I am a student again. Recently, I decided to embark on a post-graduate degree. When considering my options, I attended an information evening at the university to hear about the course I was considering. When asked questions about the difference between this course and similar ones at other universities, the speaker responded with a message that still remains with me: “Whether you choose to do the course with us or elsewhere is your choice, but whatever you decide, do keep studying!” This reflects the ethos of any good academic institution – that learning is essential for human growth, and you are never too old to learn. For me, it reinforced my decision to return to formal study at a relatively advanced age.
Last Thursday in Jerusalem, eight students, aged 15 to 26, were gunned down by a terrorist as they were sitting down for dinner. They studied at Mercaz Harav, a religious seminary founded in 1924. It is a highly regarded institution, where students dedicate themselves to advanced study of classical Jewish texts such as the Talmud.
Just a week earlier, a man from the town of Sderot was killed as a result of a rocket that was launched from Gaza. The rocket landed in the parking lot of college campus, and he was struck in the chest by shrapnel. Sderot, a town of some 20,000 residents, has been terrorized by the continued fire of thousands of rockets that has continued unabated since the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
These two fatal attacks that deliberately targetted civilians brought home to me the fundamental difference between the two sides in this war: It all comes down to the issue of education.
Israeli and Jewish society rewards and prides itself on academic excellence. No matter what end of the political spectrum students come from, whether they are attending universities or religious seminaries (or a combination of the two), the principle is the same: they are there in search of knowledge. Perhaps to open up career opportunities, to make a better life for themselves, or perhaps just for its own sake as academics.
In addition to whatever subject matter you choose to pursue, some fundamental values are taught either explicitly or implictly at any college or university: respect for fellow students and the diversity of their opinions, the ability to debate and reach consensus, and the value of knowledge.
These values are what help create the vibrant democracy that exists in Israel today. A place where diversity is accepted, and where open debate takes place. A Jewish state where Arabs are citizens and have representation in parliament. A place where advocates for Palestinian rights have a voice. A place where an independent judiciary openly deals with the failings of government or military.
Contrast this with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Their children are brought up on a steady diet of pure hatred for Jews. Western motifs like Mickey Mouse are used to teach children the wonders of jihad. When terrorist are “successful” in killing civilians, people rush to the streets to celebrate and hand out sweets to children.
The only open debate that is carried out between political rivals Hamas and Fatah on the most effective way to destroy the Jewish state and replace it with a Palestinian state, or how to misappropriate the billions of dollars that have been sent to them by the UN, the EU, and anyone else who thinks they can help. And the preferred medium for this debate is with gunfire.
The Jews are known as the People of the Book, a badge worn with pride. Palestinians should be known as the People of the Gun, and many would unfortunately be equally proud of such a title.
What this means is that peace will not come from cease-fire agreements (promises are never kept), redrawn boundaries (no boundaries are good enough), relocation of refugees (almost anyone qualifies as a refugee), or monetary compensation (billions have already been embezzled, used for weapons, or simply squandered). These are a waste of time because the culture of hate is so embedded in the Palestinians, that they do not have the tools to create a state, only the skills to (try to) destroy someone else’s.
To transform them from a basket case welfare state who revel in victimhood, you must start by ending the teaching of hate and reforming the culture that celebrates death. After two or three generations, this might have a chance of being “bred out”, and then maybe, just maybe, you are left with a group of people who could be deemed “partners for peace”.
If you are a student, take just a minute before your next class to think about your fellow students, murdered at their campus. Think about the liberties you enjoy in your own campus, the freedom of speech, the diversity of cultures. The Book or the Gun? You choose.