It’s summer. The days have grown long and heavy with heat. The mind longs to flee the day-to-day and contemplate bigger ideas. Or at least more pleasant ones. So let’s take a day off from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Let’s take a day away from Bibi and Obama. Let’s have a day without rockets, missiles or threats. Let’s talk about dreams.
Theodore Herzl had a dream. Herzl — the founder of modern Zionism — dreamed that the Jewish people would return home to their ancient land and rebuild their ancient commonwealth. As a Jew who was traumatized and transformed by the reality of anti-Semitism in Europe, Herzl also dreamed that the Jews inhabiting this future Jewish State would do far better when it came to loving the stranger in their midst. And Herzl recognized from the start that this stranger would be the Arabs already living in the land of Israel.
Indeed, Herzl had a dream for these Arabs. He didn’t dream that they would be expelled. He didn’t hope that they would flee. He didn’t pray they’d disappear. Herzl dreamed that the Arabs would stay and become full, equal and prosperous citizens of the Jewish State.
Beyond his pamphlets and political articles, Herzl set forth his dreams in his 1902 novel Altneuland (The “Old New Land”), in which he shares what he thought life would be like in the future Jewish State. Herzl envisioned the city of Haifa growing to become a major industrial and cultural center. And Herzl believed that in this city — as in the whole country — Jews and Arabs would mix as close friends and full equals. One of the major characters in the novel, an Arab engineer from Haifa named Reshid Bey, describes with enthusiasm the way in which Jewish immigration and Arab-Jewish cooperation have created prosperity, opportunity, and modernity for all.
Herzl was, in retrospect, terribly naive. As a Jew in Christian Europe, he was used to belonging to a religious and ethnic minority. He saw nothing unusual or tragic in this status. He simply rebelled against the fact that Jews constituted a minority everywhere and a majority nowhere, and saw in this unusual condition the seeds of anti-Semitism. Herzl assumed that the Arabs, already the majority in so many vast lands, would find nothing disturbing in being a minority in one small country. His European Jewish mind simply could not fathom the idea that, for so many Arabs, being a minority anywhere in the Middle East — even in the tiny sliver of land destined to be the Jewish State — was a tragedy.
I was reminded of Herzl’s dream earlier this week when I read a human interest story from Israel. I suppose the article should have made me happy. And it did. Yet as I read, I also felt a sort of melancholy — sadness over what could have been — well up too. The article was about Elinor Jospeh, a beautiful Christian Arab woman. The article announced that Ms. Joseph had become the first Arab woman to serve as a combat soldier in the history of the Israeli army. While her accomplishment is encouraging, the fact that it is news — and not the norm — leaves the cup half empty.
Corporal Elinor Joseph was born and raised in an integrated neighborhood of Haifa — the very city in which Herzl envisioned such robust Jewish-Arab coexistance over a century ago. Her father was an Israeli paratrooper, and Elinor followed in her father’s footsteps. Despite the opposition of her friends and the doubts of her army recruiters, Elinor persisted until she became a medic in Israel’s Karakal Batallion. According to Elinor, “Although everybody is surprised in the beginning, I have always been respected, not just me but my customs and religion. Nobody ever disturbed me. I feel a lot of serenity and support.”
Elinor is a reminder of how much Herzl’s dream has come to pass not only for the Jews of Israel, but also for its Arab citizens. Today, an Israeli Arab sits on Israel’s Supreme Court. Israeli Arabs have been cabinet ministers in Israel’s governments, and they serve in Israel’s Knesset, Israel’s foreign service and, yes, Israel’s army. Israel is the only nation in the Middle East where the Christian Arab population is actually growing.
Yet at the same time, Elinor also reminds us how much of Herzl’s dream was deferred. Rather than seek to coexist with the Jews, the leaders of the Palestinian Arabs chose a different path — the path of rejection and hate. In the process, they convinced the British to close the gates of Palestine to Jewish immigration in 1939 — locking millions of Jews in Europe just as Hitler reached the height of his power. And these same leaders led their own people to war and exile when they sought to destroy the Jewish state at its birth. This hate and rejection of Israel persist down to the present day.
I mourn the missed opportunity. I mourn the suffering imposed upon the Arabs of the region — and the Jews — because these Arab leaders were too narrow-minded to see the Jewish return to their land as a blessing instead of a threat. I mourn the fact that even today there are too few Elinors serving Israel.
Yet despite all this, Elinor remains optimistic. The article closes with Elinor noting that “I still believe that peace will come and that faith creates reality.” In so doing, she echoed Herzl himself who closed his novel Altneuland with the famous words, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Thank you, Corporal Joseph. And G-d bless you. You go girl.
David Brog is the executive director of Christians United for Israel and author of a new book, In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity. You can follow David on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.