-like syntax, that threat will sound quite hollow to most of the world. Israel, with its gazillion-dollar army, finds itself dramatically threatening people with nothing more than a face cover and a rock. This Israeli show of confidence reveals a troubling insecurity.

And that might be the exact reason Netanyahu is as worried as he is: if history teaches us anything, the Palestinians are more successful at gaining political and military ground through symbolic images of rocks against tanks than with other means. The first intifada, as we may remember, was a relatively popular, low-arms affair, but it resulted in the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The second intifada was a much more violent effort, spearheaded by wave upon wave of suicide bombings, and resulted in the Israel Defense Forces moving into the West Bank in a lengthy and quite disastrous campaign.

In other words: If a Palestinian state is Netanyahu's biggest nightmare, stone-throwers are the highway to his hell, to paraphrase AC/DC.

The second reason, however, includes the previous, and then some. How would it be possible for Jews around the world and in Israel to view themselves as a weak, persecuted minority, when it sends the region's most powerful army and police after stone-throwers? Isn't it we Jews, in all those tales of bravery and divine intervention, who are the resourceful downtrodden that manage to bring an empire to its knees? Isn't that the story of Passover and the Exodus, or the story of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising? Isn't that the story of the Jewish militias against Roman occupation?

Speaking of the Romans, and of rocks, the mind wanders to an anecdote provided by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his "The Jewish War," his chronicle of the Great Jewish Rebellion against the Roman Empire. During the feast of Passover, at the Temple Mount, Roman soldiers – an icon in Jewish thought for a violent, ignorant and arrogant force – taunted Jewish worshippers. One such soldier, to borrow a contemporary phrase, "mooned" the crowd, adding a few choice words, which led to a spontaneous protest:

"At this the whole multitude had indignation, and made a clamor to punish the soldier; while the rasher part of the youth, and such as were naturally the most tumultuous, fell to fighting, and caught up stones, and threw them at the soldiers."

The popular fight for freedom from oppression and overbearing humiliation was supposed to be our thing, at least that's what our holidays and stories tell us. I guess we'll just manage with being Romans this year. I hear the food is super eclectic and the roads are very straight.

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