There is a dark joke in rabbinic circles called Death by Israel Sermon. The meaning is that the topic of Israel is so important and so fraught that any sermon you give could be the end of your career. I have found this to be sadly true. And so, we often avoid this most pressing topic.
We are in the season now which commemorates the historical nodes which gave rise to the “situation.” Israelis and Palestinians celebrate their respective achievements and martyrs. They and we memorialize our respective tragedies. If not now, when will we think together about the situation. If not now, when?
All Jews want peace. All Jews want fairness. All Jews want safety. And we all know that these three things are interrelated. What we disagree about – among each other – is how to get there. Palestinians want the same things. The definition of peace, fairness and safety – taken from the Palestinian point of view – brings in additional nuances and prerogatives.
Cessation of violence is one way to aim for peace, but this is called a cease-fire and it is not a lasting peace based on fairness and safety. Shalom, peace in Hebrew, has the sub meanings of wholeness and recompense. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a peace which is whole, inclusive of the basic human needs and perspectives of the Palestinian community and the Israeli community.
Both “sides” have a peace camp, centrists and hard-right nationalists. The Israeli and Palestinian peace camps have much in common with each other – and both are profoundly distrusted by their relative hard-liners. Bi-national groups include bereaved families, former combatants and small pockets of political leaders, activists, and educators.
Both sides have centrists – folks who might come to terms if things ever quieted down. These people are rational; they want to go to work and raise their kids. They want the opportunities that a peaceful society can offer. Both sides want to be affirmed in their rightful belonging in the country. Israelis want safety – which can only come from the Palestinian side. Palestinians want equity and dignity – which can only come from the Israeli side.
And then the hardliners. Many in both hardliner camps hold racists and hateful stereotypes – making inhuman boogey men of the “other.” The hardliners in both camps are sure that their group is the victim and there is no working with the other side. Often their intransigent views and actions provoke the very response they fear from the “other side.” When the centrists and peace camps make a little progress, you can count on a hardliner from one side or another to blow up a bus or shoot a prime minister – to prove their point that peace is impossible.
Jews, by and large, are not privy to the hopes and conversations going on in Palestinian homes. And similarly, Palestinians, outside of the peace camps, are not aware of the divergent points of views among Jews. One insane example of this is the experience of a family I met living in the West Bank. One group of Israelis came in and demolished their home. And another group of Israelis came in the aftermath to rebuild it. At this point the disunity within the respective communities is as damning as the intransigence of the hardliners. I know that many of you experience this in your own homes, where talk of Israel is simply not allowed as the conversation inevitably leads to a crummy seder. How sad that we cannot benefit from the rich perspectives of our own community. We all want peace, fairness and safety.
Add to this tension is the persistent and ugly threat of antisemitism at home and abroad. Some of my leftist friends are slow to recognize this undercurrent, but in the age of Trumpism (may his name be erased) we cannot be unaware. It is here and it is near.
Fear is a powerful motivator; it can be more powerful than hope. Fear, organically, leads us to black-white thinking. When you are running from a tiger, it is not the time to consider that the tiger has a legitimate need for a meal.
I do not have a solution. And in spite of the Israeli national anthem, HaTikvah, I do not have an abundance of hope. My position is simple: I refuse to demonize any party to the conflict. I will not succumb to racism or dehumanization. Each of us is working in our best lights to the actions which make the most sense to us. Peace means wholeness. Any lasting solution must include the legitimate needs of all. Pray for peace.