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Martin Van Creveld: Give Up West Bank or ‘Tell Your Children to Leave Israel’
Richard Silverstein
Tikun Olam

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Hebrew University Professor Martin Van Creveld is one of the world’s foremost military historians. He’s what I’d call a non-ideological, highly pragmatic observer of the Israel-Arab conflict. Because of his academic expertise and reputation as an independent, I feature his work here his as a breath of fresh air compared to the tendentious commentary one reads about the conflict in the Israeli and world media.

Van Creveld’s just published a new op ed in The Forward propounding the non-earth-shattering idea that maintaining Israel’s hold on the West Bank serves no military or strategic role in protecting Israel’s security. That’s nothing new. But I think this passage is important for as many to read as possible. Not just does he use the ‘A’ word explicitly, he also suggests the possibility (already happening in some circles) that young Israelis will be forced to leave their increasingly unstable, self-destructive homeland in the event the Occupation doesn’t end:

…Provided that Israel maintains its military strength…it is crystal-clear that Israel can easily afford to give up the West Bank. Strategically speaking, the risk of doing so is negligible. What is not negligible is the demographic, social, cultural and political challenge that ruling over 2.5 million — nobody knows exactly how many — occupied Palestinians in the West Bank poses. Should Israeli rule over them continue, then the country will definitely turn into what it is already fast becoming: namely, an apartheid state that can only maintain its control by means of repressive secret police actions.

To save itself from such a fate, Israel should rid itself of the West Bank, most of Arab Jerusalem specifically included. If possible, it should do so by agreement with the Palestinian Authority; if not, then it should proceed unilaterally, as the — in my view, very successful — withdrawal from Gaza suggests. Or else I would strongly advise my children and grandson to seek some other, less purblind and less stiff-necked, country to live in.

We can say these things till the cows come home and the Israeli right and even middle (including their Diaspora supporters) can dismiss it with their usual derogatory terms. But as a patriotic Israeli and loyal Zionist, not to mention expert in military doctrine, Van Creveld’s stark terms here are noteworthy. People like him don’t usually speak of such dire consequences for Israel, as they like to retain as much hope as possible. To do otherwise, would mean betraying their dreams and those of their family and ancestors who brought them to Israel.

Now, there are a considerable number of Israelis who believe that THEIR Israel might be better off without the Van Crevelds of the Jewish world, the whiny, secular eggheads. In the view of the Israeli far-right, currently in power, an Israel without as many of these types would be better. Then Israel could get on unmolested in its campaign to create a proud religious-nationalist nation ruled by Torah-true Judaism. But such an Israel would be a cramped, narrow perversion of the Israel I’ve always envisioned. In fact, since Bibi & Friends are so prone to using misbegotten slogans like Hamastan, perhaps we’ll call this versiion of Israel, Judeastan; because it will have more in common with the Islamist extremists of the Taliban, Iran, and Osama bin Laden than it will with the democratic Jewish (Zionist) vision of Ahad HaAm or Martin Buber.

Let’s be clear that Van Creveld is less interested in questions of morality or justice so you won’t read much of that in this analysis. For example, he argues for the Separation Wall, while I don’t. But those on the other side of this argument are most concerned about issues of security and preserving the Zionist dream. These are entirely pragmatic, non-moral considerations, which is why it’s helpful to have a figure like Van Creveld speaking their language.


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