Taking the Guidance of Hillel on Israel and Palestine
Hillel used to say: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If Iam only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
– MishnahAvot 1:14Hillel’s words outline a healthy framework for Zionism.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
These wordscharacterize important elements of Zionism: survival, the right toself-determination within our historic homeland, and rebirth afterthe Holocaust. In Israel today we feel the self-esteem, livingenergy, creativity and dignity that characterize this precious andremarkable country. We've created a safe haven andrediscovered our connection to our roots in ancient Israel.
If I am only for myself, what am I?
It’s not enough to survive in afortress. For Israel to fulfill its aspirations, it needs to express thehumanitarian impulse that sits at the core of Judaism, and givefrom the heart to others. Indeed, Israel has done that for decadesby sharing technological, medical, and organizational expertisewith poor and disadvantaged nations.But there’s another aspect of this part of the Hillel formula. Wecan’t only be for ourselves in our conflict with the Palestinians. Wecan’t erase the legitimacy of the Other, of our neighbors, of theirbasic rights and legitimate aspirations either. That’s why the two-state solution, despite all its detractors on both sides, remains thebest hope for a dignified, secure, and more just future.
And if not now, when?
Hillel’s third plank speaks to the currentmoment. The window for a two-state solution has been closingand may disappear within the next months. Israel’s choice isbetween a future with one state or two. As many Israeli leaders,including Ehud Olmert, are saying, a one-state-solution in whichIsrael annexes the territories will spell the end of the Zionistdream, requiring Israel to become either a state with a voting