Four years ago, on July 22, 2001, with the goal of coming together as a unified Jewish community, we stood with 10,000 others on a closed-off section of Wilshire Boulevard for a solidarity Rally in support of the people of Israel. At a time of shattered hopes and violence, Jewish community leaders and supporters of Israel from many religious affiliations and political perspectives gathered in unity with the people of Israel to convey our support and deep concern for the pain, anguish and sense of isolation they were experiencing.
Today, we believe that it is equally important to make clear our support for the Jewish state as its leaders forge ahead with new initiatives for peace. There are new hopes and uncertainties before us. As the government of Israel prepares to take an unprecedented and courageous step in its history by implementing the disengagement plan and to evacuate from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, it is imperative that our Jewish community leadership, and all supporters of Israel, not lose sight of the same unity and support for Israel that was demonstrated four years ago.
The disengagement plan set forth by the government of Israel will evacuate and relocate (with compensation) all Israeli residents living in settlements in the Gaza Strip and from four small communities in the northern West Bank to homes within the pre-1967 borders of Israel. We recognize the pain these 8,000 or so people will experience, and have great compassion for those Israelis who must relocate their homes and disband their communities for the sake of their country.
Most Israelis -- some of whom are experiencing deep anguish related to disengagement, and all of whom are personally affected by the ongoing violent conflict -- recognize that from this disengagement can arise some relief and hope for a peaceful future. We agree with them and join our prayers to theirs for a just and lasting peace.
The Israeli government is taking this step, originally devised as a unilateral measure but now with bilateral and multilateral cooperation, in recognition that the status quo is untenable for Israel's security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state. Disengagement will not necessarily provide a short-term peace dividend, nor should one be expected.
The situation is volatile and may remain so for some time. Much needs to be done by the Palestinian leadership and other stakeholders to better ensure a favorable and lasting outcome.
However, if one were to work backward from the ultimate goal of a two-state solution that would secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with defensible borders and Palestine as a viable and peace-seeking neighbor, this disengagement plan is an obvious and necessary first step in that direction.
As always, our community is unified in our goal for a secure Israel at peace with her neighbors. We are unified in our recognition of the ongoing challenges facing Israelis and their government in its aspirations to fulfill that goal. And we understand that on behalf of her people, the democratically elected Israeli government must determine the direction and take the steps necessary to serve the best interests of the state.
The disengagement plan is the direction the government has decided upon, and we support that decision. We fully understand the potential obstacles ahead, yet also understand the consequences of failure, and realize that it must not be an option.
For those good reasons, we signal our confidence in Israel moving forward with the disengagement plan, and in its ability to do so with positive creativity until success is achieved.
We recognize that while a majority of Israel's supporters in America are aligned with this position, not all are unified. However, the decision to go forward with disengagement has been made and is on the verge of implementation.
As occurred four years ago, we call upon the Jewish community of Southern California and its friends to stand together above and beyond religious affiliation or political perspective to ensure that our message of support for the people of Israel is heard above all.
Rabbi Harvey J. Fields is rabbi emeritus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; David Pine is West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now.
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