There is no excuse or justification for the terrorist act that took
the lives of 18 Israelis at a pizza parlor in Jerualem.
Acts of terror are morally wrong. No matter how legitimate
the struggle for liberation, no matter that 90% of the Israeli public
just indicated in a recent poll support for assassinations of
Palestinians suspected of being in favor of violence, no matter that
Israel has killed five times as many Palestinians as Palestinians
have killed Israelis in the past 11 months--no act of terror is
legitimate. Innocent people who have nothing to do with the struggle,
and may even be opposed to Sharon's policies, get murdered. This is a
crime against humanity.
So, too, it is politically self-destructive and crazy. The
Palestinian people can never expect to gain anything from acts of
terror except a deeper solidarity of Israelis around policies of
repression and massive retaliation. Those on the Israeli side and on
the Palestinian side who oppose any settlement and wish to see the
struggle go on for many more generations have everything to gain from
acts of terror and the reprisals they generate.
Yet, who did the bombing in Jerusalem? The entire Palestinian
people? The people who have been under curfew in Hebron for the past
nine days? The people who have been refused entry to work? The people
who get turned away at roadblocks from visiting their hospital or
health clinic? No.
The bombing was done by a tiny group called Islamic Jihad.
Yet the punishment will be given to Palestinians who equally had
nothing to do with the terror. Israel will not call its responses
"terror," but they are that and have been that for the past eleven
months. Because they are perpetrated by a state with huge resources
to pour into "public relations," Israel's acts of terror can be sold
as something the were "forced into reluctantly."
In fact, acts of massive retaliation by Israel that are the
predictable consequence of terrorist bombings-- because they sour
Palestinians on policies of restraint advocated by Yassir Arafat, and
instead incline Palestinians to the leadership of Islamic
fundamentalists--make the terrorist acts "worthwhile" from the
standpoint of the extremists. When Ariel Sharon announces that there
will be no resumption of any form of peace negotiation until
Palestinians stop all acts of violence, not only does he give them a
veto over negotiations they oppose, he also gives them a massive
incentive to continue acts of violence. The disgusting act by Islamic
Jihad is rightly condemned--but so too should the right-wingers in
Israel be condemned for creating the circumstances in which this
would seem like the only alternative to so many people.
"So what should we do," Israelis justifiably ask, "sit here
and be killed and not inflict any punishment?" And the same question
is asked by Palestinians who yesterday had their homes demolished,
their children slaughtered, their bones broken, and thousands of
their community wounded and given permanent handicaps: "What do you
expect us to do--turn the other cheek while Israel continues to
expand its control over the West Bank and escalates its
assassinations of our leaders? And if we show Sharon that we will
accept his violence with no counter-violence, won't that just give
him more incentive to kill off our leadership with assassinations day
after day? Or did you forget that it was only a few days ago that 2
children and 8 others were slaughtered by Israeli gunfire aimed at
Both sides have their points, and both sides are wrong. There
is nothing to be gained by the current war of attrition.
All that can end this is when one side or the other is
willing to take a massive change in approach. The Palestinian people
could gain everything they seek within five years were they to
publicly and unequivocally (not only in English but in Arabic)
embrace non-violence and the path of Martin Luther King, Jr. and
Mohatma Gandhi. No matter how powerful the occupation, a consistent
non-violence, coupled with acts of punishment against any
Palestinians who engaged in violence, would change the political
dynamics and would move the world in ways that violent struggle never
Or Israel could change everything by taking the following
unilateral steps: end the Occupation, bring the settlers back to
within the borders of 1967 Israel (with slight emendations to allow
for Gush Etziyon and for the Jewish and Armenian quarters of
Jerusalem, French Hill and Har Hatzofim, take the lead in creating a
massive international fund to provide reparations for Palestinian
refugees, and announce a yearly quota of 25,000 refugees a year to be
allowed to return (large enough to be significant, small enough to
not endanger the Jewish character of the State).
So there is something that each side could do--and the
fatalism and sense of powerlessness are based on stubbornness and
ego-illusions, not on a careful analysis of what it would take to
break through to change the dynamics on the other side of the
Lets not kid ourselves that lesser measures are going to have
any impact. American or international "observers" will be as
powerless in Palestine as they were in Bosnia. Only a massive
international military intervention that forcibly separated the two
sides and imposed non-violence on the Palestinians and an End to the
settlements and the Occupation on Israel would make any dent toward
jump-starting a peace process that could last.
Until that happens, the rest of us can only pray for
peace--and a qualitative leap in the consciousness of one side or the
other. And grieve with the many victims on both sides. MAY GOD BLESS
THE FAMILIES OF ALL THE BEREAVED IN BOTH ISRAEL AND PALESTINE, AND
SEND LOVE AND NEW CONSCIOUSNESS TO ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE MIDDLE
EAST, AND TO ALL PEOPLES OF OUR PLANET.
--Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of TIKKUN: A Bimonthly
Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society, editor of Best
Contemporary Jewish Writing (forthcoming: September, 2001 from Wiley
Publishing), author of Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom
of the Soul, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco.
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