From: RabbiLerner@tikkun.org (Michael Lerner)
To: tzadikim@tikkun.org
 
 

    Atoning for the Middle East Tragedy After the Death of 3 Israeli Soldiers
            By Rabbi Michael Lerner
October 12, 2000

My son served in the Israeli Army in the West Bank, so for me the barbarous
killings of two soldiers by a lynch mob in Ramallah made me feel the same
anger that must have led Israeli Prime Minister Barak to bomb Palestinian
leader Arafat’Äôs compound in retaliation and to escalate the war against the
Palestinians.  Yet I can also understand that to those Palestinians these two
boys killed were just members of the occupying army, the army that had been
brutally killing over 80 Palestinians and wounding more than 2000 civilians
in the past week’Äîand might have seemed indistinguishable from the Jewish
mobs that attacked random Arab Israelis in Nazareth a few days ago, beating and
burning.  For every outrage on one side there is a story of outrage on the
other.

And yet, in my synagogue on Yom Kippur we atoned for our side of the
story’Äîfor Jewish violence. Our atonement was not an attempt to claim that
Israel holds all the responsibility. I believe that Palestinians ought to
adopt a nonviolent pose and reject any leader that advocates violence’Äîboth
because I believe that violence is always wrong no matter how noble the
purpose and because in the context of the current struggle it had the
predicted effect of destroying rather than enhancing the chances for peace
(an outcome sought by extremists on both sides’Äîremember that it was
Arafat’Äôs Palestinian police that tried to use force to restrain the angry crowd that was attacking Israeli soldiers, knowing full well that that attack would
undermine peace the Palestinian Authority was doing its feeble best to
revive).

Palestinian violence is both immoral and irrational. Yet
 the preponderance of responsibility lies with Israel and with an
international media that continue to obscure the basic realities facing
the Palestinian people, and continue to treat the death of Israeli soldiers
enforcing a brutal occupation as somehow more outrageous and barbarous
than the killing of (many times as many) Palestinian teenagers who were
resisting the occupation.  To me, Israeli deaths are a personal tragedy. But
have we not yet learned that in God’Äôs eyes every human being is equally
treasured?

    The way we talk that discounts the huge amount of Palestinians killed and
wounded   reinforces the desperation that led to the current tragic moment.
    But, you might ask, didn’Äôt Arafat irrationally reject a wonderful peace
accord being offered him by Barak? Isn’Äôt this current outbreak just more of
the same irrational hatred that always leads Palestinians to reject a
generous peace being offered by Israeli?

The reality is quite different. Since taking office, Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak has expanded existing settlements, built new roads
into the West Bank and made it clear at Camp David that he would insist on keeping
the vast majority of settlers in place. The state Palestinians would then
be offered would have within it a group of Israeli nationalistic fanatics,
many of whom moved to the West Bank precisely to ensure that there would
never be a Palestinian state.

The resulting scenario is obvious: The settlers would continue their long
history of violent attacks against Palestinians, and when the Palestinian
state tried to impose law and order, the settlers would demand protection
from the Israeli army, which would use the new roads to send in tanks and
heavy artillery just as it has done in the past week.

The Israeli roads and settlements turn the claim of offering the
Palestinians 90% of the land into a cruel hoax. With the Israeli military
patrolling those roads that crisscross the Palestinian state, Palestinians would
face humiliating searches and would not be able to move freely. Imagine
someone offering you a house in which you were going to have large rooms (90% of
the space) but they were in charge of the hallways between the rooms. You
would quickly realize that your freedom to be ''at home'' was remarkably
compromised. For a people who have endured 33 years of military
occupation, complete with a long history of documented torture, house demolitions and harassment, this doesn't sound like such a great deal.

Nor are Palestinian demands for control over the Temple Mount and the
adjacent sections of East Jerusalem irrational. Muslims from the occupied
territories have frequently been prevented from coming to the Temple
Mount when Israel proclaims ''security closings'' of the border. Israelis
who were rightly outraged at being denied access to the Western Wall when
Jerusalem was under Jordanian (not Palestinian) rule from 1948 to 1967
have effectively imposed similar conditions on the 1 million Muslims in Gaza.

At the same time, many religious authorities ban Jews from walking on the
Temple Mount until the messiah comes. So ceding sovereignty there would
not have been a religious hardship. Barak could have conceded interim
sovereignty to the Palestinians on the condition that those arrangements
would be reopened when the messiah arrived (by Biblical criteria: nations beating
their swords into plowshares and the lion lying down with the lamb).

Nor has Israel ever acknowledged responsibility for the hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians who were driven out of Israel in 1948, many of
whose descendants today live in refugee camps.

None of this had been resolved at Camp David, and so most Palestinians
realized that the peace process was just another mechanism to prolong the
status quo of an oppressive occupation.

I was honored to attend the signing of the Oslo accords at the White
House in 1993, and in the pages of Tikkun magazine I have severely
criticized those Palestinian intellectuals like Edward Said who did not believe that
Palestinian self- determination would be granted in the five years that Oslo promised. Now, seven years later, I can understand why Palestinians would feel cheated
and outraged over the endless occupation. Add to that the racist attitudes
that led Barak to seek Israeli Arab votes in the last election, his
subsequent refusal to allow Arab parties into his government for fear that their
presence would make the government appear ''illegitimate'' and the long
history of discrimination against Israeli Arabs in housing and employment, and
you get the volatile ingredients that led to the explosions last week and
the subsequent massive violence against Arabs both inside Israel and in the
occupied territories. For example, as police looked on, Jewish mobs
reenacted a classic Russian pogrom on Palestinian civilians in Nazareth this week.

None of this justifies Palestinian violence or the far more massive
counter- violence of the occupying Israeli army. But I see no hope that the
disgusting cycle of violence on both sides will stop until Israel is
willing to end the occupation and end its internal racism against Arab Israelis. And as
a religious Jew, I know that God and the Torah are served best when we
insist that every human being, including our enemies, be seen as equally
valuable to God and equally created as embodiments of the divine. Given my
own outrage at the killing of Israeli soldiers, this is a moment when it
seems easier to just forget my faith and stay in my anger. But I also know
that when the Jewish people can only see our own (very real and legitimate) pain, its
time to atone.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun: a Bimonthly Jewish Critique of
Politics, Culture and Society and author of ''Spirit Matters: Global
Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul'' (Walsch Books, 2000)

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