“The tunnel touches the Foundation-rock of our existence,” said Mr. Netanyahu, thus defining the crux of the division within Israeli society: Israel was not founded to dig tunnels underneath the Muslim quarter in Jerusalem, or in order to rebuild the Jewish quarter of Hebron. Israel was created in order to enable the Jewish people to exist as a free nation, in harmony and peace with its neighbors and the rest of the world. This goal is now attainable, but there are some among us who are pushing Israel into a new type of war for new goals. Sacrificing the initial purpose for which Israel was founded on the altar of the “Foundation-rock of our existence” might drag us all into an endless cycle of religious wars.

Benyamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister because tens of thousands of Israeli voters who have no taste for a religious war against Islam were tempted to trust his promise of continuing Rabin’s and Peres’s road toward peace, albeit with the emphasis on a more meticulous enforcement of security. The Temple Mount tunnel and the Jewish strongholdat the heart of the Arab quarter in Hebron have nothing to do with Israel’s security. If Netanyahu had thrown in our “Foundation-rock” during the election campaign, he would have lost.

For twenty years a fundamentalist minority has been pushing the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy into the territory of religious conflict over Holy Places. This minority has learned how to conceal its purpose behind national security arguments. In truth it is motivated not by national security but by religious and nationalistic egoism. The insincerity of the security argument has never been so resounding as it is now over the Temple Mount tunnel. Harmony between the various factions of Jerusalem requires compromise and consent rather than the creation of arbitrary facts in highly emotional, symbol-laden issues. The vast majority of the Israelis, left and right, won’t be manipulated into a Holy Places war: according to the Jewish heritage, no Holy Place justifies the shedding of blood.

The future of Israel does not lie in tunnels but in an historic compromise between the two nations living on this land. Peace cannot prevail when Israel does as it pleases with the disputed areas while expecting the Palestinian police to provide law and order. Peace cannot prevail when Israel gradually gnaws at what is left of Palestine. Peace means first and foremost accepting the other as a partner rather than as a nuisance. The Palestinians will not retain a homeland for themselves by shedding more Israeli blood; they have tried this numerous times before. The Israelis, for their part, will not live in peace unless they cease, once and for all, to turn Palestinian land into Israeli land.

Israel must stop shutting its eyes and yelling “Jerusalem will never be divided.” We had better realize that Jerusalem is in fact divided by an iron curtain of fear and hatred. The true questions are: Can it be reunited? Should it be reunited? And what will be the cost of its reunification? The cost is a moral and mental recognition of the fact that we Israelis are not alone in Jerusalem, just as we are not alone in this country. We must accept the others, respect their position, and meet them somewhere halfway. And yet the opening of the tunnel and the current Israeli policy over Hebron represent nationalistic and religious autism rather than legitimate security considerations.

translated by Amos Oz and Daniel Oz
October 17, 1996

This Issue

November 14, 1996