Menachem Begin always struck me as a man very much like my grandfather. Both were deeply religious Jews, extremely well-read and intelligent, and immersed in Judaism and Jewish history. And my grandfather would have said something very like Begin said to a BBC reporter:
SO WHEN, on the first day of his premiership in 1977, he was waylaid by a tall, debonair, rakishly good-looking Englishman in a bow tie and a perfectly pitched BBC announcer’s voice, and saucily asked whether he looked forward to a time when the Palestinians would recognize Israel, his jaw tightened in restrained Jewish anger. But honed as he was by years of legal training, he answered with the composed demeanor of a practiced jurist, saying, “Traditionally, there are four major criteria of statehood under international law. One – an effective and independent government. Two – an effective and independent control of the population. Three – a defined territory. And four – the capacity to freely engage in foreign relations. Israel is in possession of all four attributes and, hence, is a fully fledged sovereign state and a fully accredited member of the United Nations.”
“But, surely, you would insist, would you not, that the relevant Palestinian organizations recognize Israel as a sine qua non for negotiations with them?” persisted the fellow.
“Certainly not! Those so-called relevant organizations are gangs of murderers bent on destroying the State of Israel. We will never conduct talks about our own destruction.”
“And were they to recognize Israel’s existence – would you then negotiate with them?” pressed the correspondent.
“Because I don’t need Palestinian recognition for my right to exist.”
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Because here is the rest of what he said, and what he, my grandfather, and I believe:
TWO HOURS later Menachem Begin stood at the podium of the Knesset, presenting his new cabinet. He began by dryly outlining the democratic processes that led to the changing of the guard, from Labor to Likud. And then, in recollection perhaps, of his acerbic exchange with the BBC man, he began talking about Israel’s right to exist.
“Our right to exist – have you ever heard of such a thing?” he declared, passion creeping into his voice. “Would it enter the mind of any Briton or Frenchman, Belgian or Dutchman, Hungarian or Bulgarian, Russian or American, to request for its people recognition of its right to exist?”
“Mr. Speaker: We were granted our right to exist by the God of our fathers at the glimmer of the dawn of human civilization four thousand years ago. Hence, the Jewish people have an historic, eternal and inalienable right to exist in this land, Eretz Yisrael, the land of our forefathers. We need nobody’s recognition in asserting this inalienable right. And for this inalienable right, which has been sanctified in Jewish blood from generation to generation, we have paid a price unexampled in the annals of nations.”
And there was yet another incident. During his first meeting with Jimmy Carter, the final draft of the statement Carter was going to release was given to Begin. He asked Carter to remove any reference to Israel’s right to exist. Carter was surprised, and said that every previous president had affirmed Israel’s right to exist. He asked Begin why he should remove the statement.
“Because our Jewish state needs no American affirmation of our right to exist. Our Hebrew bible established that right millennia ago. Never, throughout the centuries, did we ever abandon or forfeit that right. Therefore, sir, we alone, the Jewish people – no one else – are responsible for our country’s right to exist.”
Eretz Yisrael existed centuries before Mohammed set foot in the desert to invent his religion. Jerusalem existed for more than a millennium before Jesus, a Jew and son of Jews, began studying Torah. The people of Israel have existed for thousands of years, and the state of Israel was always Israel, even when the Romans renamed it “Palestine” and the British used their former conquerors’ name when they ruled it.
I once ended an argument with four friends in college when one of them, exasperated at my unwillingness to agree with the palestinian side of the issue, quoted the words of the PLO observer to the UN, whom we had just heard speak at our school: “How can you argue with someone who uses the Bible as a title deed?”
3,500 years of unbroken Jewish existence in the land of our forefathers should suffice. But it doesn’t, because the world can’t wrap its brain around the Jewish claim to Israel. It can only see the claim of the “palestinians,” many of whom moved there after Jews returned and started making the desert bloom again.
The fact that the leaders of Iran — a terror state — terrorist organizations, and various Muslim and Arab nations refuse to “recognize” Israel’s existence doesn’t make Israel any less real, or their non-recognition any more legitimate.
Israel exists. Arab and Muslim recognition or not will not change that fact.