Isabel Kershner has long been a prolific writer about Israel and its enduring conflict with Palestinians. In Barrier: The Seam of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2005), she explored the security wall built by Israel to protect its people from an unrelenting wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks. Two years later, she began reporting from Jerusalem for The New York Times.
Over time, she became fascinated with “Israel’s battle for its inner soul,” the subtitle of her recently published The Land of Hope and Fear. In her prologue, she describes Israel as “a modern miracle, a regional superpower, and a prosperous and innovative country projecting might to the world.” But her praise recedes as she perceives the entanglement of Israelis in “identity conflicts and culture wars” that threaten to “trample the rule of law and its future as a Jewish liberal democracy.”
In 1967, following Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War, its “long-occupied territories” (known from antiquity as biblical Judea and Samaria), were newly settled by “messianic zealots” who, for Kershner, are at “the core of the problem.” This “group of fanatics” was “determined to push into the heavily Arab-populated biblical heartland of the West Bank.” Once the right-wing Likud government came to power in 1977, settlement homes “sprang up like mushrooms,” which was clearly distasteful to Kershner.
The “obvious hostility of the Palestinians toward their occupiers,” she writes, ignores the historic reality that it was Arabs who for many centuries had occupied the ancient Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria. Although Kershner recognizes that “Jewish communities, however small, had maintained a constant presence in the Holy Land since the days of antiquity,” she nonetheless refers to Israel’s “corrosive occupation” of its own homeland. Following the Six-Day War in June 1967, Jewish settlers—beneficiaries of “complex and shadowy transactions”—had returned “in the dark of night” to regain their former homes as though it was a forbidden intrusion.
After a Palestinian stabbed 12 Israelis in Tel Aviv, Kershner wrote about the pious terrorist, his mother and family, and their sparsely furnished apartment. Nothing was written about the Jewish victims, their families or their homes. Following a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks, Kershner failed to distinguish between assailants and victims. Instead, she noted that “intensifying violence has claimed lives on both sides.” After an Israeli woman settler was fatally stabbed in the presence of three of her children, dominating Israeli news, Kershner—who did not report her gruesome murder—merely noted that “much of the world considers the settlements illegal and an obstacle to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”
Kershner follows in the ideological footsteps of her Times’ predecessors. Once there was a Jewish state, a stream of Times Jerusalem bureau chiefs and columnists became Israel’s critics. Thomas Friedman led the way. A relentless critic of Israel for ignoring the plight of Palestinians, he blamed it for its “colonial Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” (biblical Judea and Samaria). Identifying Israelis with Southern racists, he equated a violent Palestinian uprising that targeted Israeli civilians with the American civil-rights struggle. Comparing Israel to South Africa, he warned that unless it halted settlement construction, it would become an “apartheid-like state.” As the self-appointed chronicler of Israel’s failings, he absurdly claimed to be helping it to preserve its moral integrity.
Columnist Anthony Lewis, a hectoring critic of Israel, wrote that “occupation requires repression,” insuring “the corruption of its own democratic ethic.” Infuriated with Jewish settlements by “Jewish zealots,” he identified “chilling similarities” with South African apartheid. Roger Cohen recommended American “hammering” on Israeli for its occupation, which made it “impossible for Israel to be a democratic and Jewish state.” For Nicholas Kristof, settlements were “Israeli colonies,” and settlers were “suffocating, impoverishing and antagonizing” Palestinians.
For Isabel Kershner, “Israel’s battle for its inner soul” is doomed to failure for as long as it “occupies” its biblical homeland. To the contrary. Israel’s soul is preserved for as long as it retains biblical Judea and Samaria.