October 12, 2000
This is a tough time for people who believe in Middle East peace. You might as well believe in the Tooth Fairy, or a flat earth. From L.A. to Tel Aviv, the mood among moderates has become grim. When a Woodland Hills rabbi asked congregants during his Yom Kippur sermon to say a prayer for slain and injured Palestinians, many congregants got up and walked out, while others hissed.
Even if the gunfire and stone throwing subsides, as it seemed to have by midweek, something greater than the peace process has been ravaged: trust. "Where is our peace partner?" implored Rabbi Perry Netter during a Yom Kippur sermon at Temple Beth Am that brought him close to tears. This time, Palestinian police turned their guns against their Israeli patrol partners. This time, Israeli Arabs joined in stoning Israeli Jews. This time, Palestinians who vowed to protect all holy sites trampled the sacred texts at Joseph's Tomb and took sledgehammers to its exterior. (Scholars say Joseph's Tomb is actually the grave of a Muslim caliph. Can't the Palestinians at least protect their own holy sites?)
Arab Israelis riot in Nazereth, inside the Green Line, while Jewish Israelis counterattack near Tel Aviv. It's all very Serbo-Croatian, and it sends shudders through our collective soul.
Until now, Los Angeles Jewry had stood behind the peace-making efforts of Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. To us, the Oslo Accords represented everything that was right about Israel: a strong, enlightened democracy extending a hand to its enemies, confident that peace would make Israel even stronger. But now, with that trust broken, those willing to compromise might well be a minority. In Israel, the prospects are, of course, more frightening. Democracy must always struggle for its own existence: a state under siege by its own minority might well be led to legislate against it. An Israel that passes laws against its Arab minority or against other internal political opposition will pose a horrific choice to Jews whose support for a Jewish state hinges on its being a democratic one as well.
No doubt, those who have long opposed the peace process and territorial compromise are just as stricken by the news reports. But they are also alight with the glow of self-righteousness. They told us the Arabs really hate us. They told us we couldn't trust Arafat. They told us Palestinian children have been suckled on anti-Semitism. They told us so.
But a few facts bear remembering: Opponents of compromise have never proffered a long-term solution to the Palestinian problem that doesn't require Israel to become a non-democratic state at perpetual war with its neighbors. The peace process has come further in the past seven years than any rational person would have dreamt a decade ago. It is in no one's long-term interest to abandon it, and that is why Arafat and Barak will hear out a revolving door of diplomats and leaders. On Tuesday's "Nightline," lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh agreed: they must get back to the table.
Finally, not all Arabs are to blame, and not all Jews are innocent. Israeli police had to keep Jewish mobs from killing Arab citizens of Israel. Israeli leaders have already called for an investigation of the riot-suppression tactics used by at least one army commander. One of the innocent victims of this week's clashes, Asel Asleh, for three years attended Seeds of Peace , a U.S.-based camp designed to build tolerance between Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish teenagers. Another wounded man, the father who was protecting his son in the now-famous photograph, said from his hospital bed that peace and coexistence is still the only answer (p. 40). This, after an Israeli bullet killed his 12-year-old son.
Yes, the death tolls and the firepower have been stupendously lopsided. That's a rare fact in the span of Jewish history, and it should remind us of an essential truth behind the peace Rabin and Barak sought: Israel's existence is not threatened by the Palestinians. Israel is still strong enough to make peace. That hasn't changed.
So now what? Our bottom line must be to support for Israel during this time. Three rallies will be held, on Thursday, Sunday and Monday (see page 10) at which you can show your support. Also: Keep informed. A sidelight in this whole crisis has been the media's coverage, which has ranged from anti-Israel to outright fatuous (local television news) to courageous and insightful ("Nightline"). The Journal's Web site, www.jewishjournal.com, has a button that links immediately to a wide variety of sources for breaking Mideast news. I suspect there will be plenty of it.