Israel: The Masada Paradigm

During my 2012 trip to Israel I visited many historical sites. One site that struck me was Masada (Hebrew for fortress). Masada embodies the spirit of Israel. It is located in the Southeastern part of Israel near the Dead Sea. Masada is both a historical site and symbol of Israel’s current plight.

Israel finds itself a fortress in the Middle East surrounded by those wishing it harm just as Masada was a safe haven and fortress for Sicarii rebels and Jewish families fleeing the Roman invasion and sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Today many Jewish families are fleeing to Israel from places like Ethiopia, the Ukraine and Europe to find security.

Security is paramount to all Israelis.

What many in America and the media do not understand, is how important security is to those living in Israel — including Arab Israelis. Dr. Reuven Hazan, Director of the Political Science Department at Hebrew University, addressed us on the last day of my trip to Israel. Dr. Hazan explained that Israel consists of two camps. Both agree that security is paramount but each approaches the security issue differently. One camp believes that the land taken during the 1967 war is needed to provide a buffer against future attacks. The other believes the land must be returned to gain peace.

Over the short 65-year history of Israel there have been five conservative prime ministers according to Dr. Hazan. The most recent two are Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Many believe that the two camps are separated by an insurmountable chasm on the issue of security. Dr. Hazan says that is not true. In fact one camp has been moving to the other camp’s position that land for peace is a viable national security strategy. He pointed out that former Prime Minister Sharon unilaterally pulled out of Gaza and that current Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly embraced a two state solution.

The question remains: Have these efforts made Israel more secure?

As I write this column the Israeli Knesset has authorized the mobilization of Defense Force battalions to increase security on Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Israel has been struck by over 150 rockets fired from Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai in the past week alone.

Has Israel moved too far to one side at its great peril?

The Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was signed in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 1979, following the 1978 Camp David Accords. The Egypt-Israel treaty was signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and witnessed by President Jimmy Carter. Former Prime Minister Begin was a founder of the conservative Likud Party. He gave up the Sinai Peninsula in a land for peace agreement. Egyptian President Sadat was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood on October 6, 1981. Just 31 years later, the Muslim Brotherhood has, for a short time, controlled both the Egyptian Parliament and the Presidency.

Today peace in the Middle East is more in jeopardy than ever.

Both camps have traded land for peace in one form or another since 1967. Peace remains elusive if not impossible. According to Dr. Hazan, Israel has no one to negotiate a peace treaty with today. The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, is not strong enough to insure an agreement is kept. HAMAS, led by Khaled Meshaal, is strong enough to insure a peace agreement is kept but will not enter into negotiations. HAMAS is the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. The HAMAS charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Therefore the status quo of a nation under siege is the current national security policy of Israel.

Israel is a modern day Masada.