Israel’s castle

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Well the obvious is reported in today’s New York Times a– Israel has taken up a “castle” strategy.  Why? Because the Middle East is “boiling.”

The Times also reports another obvious strategic consideration of the castle mentality: Israel prefers strong leaders in the Middle East, especially if they’re dictators, to the unknown possibilities of crumbling states.

The Times quotes Yaakov Amidror, who recently stepped down as Israel’s national security adviser:

What we have to understand is everything is going to be changed — to what, I don’t know. But we will have to be very, very cautious not to take part in this struggle. What we see now is a collapsing of a historical system, the idea of the national Arabic state. It means that we will be encircled by an area which will be no man’s land at the end of the day.

So goes Israel’s longstanding “bad neighborhood” argument. It’s always a desert jungle out there.

On the Palestinian issue–well, you know what to expect. In such a boiling, chaotic region, why pursue peace with Palestinians? The chaos is dangerous and ultimately in Israel’s favor. Why let Israel’s security guard down when the moats are dug, the Wall is high and the lead in military technology is secure.

What the Times doesn’t emphasize is what this means for Palestinians. Another decade of wait and see.

Like September 11th, the failed Arab Spring has fallen into Israel’s lap. Gift wrapped.

Not to leave out reports that Egypt’s mission seems to have moved from boxing Gaza’s Hamas government in to finishing it off. In this project expect a huge assist from Israel and, as important, a bright green light from the United States.

The about-to-be-convened Syrian peace talks in Geneva? The best one can hope for is stalemate. This means the tremendous suffering of the Syrian people will continue. Notwithstanding the outcry of the United Nations, no one seems to care about that suffering, at least enough to do something about it.

The image of Israel as a castle may work better than Israel’s other image – as a modern, nuclearized ghetto. Both castle and ghetto imagery, though, have negative resonance in Jewish history.

Even when empowered, castles and ghettos are on edge. They’re destined to pass into history as failed strategies. Nor do they conjure up prospects of a future of mutuality and flourishing.

But this may be the only way for Israel to see itself – as fortified, closed in and surrounded by a no man’s land. Despite the predictions by those who oppose Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, so far Israel’s strategy has worked.

So much for the debate as to whether Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state at the same time. Israel’s castle can’t afford such a luxury.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and

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