Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
The Book of Joshua is part of the Bible. To believers, every part of the Bible offers us some Divine instruction. In some cases, the message is instantly available and always uplifting. In other cases, the simple meaning of the text is obscure or even disturbing. In such cases, the true student will realize that he/she must work even harder to insure that what is learned is part of G-d’s teaching, and not our own agendas catching a ride on His words.
I read Joshua: A Journey of Faith by Mary Mikhael with sadness and pain. It does not at all read like a study guide, but as advocacy for a political position. I believe that the content is not only imbalanced, but full of distortion, error, and counter-factual material. I do not expect anyone to take my word for it, but I am honored to have the opportunity to present a very different narrative. It is my hope that people who are interested in the truth realize that it only emerges by listening with rapt attention to differing and often opposing perspectives. The truth usually emerges from the dialectic.
With G-d’s help, perhaps we will even have the chance to suggest a different direction for the study of Joshua, which will yield insights and conclusions that all of us can agree with, including the author of the study that I hereby respond to.
Thank you all for listening, and for expecting more from the words of G-d than the musings of humans.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, The Simon Wiesenthal Center
Running Commentary [All references are to pages in the study guide.]
I have found one of the most egregious errors in the Study Guide is the implication that Israelis regard the Book of Joshua as their leasehold to the Land and their guide in managing it. This is hateful nonsense, and completely disregards the facts of the rise of the modern State of Israel. The author presents a straw man: Jews looking to Joshua for their right to, and conception of, a modern state. She then tries to destroy the straw man, as if that will suddenly restore the rights of what she terms indigenous Palestinians, and have the Jews return to some other location, which she cannot really specify.
A positive element of the work is that it raises excellent questions throughout (e.g., What does it mean for a land to be holy? Why would G-d earmark a gift for a particular people?). Unfortunately, no answers are given – not Christian ones, and certainly not Jewish ones. (Is it not reasonable to think that Jews were bothered at times in the last three thousand years by the same questions, and might provide some insight?) Instead, the reader is left with nothing but innuendo – the Jews got it wrong; G-d could never have meant for things to turn so ugly; the ones who took the brunt of this horrible misreading are the Palestinians. In the end, the document sheds no light on the Book of Joshua, and only darkness on the situation in the Holy Land. This is hardly good education – or Bible study.
Pg. 3 The stories of war in Joshua have been used by many as a religious mandate to give legitimacy to the state of Israel over and against the basic human rights of the indigenous population.
Who are these “many”? Was this the argument of the UN delegates who voted in 1948 to recognize the State that UN action over the preceding decades had created? How importantly did the story figure in the thinking of the secular Zionists who were largely responsible for building up the modern State? Was the Book of Joshua what Harry Truman was thinking about when – over the objections of an Arabist Department of State – he was among the first to recognize Israel? Were the millions of Christians who pushed for recognition were looking at Joshua – or at the prophetic books that spoke of Israel’s return to Zion? The only group that I know of that used Joshua as a model was Cromwell’s Roundheads, who reportedly read the book on the battlefield, visualizing themselves as the Israelites and the Catholics as the Canaanites. I don’t believe that they were Israeli, or even Jewish.
There are some Jews (a small number, who have no impact on government policy) who look to the Biblical boundaries in Deuteronomy as defining a Greater Israel, and as support for holding on to land conquered at all costs – but even they never speak of a responsibility or license to wage war to achieve it. They, too, were affected not by the Book of Joshua, but by the prophets who spoke of the return of the Jews to Zion. They came to the conclusion (not supported by the rest of Israelis, secular and religious alike) that the process of final redemption is irrevocably upon us, and Israelis should bank upon it in their foreign policy.
Contrast this with Muslim extremists around the globe who believe that it is a “mitzvah” (commandment) to move land and people from the Dar al-Harb to the Dar al-Islam, whether by persuasion, by demographic growth, or by sword.
Following the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel, approximately 750,000 indigenous Palestinian Arabs and Jews were displaced and forced from their homes.
In 1948, after the UN Partition went into effect, five Arab armies attacked the fledgling State. Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League announced, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”
Israel had explicitly welcomed its Arab residents to become citizens. Some Arabs ran in fright. Others were told by their own to leave their homes, because Arab armies were going to wipe out the Jews, and they would be able to return when the battle was one. They were forced by their own leaders, not by Jews, with some notable exceptions that did occur. Benny Morris, long a leftist critic of Israel, did the definitive study and brought to light the exceptions – and then surprised the world by showing how they were a very minor part of the exodus from Israel.
Consider these words written by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who was also the co-founder of Fatah, along with Yasser Arafat:
I am among those who were born in the city of Tzfat (Safed). We were a family of means. I studied in elementary school, and then came the naqba [Editor’s note – calamity, namely, the founding of the State of Israel]. At night, we left by foot from Tzfat, to the Jordan River, where we remained for a month.… The people’s basic motives brought them to run away for their lives and with their property. These [motives] were very important, for they feared the violence of the Zionist terrorist organizations – and especially those of us from Tzfat felt that there was an old desire for revenge from the rebellion of 1929, and this was in the memory of our families and parents. [Editor’s note – The “rebellion” Abbas referred to was a series of brutal Arab attacks on Jewish towns in the summer of 1929. Nearly 70 Jews were slaughtered in their homes in Hevron, 20 in Tzfat, 17 in Jerusalem, and others were murdered in Motza, Kfar Uriah and Tel Aviv.] … They felt that the balance of power had collapsed and they therefore decided to leave. The entire city was abandoned based on this thought – the thought of their property and saving themselves.
Meanwhile, about the equivalent number of Jews who had lived in Arab countries for centuries were forced to leave those countries after waves of murder and plunder against them. Those refugees, notably, found new homes and new lives, in Israel and elsewhere. They did not languish in refugee camps like the Arabs who fled, who were then held (to this day) as pawns in a PR war against Israel, and denied the right to education and jobs in most of their host countries. Palestinians in Israel today in the worst of situations (and Israel should be doing more to help them, as former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert argued in one of his last speeches before stepping down) are better off than in almost all Arab countries to which they fled.
The term “indigenous Palestinian” doesn’t get us very far. There were Arabs living in the region for centuries, to be sure. There were Jews living there, too – in an uninterrupted chain dating back to the time of Joshua! When Jews started building up the land – urged on largely by Protestant Christian Zionists! – many more Arabs streamed in to follow the availability of new jobs created by the returning Jews. Neither they, nor the descendents of those who had been there for centuries, defined themselves as “Palestinians” as a distinct political or national entity of Arabs alone. No one did, until after the ’67 June War, or the Palestinian Charter in ’64 at the earliest.
By now, however, a generation has grown up that see themselves as Palestinian, and that is a truth to be acknowledged and reckoned with – just as the reality of a few generations of Jews living on the land and seeing themselves as Israeli! The goal is to accommodate both, when both recognize each other. Israeli students study the history and narrative of Palestinians. Shouldn’t the other side do the same? For those who care more about the present than about history, it is fair to say that both Jews and Palestinians have by now established roots in the land, and will probably have to share it. This was the UN Partition view in 1947, which Israel accepted and the Arabs did not. It is also the view of the vast majority of Israelis who look to a two-state solution to provide a peaceful solution to the aspirations of two different communities.
I don’t know what “indigenous Jew” means in this paragraph. Is Israel not allowed to offer a special place for those related – in whatever way she chooses – to a core part of her population, and provide them with automatic citizenship? Germany does. So does Poland and a host of other countries. Most Arab countries call themselves “Islamic,” which then carries along a slew of legal and social consequences. Why is this OK for Muslims, but not for Jews, for whom history has shown need a safe haven of their own?
In 1967 …the state of Israel came to occupy militarily all that was left of historic Palestine….
It is hard to imagine a more inaccurate way of presenting the June War. “Came to occupy?” No mention that Israel waged a defensive war against three countries massed to annihilate her? And what is “historic Palestine?” Can anyone name a Palestinian leader, writer, sports team, flag, national anthem, etc. before 1967? “Historic Palestine” is a euphemism for all the land that Arabs want in the region, which they would like to see free of any presence of Crusaders and Jews.
Most refugees were never allowed to return home and many still live in camps.
Indeed, held there by Arab governments as pawns, not allowed to attend schools (Lebanon) or own property, and kept in squalid conditions. Unlike the equivalent number of Jews chased out of Arab countries who started new lives for themselves, as refugees in every other conflict in recent memory have done.
The pertinent UN resolution 194 called for refugees “wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so.” The language shows that the UN itself recognized that Israel could not be expected to admit a bellicose population that would not accept her legitimacy or authority.
Since a decisive war in 1967… Israel expanded to occupy militarily…
Again, no context about why Israel fought the defensive war or what exactly it should have done in its aftermath. What Israel did do was offer the return of captured territory for peace with all its neighbors. This resulted in the infamous Khartoum conference, and the Three No’s that the Arab leaders there offered in return: no negotiation, no recognition, no peace.
The majority of the indigenous population from the middle of the seventh century to 1948 were Arabs…
Depends on what part of the land you were looking at. Certainly not of the coastal plain, or the areas that had been restored by Jewish efforts after being neglected for centuries. And what’s the point? Why not mention that Jews before the fifth century were the majority, and that they were purged from the land by Muslims – and Christians? If they hadn’t, wouldn’t Jews have been the majority from the middle of the seventh century until today? Why does she ignore the simple truth that there were two peoples who each had historical claims to the land – exactly what partition recognized? Why does history for her begin precisely with the founding of Islam?
Their homes are occupied by people who came from outside Palestine.
…as did so many of the Arabs she claims constituted an Arab majority! Yes, Jews came back in the 19th century to rebuild their ancient land, a return they never despaired of. Unlike virtually any country on the globe today, they returned not by military conquest, not by shoving out the inhabitants, but by buying it from people who willingly sold it to them. It was one of the “cleanest” realizations of nationalistic aspirations in history. Not perfect, but better than the way most states that criticize Israel were founded.
Perhaps the author refers specifically to Jews living in buildings whose Arab occupants had fled in 1948. There is some truth to this. After it became clear that the invading Arab states would not sign a peace treaty (with the exception of Jordan and Egypt they are still technically in a state of war with Israel) and that the refugees would not be returning, Israel did in fact extend its authority to previously Arab owned land and buildings. Find a modern state that was victorious in war that did not do the same! More importantly, the vast majority of Jewish Israelis today live on land that was entirely developed by Jewish efforts, and free of any taint.
… some of whom claim that G-d promised this land to them and they have a divine right to possess it.
The British spoke of such a divine right. It created the United States and many other countries that were part of the British Empire. Are we to set back the clock here, and around the world? to India and Africa? Should the Angles and Saxons withdraw from England, and return it to the Celts? Should we undo all the fruits of European colonialism? Where and when do we begin and end? Syria, Jordan Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others were also created by European powers carving up the spoils of various wars. Should be return all of them to the Ottomans – and have them return them to the Mamaluks, or earlier invaders?
History had beaten down the Jews to a more humble stance. They were intent – as anyone who has studied the career of Herzl – of finding their right in the eyes of the community of nations, not by appealing to divine right – except in praying for Divine assistance.
Most Israelis are (unfortunately!) not terribly religious. They don’t look to the Bible for justification of their state. Religious Israelis take pride in the continuity of Jewish population from Biblical times, but not to define its borders. There is a small group, mentioned above, that sees a Biblical prescription for holding on to land once it is gained. They have next to no impact on political decisions.
A large number came because they were told it was the only place they could go… in the wake of the Holocaust.
Nonsense. Those who fled Europe were kept in interment camps until the State was already a reality. The British wouldn’t let the refugees in even after the Holocaust, not wanting to upset the Arabs. They may have felt it was the only place to go, that they weren’t ready to entrust their shattered lives to any entity that had ignored Jewish suffering for so long.
The bulk of those who founded the State came in two waves of immigration well before the Holocaust. They chose to leave the persecution of Europe, but they did not have to leave. They left Europe to reclaim, for the most part desert and uninhabited areas. Tel Aviv was literally a sand dune in 1880 when it began to be developed by Jews
The state of Israel declared its independence …and war broke out immediately.
This is the equivalent of reporting a mugging as a conflict that developed between two people, where one was subsequently injured. War did not break out. Israel was invaded by Arabs on all her sides, and from far away.
The Palestinian people struggled to create a unified infrastructure through which to govern
This is a lovely way of saying that they were busy killing each other (e.g. PA vs. Hamas) and with leaders plundering the billions that Western nations gave them to get their act together. Before the outbreak of the second Intifada, the Palestinian economy was in the top ten expanding economies in the world. They gave up progress for the ill-conceived and hateful promise of some of their leaders to hold out for everything, and refuse a just peace
According to international law and UN General Assembly Resolution 194, Palestinian refugees who desired to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors had the right to do so.
This is hardly a possibility, given that the invading armies of ’48 are still in a declared state of war with Israel, except for Egypt and Jordan which made peace decades later. Can you live at peace when you don’t recognize the government? Hamas has said they will never recognize Israel, and encourages suicide bombing as the highest life form. The moderate PA as late as Spring 2009 said it won’t recognize a “Jewish” State.
The legality of continuing the occupation is disputed under international law. It is not open and shut. It is largely irrelevant. The vast majority of Israelis want to end it, and are prepared to usher in a Palestinian state, providing there is someone to speak to who is not sworn to annihilate them.
UN General Assembly resolutions are non-binding.
There is no free movement of goods or people in and out of the West Bank or Gaza
…because when there was, they brought in a lot of suicide bombers. Remember the videos of Arabs using ambulances to smuggle guns? The restriction on movement in Gaza is just as much the doing of the Egyptians as the Israelis.
There used to be free movement. And lots of people – Christians, Muslims, Jews, were blown up. Hundreds a year. A Muslim journalist I know sings the praises of the security fence. He lives in Ramallah, but brings his family to Jerusalem to shop. As he says, “Do I want to risk my family being blown up when I go to the mall?” A student of mine, seven months pregnant, was blown up in a pizza shop in Jerusalem by one of those nice folks when free access reigned. Come up with an alternative that is less intrusive to Arab life but still protects security, and Israel will jump at it. But if the choice is Arab access and the lives of Israelis, the question is a no-brainer. There is something very final about death.
Freedom of access is a good sound-bite, but no longer a fact of life. Do Americans enjoy unrestricted freedom at an airport, or are we forced to do some strange things because of the reality of terrorism.
The Israeli government has constructed a system of roadways to ensure relatively safe access in and out of areas for Israeli settlers
…because before those roads, drivers were routinely ambushed and massacred. 85% of “settlers” live on two salients of land immediately adjacent to the old border. PM Barak offered to give the Palestinians an equivalent amount of land elsewhere – and get rid of all the rest of the settlers, their settlements, their roads, and their fences. Arafat turned it down.
The Wall ought to follow the 1967 border
…and allow everyone on the other side to have their throats slit. When peace is reached, the fence (it is a wall in only a tiny fraction of its distance) will come down. Ask yourself who you think is holding back on that peace. And why are the ’67 borders more natural or better than any other conceivable borders? The Arab nations never recognized the ’48 borders!
A land inhabited by thousands of people for thousands of years was taken by force by other people
Finally, we agree! Yes, the land was inhabited by Jews for thousands of years before the Roman conquest (which eventually gave way to the Arab one.) Oh, she didn’t mean that? Then what could she mean? The modern Israel was not created by force, but by purchase and upbuilding. It was resisted by force
The promise of land was first made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3…This promise fails to mention the land…
Right. That had to wait for Genesis 17:8 “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourns – the whole of the land of Canaan – as an everlasting possession.” I guess someone missed Sunday school for that lesson.
The covenant has no conditions attached, apart from the sign of the circumcision. And it significantly includes non-Abrahamic descendents, namely the slaves and their offspring.
The commandment to circumcise does mention non-Abrahamic descendents. Not the promise of the land. Ask the Muslims. They see the promise as restricted to the descendents of Abraham, to the exclusion of apes and pigs like Jews and Christians. They just insert Ishmael in place of Isaac. (The Bible that we share explicitly states that Isaac will be Abraham’s heir, in contradistinction to Ishmael. Muslims claim we all altered the texts to make the Koran look bad.)
Exactly what land, or whether the people of Israel must have dominion over it…simply are not addressed in indisputable terms.
Actually, the Bible is pretty explicit that the Jews can – and were! – exiled from the Land because of sins. It is just as explicit that they will return, in a Messianic age. This is all irrelevant. The State was not built by Messianists, and the right of Jews to stay in a land they returned to peacefully and built up in modern times should be apparent even to those who reject the Bible. The connection between the Land and the Jewish people can be traced to the Bible, but the modern State was created like dozens of other states – by recognition in the world community. Joshua is not going to make the case or break the case.