Celebrate the Cease Fire--and, unfortunately recognize that peace is not yet at hand

Celebrate the Cease Fire--and, unfortunately recognize that peace is not yet at hand

This is a moment for celebration!!! The level of killings of Israeli and Palestinian civilians is going to be dramatically reduced as the 2nd Intifada ends with the agreement between Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas (even though Hamas has rejected the cease fire and will certainly try to pull off dramatic terror attacks designed to destroy the cease fire). The level of oppression of Palestinians in daily life will decrease if, as promised yesterday, Israel reduces the number of checkpoints with humilliating body searches through which Palestinians must pass as they go from one West Bank city to another. And negotiations to regenerate steps to implement the Road Map will begin when Sharon and Abbas meet with Bush in the Spring.

On a personal level, I can't tell you how much of a relief this is for me. Every single week for the past four years I've received a. personal death threats from right wing Jews saying that my support for an end to the Occupation shows that I am a self-hating Jew, that they know where I live, and that they will find ways to deal with me the way they should have dealt with Hitler (or some other enemy of the Jewish people) b. pleas from West Bank Palestinians detailing some outrageous incident or other in which a member of their family, a neighbor, a friend has been shot by IDF troops, imprisoned without trial, beaten by a settler, had olive trees uprooted by a settler of by IDF troops, had their house shot-up by settlers of troops, been harrassed in some other way, had their homes threatened with or actually bulldozed by the special Caterpillar tractors built for this purpose by the U.S. firm, or some other poignant story and they are asking me to please do something (as though I had the power to change American policy and could get our government or our media to be responsive to their plight), or c. letters from Israeli friends telling me of their fears both of the growing right-wing movement in Israel that has portrayed Ariel Sharon as a left-wing traitor or of taking public transportation or being in a public space lest some suicide bomber from Palestine try to accelerate tensions by killing Israelis. So can you blame me for being joyful at this moment with the possibility that some of this craziness and mutual hurtfulness will soon end?

This is a a great moment for all of us who support both Israle and Palestine!!!! Lets rejoice in it!!!! And lets also now challenge the right-wing voices in the U.S. to stop their demeaning of Palestinians and start embracing the possibilities of peace. We should do everything possible to push forward this energy toward peace--by affirming it, celebrating it, and asking our media and public officials to back it by a decisive shift in the way that they deal with the Palestinian people! Lets start by demanding an end to teaching of hatred or demeaning of Palestinians in the Jewish weekly newspapers and in those synagogues that have identified the Palestinian people with Amalek, the Biblical enemy of the Jewish people who some Jews believe it their religious duty to wipe out. Similarly, we should confront those rejectionists in the Palestinain and Arab communities in the US who have systematically demeaned Israel--and demand that their discourse change. And we should confront the leadership of the anti-war movement and insist again, as we've done frequently in the past, that they stop their demeaning of Israel.

The Bush Administration is right to embrace the current developments toward a cease fire and reduction of tensions. The decision by Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas to use Palestinian police to enforce the unilateral cease-fire he declared upon taking office has had a spiraling positive impact on the Israeli public, and allowed Ariel Sharon's government to promise to take corresponding confidence-building measures: an end to non-judicial executions by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of Palestinians accused of being "militants," release of some 900 Palestinian prisoners from among the over ten thousand currently being held (mostly without trials) in Israeli prisons and detention facilities, and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian towns to the perimeters surrounding the towns. Those of us who have powerful criticisms of Bush's systematic assault on the poor of this country, assault on the physical environment of the globe, and destructive and murderous war in Iraq should nevertheless be able to acknowledge that at this particular moment the Bush Administration is playing a constructive role in the Middle East.

The new climate will make it easier for Ariel Sharon to build support for his plan to withdraw settlers from Gaza and from those tiny hilltop West Bank settlements set up without Israeli governmental approval in the past four years. With settlers organizing to combat the IDF forces that might implement a Gaza withdrawal, the Sharon-dominated government will certainly benefit from this new climate of hopefulness.

Unfortunately, I have to also mention that our deeper analysis of the Middle East should not be lost in this moment of celebration. One can both celebrate the good that is happening, rejoice in the reduction of violence and oppression that is likely, and yet also keep in mind the larger picture: the Occupation continues. I'm particularly mindful of not wanting to see a repeat of what happened after the Oslo Accord in 1993 when the euphoria of hopefulness was not matched by serious efforts by either Israel or the Palestinians to build the spiritual and psychological foundation among their own people for a change in the fundamentals of the struggle: the ending of the Occupation and the recognition of the humanity of the other and a recognition on each side of their own culpability and need for atonement. Without that, provocative acts by those who wished to derail the process (Hamas and other Islamic fundamentalists, on the one side, and expansionist Jewish settlers on the other side) were interpreted as "proof" that the talk of peace was all phony, and eventually led to widespread disillusionment (particularly when Israel increased by 150,000 the number of settlers living in the West Bank when the Oslo Accord had anticipated Israel withdrawing from the West Bank). In that climate, even those relatively hopeful (though wildly inadequate) elements of Prime Minister Barak's Camp David offer to the Palestinians were dismissed rather than built upon by the Palestinians, and then Ariel Sharon's incendiary visit to the Temple Mount accomapnied by 1000 Israeli police sparked an outbreak of violent resistance which in turn was met with heightened repression from Israel, and then the 2nd Intifada commenced--with the past four years of violence. We don't want to raise hopes that get dashed and lead to new levels of despair and new cycles of violence.

So, yes, any reductions in tensions is worthy of congratulations. The cease fire and the lessening of pressure on the lives of Palestinians will certainly be welcomed by both sides. If Israel takes the further steps of removing the obnoxious checkpoints that obstructs travel between West Bank Palestinian cities, freezes construction of its "Security Wall" in the West Bank, and allows Palestinians to return to some form of normalcy in their lives, the result will certainly contribute to a new climate of compromise. Lets celebrate, but lets keep in mind the larger picture. This is a cease fire, not an end to the conflict, not yet.

When Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice called for both sides to take "difficult steps" to make the hard compromises necessary to move the Road Map forward, she was actually talking only about the current steps leading to a short-term end to violence, and not to the really difficult decisions that face Israel.

From the standpoint of the Israeli government, returning to the situation that existed before the Second Intifada broke out in 2000 would be ideal. Israel would continue to have its 300,000 settlers living in the West Bank with roads cris- crossing the entire region and the Israeli army deployed close to Palestinian towns. Israel is even wiling to consider linking the major Palestinian cities with thin strips of land, and then calling that "a Palestinian state" on what would be approximately 12% of pre-1948 Palestine. To have the Palestinian Authority acting as the policemen to enforce this status quo and block those who would engage in violence against it would be a dream-come-true for those Israelis who never intended to give up control over most of the West Bank.

The Palestinian people thought they were getting something far more generous when they agreed to the Israeli proposal of "Land for Peace" in the 1993 Oslo Accord. They were assured by negotiator Yossi Beilin that if they agreed to accept and live in peace with the Israeli state occupying 78% of pre-1948 Palestine, that Palestinians would then have a state of their own on the remaining 22% of land, encompassing all of the West Bank and Gaza. That agreement was refined by the Geneva Accord of 2003 which helped specify terms, including Israel giving part of its land near Gaza to Palestine in exchange for its ability to hold onto an equivalent amount of West Bank land so that some of the West Bank settlements could remain in place, and including a generous plan for compensation to Palestinians for their refugee status these past 57 years.

It is unlikely that any Palestinian government could settle for less. Yet Ariel Sharon's government has no intention of allowing a politically and economically viable Palestinian state to emerge that would require dismantling the major West Bank settlements created by Israel over the course of the past 38 years. For Sharon, withdrawal of the less than 10,000 settlers from Gaza and from "the illegal settlements" on the hilltops in the West Bank constitute "the painful sacrifices" he contemplates, not eliminating the settlers in Hebron who with the help of the Israeli army terrorize the 100,000 Arabs who live there, not the withdrawal of settlers from Kiryat Arba and Ariel and other major West Bank settlements.

We should welcome the current diplomatic moves and hope that they create a climate of trust that will allow both sides to talk more seriously about the longterm plans for a solution. But we should not let either Ariel Sharon or Condaleeza Rice focus all their attention on how to make the Israeli Occupation less onerous and less violent, when the issue remains: how to fully end the Occupation in ways that will be safe for Israel and responsive to the fundamental rights and needs of the Palesitnian people.

For us in the Tikkun Community, this is a moment that should be joyfully embraced. Please take a moment to write a letter to your local newspaper making some of these points. And to your Congressperson and Senators. And to Condaleeza Rice! If you live in a town with a Jewish newspaper, write to them as well. Ask them to embrace this moment as one that could switch the dynamics in the Middle East, and to focus on the fuller need to create a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel, including the elements that are defined in Tikkun's resolution for Middle East Peace and in more detail in the Geneva Accord.

This is also a moment to challenge some of our allies in the Israeli peace movement and in some peace-oriented American Jewish organizations who have felt that it was too difficult while the killing was going on to try to develop a discourse of generosity and caring for the Other in the Jewish or Israeli community. That killing is stopping--and so those Jewish peace groups that were afraid to talk about the suffering of the Palestinian people and to make that part of their public discourse in the Jewish community should use this moment to start that discourse. It's time to stop the opportunistic use of the "demographic argument" (we've got to end the Occupation because otherwise those Arabs will multiply too quickly and outnumber us and then ask for 'one person one vote' and we will lose the Jewishness of our state) and start affirming the humanity and equal rights of the Palestinian people. That is what we in The Tikkun Community will do, and we should be inviting those in the rest of the peace movement to join us in that, just as we will be asking those in the Palestinian world to end their demeaning discourse against Israelis!!!

For those religious Jews reading this letter, I invite you to use today and tomorrow as days of official religious celebration and to say the Hallel prayers (psalms 113-118) not only with the normal intention of celebrating this coming Jewish month of joy (Adar) but also by adding the intentionality of rejoicing in the possibility that this moment could lead to lasting peace. For Catholics and other Christians entering Lent, I urge you to dedicate some of this period to taking some of the concrete steps urged in this letter, plus to pray that the peace energies will spiral in good ways. And for all people of faith to pray for a deepening and broadening of peace energies.

Warm regards and blessings of peace--Shalom Aleychem, Salaam Aleykum, for us, for Israel, for Palestine, for the Iraqi people, for all peoples,
Rabbi Michael Lerner

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