Can they live together?
We have a young language instructor at Shalem College in Jerusalem, where I work. She's a religious Muslim who wears a hijab, lives in one of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and is a graduate student at Hebrew University. She's fun and warm, and a great teacher — the students like her a lot.
Late last spring, when things here were quiet, some of the students mentioned to the department chair that as much as they'd spoken with her over the past couple of years, they'd never discussed politics. They were curious what someone like her thought about the conflict in this region, especially now that she was teaching at an unabashedly Zionist college, had come to know so many Jewish students and had developed such warm relationships with them. How does someone like her see things here? How did she think we would one day be able to settle this conflict?
"So ask her," the department chair said. "As long as you speak to her in Arabic (she's on staff to help our students master the language), you can talk about anything you want."
They did. They told her that since they'd never discussed the "situation" (as we metaphorically call it here in Israel), they were curious how she thought we might someday resolve it.
As Mideast Tensions Rise, Israel Erects Barrier
"It's our land," she responded rather matter-of-factly. Stunned, they weren't sure that they'd heard her correctly. So they waited. But that was all she had to say. "It's our land. You're just here for now."
What upset those students more than anything was not that a Palestinian might believe that the Jews are simply the latest wave of Crusaders in this region, and that we, like the Crusaders of old, will one day be forced out. We all know that there are many Palestinians who believe that.
What upset them was that she — an educated woman, getting a graduate degree (which would never happen in a Muslim country) at a world class university (only Israel has those — none of Israel's neighbors has a single highly rated university) and working at a college filled with Jews who admire her, like her and treat her as they would any other colleague — still believes that when it's all over, the situation will get resolved by our being tossed out of here once again.
Even she , who lives a life filled with opportunities that she would never have in an Arab country, still thinks at the end of the day the Jews are nothing but colonialists. And colonialists, she believes, don't last here. The British got rid of the Ottomans, the Jews got rid of the British — and one day, she believes, the Arabs will get rid of the Jews.
That is one of the many reasons that this recent wave of violence, consisting mostly of deadly stabbings carried out by Israeli Arabs (not Palestinians living over the Green Line) and Arab residents of east Jerusalem, has Israelis so unsettled.
Yes, the reality on the ground is frightening. People are being stabbed on the street, on buses, in malls. Those being attacked are elderly men and women and young boys on their bicycles. No one is immune, and unlike the last Intifada, when suicide bombers sought high casualty counts so you felt safe away from crowds, now nowhere feels definitely safe.
But even that is not the most debilitating dimension of this new round of attacks on Jews. What's most sobering is the fact that this new round of violence has made it clear, once again, that this conflict is simply never going to end.
What Israelis are coming to understand by virtue of the fact that the attackers are not Palestinians living in refugee camps but Israeli Arabs — who have access to Israeli health care, Israeli education, Israel's free press and right of assembly, protection for gays and lesbians and much more — is that this latest round of violence is simply the newest battle in the War of Independence that Israel has been fighting for 68 years now.
The war began even before Israel was a state — Arabs attacked Israel not when David Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 14, 1948, but when the United Nations General Assembly voted — on November 29, 1947 — to create a Jewish state. When formal independence followed some six months later, the attacking Arab militias were replaced by standing armies of five Arab nations — Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq (which joined the fray even though it did not share a border with Israel).
Over the years, the enemies have shifted (Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but now there are the Palestinians and Iran is both pursuing a weapon of mass destruction and declaring that Israel must be destroyed) and the methods have changed (standing Arab armies have been replaced by terrorism at home and an international campaign to delegitimize Israel in the UN and beyond). But the basic goal of Israel's enemies remains the destruction of the Jewish state.
Increasingly, Israelis (who, polls show, overwhelmingly would like to get out of the West Bank and live peacefully alongside a Palestinian State that would recognize Israel) fear that while for us this is a conflict that can be settled by adjusting borders and guaranteeing security for both sides, for our enemies this is an all-or-nothing battle in which the only end would be for Israel to disappear.
Israel's iconic diplomat, Abba Eban, said in the early 1970s that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." It was, sadly, an apt observation. And it is still true. By joining the violence and responding to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' incitement (Abbas insists that he's not inciting, but that is patently false — if nothing else, his ludicrous claim that Israel is planning to change the status quo on the Temple Mount proved sufficient to inflame an entire region), Israeli Arabs have foolishly put themselves on the wrong side of history.
Rather than take a page from Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps protesting peacefully on behalf of other Palestinians, a violent minority has chosen to show its support for the larger Palestinian cause by attacking innocent Jews. And by and large, Israeli Arab leadership has been silent.
Israeli Jews have taken note — and the consequences are likely to be longstanding. While Israelis are feeling vulnerable, they are also feeling abandoned. When Secretary of State John Kerry said that he would not "point fingers from afar" at who was responsible for the violence, and called the latest attacks part of a "revolving cycle that damages the future for everybody," he convinced Israelis once again that the present American administration has abandoned any ability to distinguish right from wrong, just from unjust, wise from destructive. America is hopelessly irrelevant in the Middle East, which means that Israel is sadly very alone.
When Americans fret in the months and years to come that the peace process is stuck, Israelis hope that they will remember that when the violence broke out again, the world's newspapers ignored it. When Abbas said Israel had murdered a 13-year-old Palestinian attacked and the Israeli press then published a photo showing the boy sitting in an Israeli hospital bed, Abbas did not retract and the world ignored his mendacity.
When the American secretary of state was asked to comment on why the new round of violence erupted, he refused to mention Abbas and said he would not point fingers. When Palestinians incited, Israeli Arabs (20% of Israel's population) who picked up knives convinced many Israelis that they were enemies, not fellow citizens.
Israelis hope that people will remember all that, but we also know better.
Where all this will lead, no one can say. For the time being, though, the future in this region is going to be bleak. Despair and a sense of having been abandoned never bring out the best in anyone, never make them more likely to compromise. When Palestinians express their objections to occupation, to checkpoints, to mistreatment at the hands of Israelis, those protestations will fall on increasingly deaf ears.
Why? Is it because Israelis do not want peace? Is it because we do not understand that our future would be better if Palestinians could have a democratic, functioning state? Is it because we're oblivious to their legitimate complaints?
No. It's simply that we know, with no doubt, that for our enemies, this is a conflict not about borders but about our very right to be here. We know that, overwhelmingly, the Arab world is still committed to driving us out of this land. So we'll stay, and tough it out — whatever the world thinks of the steps we have to take — for as long as it takes. For as Golda Meir put it decades ago with her characteristic wit, "Israelis have a secret weapon — we have nowhere else to go."
Gordis is a senior vice president, Koret distinguished fellow and chair of the core curriculum at Shalem College and the author of "Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul."