Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt Dan Kurtzer is convinced that Middle East peacemaking is 'in Obama’s guts.' His new book aims to show the president how to move forward in “Pathways to Peace – America and the Arab-Israeli Conflict”. (Reviewed by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz)
If you read only one book on the Middle East this year, let this one be it. It has been sent to the Obama Administration and members of Congress.
The only reasonable conclusion to draw after reading this book is that the time is now to enter into final status negotiations between Israel and Palestine and that only strong American pressure will bring this about.
Essays are written by American, Israeli and Palestinian experts. All of them are compelling and enlightening. For me, as part of the pro-Israel pro-peace progressive Zionist community, the essays written by Palestinians are among the most enlightening because the Palestinian narrative is quite different from the Israel narrative.
The book argues effectively that the past cannot be prologue to the future. What is important now is what happens going forward. Playing the blame game for past failures at peace negotiations will doom future talks and a successful two-state solution, which is in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, Europe, and all moderate Arab countries. The alternative to a two-state solution is endless war, bloodshed and despair. What will be lost as well will be the Zionist dream of creating a Jewish democratic state in our national home after 2000 years of exile.
Ambassador Daniel Kurzter has done a significant service in the cause of peace. Kol hakavod to him!
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December 5, 2012 | 8:42 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
We are at a tipping point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The UN Palestinian resolution and Israel’s response are indicative of a sea-change in the Middle East. Time is quickly passing and for those who believe that it is vital for Israel to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians for the sake of her own Jewish democratic character, peace and security, the window of opportunity is quickly closing, as a report shows fairly conclusively just published by “Territorial Jerusalem” headed up by long-time Jerusalem settlements’ expert Daniel Seidemann:
“As the entire world knows, Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided that Israel’s answer to the UN vote will be the construction of thousands of new settlement units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the expediting of the E-1 settlement, which has long been recognized as the “fatal heart attack” of the two-state solution. Indeed, E-1 is not a "routine" settlement. If built, it is a game-changer, maybe a game-ender. E1 is the "binary"settlement. If you support E-1, you cannot possibly be in favor of the two-state solution; if you are in favor of the two-state solution, you must oppose E-1.” (Read the full report here.)
If true (and I believe it is), what can and should we American citizens do to support a renewed peace process?
We should be exerting concerted pressure on President Obama to reengage with Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution, to visit Israel and connect personally with the Israeli population, and to visit Ramallah to connect personally with the Palestinian population.
This should all be done as soon as possible after his inauguration and the Israeli elections scheduled for January 22.
The President needs to appoint a new high level “A Team” led by him and his new Secretary of State to bring a plan with defined parameters addressing all the outstanding issues including borders, security, Jerusalem, water, and refugees, and then work diligently with both sides to achieve a two-state solution within a few months.
Doing so is clearly in both America’s and Israel’s best interests. This unresolved conflict has become a catalyst for radicalism across the Arab and Islamic worlds. It strengthens the hands especially of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaida to foment anger in the Arab and Islamic street against America and Israel. It diminishes American influence throughout the region and weakens moderate Arab regimes.
A resolution of the conflict will not only help to reverse these trends but also stabilize Israel’s relationships with most of its neighbors and bring Israel back into positive relationships with the family of nations.
Yes, there is a high risk of failure, as this conflict seems intractable; but so too is there a high risk for inaction.
The general outlines of a two-state solution are likely already supported by the majority of Israelis and Palestinians. Israel, of course, cannot deal with Hamas unless it recognizes the right of Israel to exist and stops its terrorist attacks. A separate agreement, in the meantime, can be reached with Fatah (assuming President Abbas recognizes the futility of including Hamas as currently constituted and bravely goes forward to negotiate in good faith) with a future expansion of an agreement to include Gaza on another day.
Despite Abbas’ nasty remarks at the UN, he does support a two-state end-of-conflict solution. Only a month ago he was asked by journalists if he ever wished to live in the city of his birth, Safed, again. He said he would like to visit, but Safed is in Israel and he has no intention of living there. He wants to live with his own people in Palestine which is the West Bank and Gaza.
Winston Churchill noted in a speech in the House of Commons on November 12, 1936:
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” (cited by Daniel Kurtzer in “Pathways to Peace – America and the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” 2012, p. xiii).
What was true in 1936 for the world is true now for the Middle East. The time for inaction is over. Bold and courageous leadership is needed now by the United States, Israel and Palestine before it is too late.
December 2, 2012 | 7:52 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I am grateful to my colleague Rabbi Victor Reinstein for the central idea of this d’var Torah. When he was a senior rabbinic student at HUC in New York, he offered a drash on the first two words of the Genesis 37:1 - Vayeishev Yaakov “And Jacob dwelled,” and suggested a midrash: Ein omrim vayeishev Yaakov (“Do not say ‘And Jacob dwelled;”) Ele vayasheiv Yaakov (“Rather, and Jacob made peace.”).
If we re-vocalize the verb yod-shin-vet from the paal construction to the piel construction, yashav can be understood in the sense of lashevet (“to dwell”), as it is usually translated in our portion. Or it can be used as l’yasheiv (“to settle a dispute”), as in yishev sikh’sukh. The same Hebrew root means, based on verbal form, “to dwell” and “to make peace!” The close relationship between them suggests the deeper purpose of dwelling - that when we dwell in a place we are meant to make peace in that place.
Each of us simultaneously dwells in at least two places - in our own “place” (i.e. lives) and in the world. The greater challenge of va-yashev/va-yeishev is for us to seek to to make peace in both.
In the Talmud “Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘Every place where it says va-yeishev, this is in the language of pain; ‘And Jacob dwelled in the land of his father’s sojourning – it’s written after that, ‘and Joseph brought evil report of his brothers unto his father.”” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 106a)
Jacob (and Joseph in his early years) dwelled, but they each failed to make peace where they dwelled. Jacob allowed his family to be torn apart by jealousy and hatred resulting in much pain and despair. However, when we unite through peacemaking, we create a new language of hope.
“Ein omrim va-yeishev Yaakov, ele va-yasheiv Yaakov”
“Do not say ‘and he dwelled.’ Rather say, ‘and he made peace.”
This teaching challenges us to think and act responsibly in the wake of the successful UN General Assembly Resolution vote raising Palestinian status to that of a non-member state.
There are those in our community and in Israel, led by many in the Israeli government, that want to punish the PA by building more settlements in E1 thereby closing off any possibility for a contiguous Palestinian state in an eventual two-state solution, to withhold taxes collected by Israel and intended for the PA from a cash starved Palestinian Authority, and in Washington, to close down the Palestinian Authority Mission should negotiations become stalled for any reason.
Not only are these actions reactive, they are strategically foolish. After all, the PA used diplomacy, not terror and war, to advance its cause at the UN. Regardless of what we might think of the UN, they had the legal right to do so.
We American Jews who love Israel and recognize that she must remain both Jewish and democratic should be doing everything we can to encourage the President of the United States and our Congressional leaders to not “punish’ the PA for taking the diplomatic route. To do so is to give up hope for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further, it is tantamount to giving the nod to the terrorist organization Hamas and to endless war.
We American Jews should be doing everything possible to encourage President Obama, the Quartet, and the international community to bring a viable plan based on passed negotiations and agreements to the Israelis and Palestinians so they can negotiate an end-of-conflict two-state solution before it is too late.
November 27, 2012 | 12:26 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
This morning, J Street (a pro-Israel, pro-peace educational and political organization in Washington, D.C.) published this statement on the Palestinian bid for greater status at the United Nations.
The Palestinian Authority will submit its resolution for a vote in the General Assembly on Thursday, November 29 - a date that resonates in UN history. On November 29, 1947 the UN passed a resolution for the partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine thereby paving the way for international recognition of the State of Israel the following year.
At that time, all Arab nations rejected the Partition plan. It has taken 65 years for the Palestinians, in effect, to support that original partition plan for two states - a Jewish state and a Palestinian state.
At this time there is overwhelming support in the General Assembly of the United Nations for the resolution.
J Street's considered, comprehensive and nuanced position is for the day after the vote. J Street did not take position on the resolution itself.
I am a national co-chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street. Among many others (e.g. the J Street Board, Rabbinic Cabinet, and J Street Students), I was consulted before this document was finalized. I support it wholeheartedly and pray that the Obama administration, the government of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority move rapidly to save the two-state solution before it is too late.
November 26, 2012 | 8:53 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Sami Al Jundi’s story (co-authored with Jen Marlow) is the most remarkable memoir I have read coming out of the Palestinian experience. For those who care about ending the violence, enmity, occupation, and repression that characterize the Israeli-Palestinian context, I recommend this book highly.
The book is not, however, for the faint of heart. There are passages difficult to stomach including a detailed description of Sami’s torture by both Israeli security officials and Palestinian Authority police (yes – he was abused by both). Indeed, Sami spares no one, Israelis, Palestinians and “do-good” Americans who he believed did not fully understand the depth of enmity between the peoples and what is necessary to transform the relationship if peace is to be realized.
Sami was born into a loving family in the old city of Jerusalem in 1961. As a child, like many Palestinian children living under occupation, he became radicalized and participated in rock throwing against Israeli soldiers. When he was 17, he was arrested after a bomb he and two friends were making and planning to detonate in an Israeli vegetable market blew up in their faces. One friend was killed and Sami was wounded. He was arrested at the hospital, interrogated and tortured by Israeli security police, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 10 years in an Israeli prison.
Once in prison he discovered that his fellow Palestinian political prisoners had created a democratic system that included a highly sophisticated and intensive educational program. Sami read 300 pages a day for 10 years in world history, philosophy, psychology, French and Arabic literature, and poetry, as well as the Torah, New Testament and Qur’an. As a result he began to rethink relations between individuals and peoples.
Despite his violent past, Sami was drawn to the non-violent thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. Upon release from prison, Sami was committed to non-violence and became involved with the "Palestinian Center for Non-Violence in Jerusalem." The Center’s purpose was:
“Throw flowers, not stones, at soldiers at demonstrations. Force them to see our humanity…be stronger than your opponent – do not respond to their violence with your own….the occupation must end and there must be equal rights for both peoples living in this land. The message will be stronger if it is delivered using nonviolent methods.”
Noting the influence of two Persian dualist philosophers, Mani (3rd century CE) and Mazdak (6th century CE), Sami wrote:
“Everyone … has light and darkness inside them. Even the darkest heart always has some small point of light. We have to help them find their light also. And then it will grow. This is the essence of nonviolence. Not to fight the person, but to fight the darkness in his heart. The only way to do this is through growing his light… The only way to change their behavior is if we’re willing to talk to each other, to build respect for each other as human beings.” (p. 210)
Sami was disgusted by violence of all kinds, be it perpetrated by Palestinian suicide bombers, Israeli settlers, the Israeli Defense Forces, and the Palestinian Authority police.
Soon after its founding in 1993 by the American journalist John Wallach (who was my congregant when I served at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in DC), Sami became the supervisor of the “Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in East Jerusalem.” The program was founded upon the idea that when young people from enemy communities have an opportunity to meet each other on neutral ground as equals, talk, argue, listen, and spend time together, they develop empathy for the other and consequently become friends, which Seeds of Peace affirms is the basis for the peaceful resolution of conflict between individuals and peoples.
It was at the Center that Sami met the American author/documentary filmmaker/playwright Jen Marlowe, who was on staff and became a dear friend.
Though Sami eventually would leave Seeds of Peace, the reasons for which he describes in detail, the Seeds program has expanded over the 20 years of its existence to include 5000 alumni from 27 nations. (See http://www.seedsofpeace.org/about)
The resolution to the memoir is as unfinished as is the lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though I do not know Sami or Jen personally, I would imagine that they would both affirm that now, especially in the wake of the violence in Gaza, is not the time to desist from efforts for Israelis and the Palestinians to make peace.
As they have stated, our two peoples are destined to live together side by side on the land we each claim as our national home. Programs such as Seeds of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Non-Violence represent among the few shining lights remaining in the darkness of the human heart within the Israeli-Palestinian context and thus are our greatest hope.
November 20, 2012 | 9:18 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Both Jeremy Ben Ami (President of J Street) and Yossi Klein Halevi (Writer and Journalist at Jerusalem's David Hartman Institute) are personal friends. I respect them both as thinkers, as committed Jews and Zionists, as men who truly love the people of Israel and see the State of Israel as the embodiment of Jewish national dreams.
This dialogue on criticism of Israel by Diaspora Jews during war time which Jeremy and Yossi have undertaken (below) is as good a discussion as we will find on the sensitivities and moral obligations of Jews vis a vis the Jewish state, whether we be Israelis or Diaspora Jews.
I recommend you read the entire piece below, but before doing so it is important to recognize two elements of Jeremy's and Yossi's discussion with each other that have enabled them to talk with such candor and respect:
1. Their conversation together is civil, respectful, honest, and clear;
2. Each is motivated by ahavat Yisrael (love of the people of Israel) and ahavat Medinat Yisrael (love of the State of Israel).
With regards to point #2, unfortunately, many Diaspora Jews do not feel this love for Israel, do not identify with Israel's history, struggle, fate, and destiny nor with the Israeli people, and identify policies of the Israeli government with the meaning of the Jewish state. When they criticize Israel, therefore, they do not do so from a position of love - and to me, that is a critical difference from those who do love the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
One final point - Jeremy is right (and Yossi expresses his appreciation of this point) that we living here outside Israel cannot know what it feels like to live there in time of war, and it is the Israeli people who must live with the consequences of decisions they make. The rest is commentary.
Here is the piece:
Point-Counter-Point, New York Jewish Week
November 18, 2012 | 12:49 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I received an email today from a young woman away at college who I have known for most of her life. She is a strongly identifying Jew, smart, open-minded and open-hearted. She asked me for help in addressing the following statement made to her by a college friend:
“Israel is the aggressor. Israel won't compromise. Israel needs to be stripped of its military because it is using it too liberally. Israel is the bully."
About five years ago it became clear to me that college students, in particular, and adult Jews as well, do not have the background necessary to respond effectively to the kinds of statements that my friend shared with me. And so, I wrote and compiled a document entitled “Facts, Responses and Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” that offers, to the best of my ability, a concise history of the conflict drawing on facts and modern scholarship from a variety of sources.
My goal in writing this piece was to state the most common myths and distortions made against Israel and then to offer the true history behind the claim. (Note: I have not added to this document since April, 2010).
This past year I published another piece in the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly entitled “The International Delegitimization Campaign Against Israel and the Urgent Need of a Comprehensive, Two-State, End-of-Conflict Peace Agreement” (Winter, 2012).
I referred my college student friend to both of these pieces which can be accessed on The Temple Israel of Hollywood Website under “About Us” and “Clergy.” http://www.tioh.org/about-us/clergy/aboutus-clergy-clergystudy
If you yourself need more information, or you feel your high school and college student children and grandchildren could benefit, then I ask you to refer them to these pieces as a beginning to gaining greater understanding.
November 15, 2012 | 7:35 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Anyone who has visited Sderot in the south near the Gaza border must appreciate why Israel cannot tolerate the hundreds and thousands of missiles launched indiscriminately by Hamas from Gaza on Israeli cities and settlements.
The Israeli targeted killing this week of Ahmad Jabari, the mastermind of the Gilad Shalit kidnapping and a terrorist responsible for the murder of hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Israelis, is justifiable. Any progressive Jew should be supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas bombs. No nation in the world would do otherwise.
Having said this, understanding context and the risk of unintended consequences is important. Though it is nothing new that Hamas is a sworn enemy of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, the political fall-out for Israel from this operation and anything yet to come from a possible invasion is unknown and cannot be predicted one way or another.
Israel is in the midst of an election campaign. The PA is preparing to introduce a bill into the UN General Assembly to gain recognition of a “State of Palestine” and already has the votes to get it passed. Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to miss opportunities to work towards a two-state solution, most recently when he ignored President Abbas’ statement that Palestine is the West Bank and Gaza and not Israel. President Obama is refocusing (I would assume) on the Middle East after the American election, and has stated his desire to draw down more quickly, if possible, the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He also understands the need to stabilize Iraq, address ongoing issues relative to the “Arab Spring,” tighten sanctions on Iran, maintain a working and productive relationship with Egypt, and figure out what to do about the deadly civil war in Syria.
Another Israeli-Hamas war, even if justifiable, throws a monkey wrench into the mix.
A popular Israeli song from 1977 written and composed after Anwar Sadat visited Israel (“Yehiyeh Tov” - lyrics by Yonatan Gefen; Music by David Bruza) still expresses the yearnings and dreams of Israeli youth who have born the burden of defending the Jewish state for so long. As we read the unsettling news day in and day out, it is important to remember that at the heart and soul of the Israeli people is a yearning for a better future and peace. I believe the same is true of the Palestinian people.
The melody of Yehiyeh Tov is beautiful and the English translation a pale reflection of the original Hebrew. You can watch and listen to David Bruza sing it here (and below).
“I look out the window
and it makes me very sad,
Spring has left;
Who knows when it will return.
The clown has become a king;
The prophet has become a clown;
And I have forgotten the way;
But I am still here.
All will be better, yes -
all will be better.
Sometimes I break
But this night,
O this night
I will stay with you.
Children wear wings
And fly off to the army
And after two years
They return without answers.
People live with stress
Looking for a reason to breathe
And between hatred and murder
They speak about peace.
And all will be better…
Yes, above in the heavens
Clouds learn to fly,
And I look up
And see a hijacked plane.
A government of generals
Divide the landscape,
To what is theirs and ours,
And we know not the end.
And all will be better…
I look out my window -
Maybe it will come,
Maybe it has come,
Yes it has come -
A new day.
Here comes the prince of Egypt.
O how I rejoiced for him.
There are pyramids in our eyes
And peace in his pipe
And we said let’s complete it,
And we’ll live as brothers
And he said let’s go forward.
Just get out of the territories.
And all will be good…
We will yet learn to live together
Between the groves of olive trees;
Children will live without fear
Without borders, without bomb shelters.
On graves grass will grow,
For peace and love,
One hundred years of war
But we have not lost hope.
I look out the window
Perhaps a new day will come.”
David Bruza has been singing this song for 35 years, and vows to continue until there is peace.