Olive Tree Summer & the Sukkah of Shalom: A Proposal for American Jewish Action toward Peace Between Israel & Palestine

Olive Tree Summer & the Sukkah of Shalom:
A Proposal for American Jewish Action toward Peace
Between Israel & Palestine

We propose the following course of a campaign. We urge the creation of a coalition of Jewish peace organizations to carry out this effort. We welcome comments on the proposal.

At the same time, we must strongly emphasize that the politico-religious content of this proposal, including clear support for a two-state peace settlement, for nonviolent action rather than violence, and for drawing on Jewish tradition and culture in new ways, is an intrinsic part of this proposal.

We will strongly oppose any effort to use the slogans or labels of this proposal without meeting these standards.

Ideally, we think such a campaign should begin with Olive Tree Summer 2001. The time is so short that this may be hard to do.

— For Break the Silence: Cherie Brown, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, & Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Olive Tree Summer & the Sukkah of Shalom:
A Proposal for American Jewish Action toward Peace
Between Israel & Palestine

A) Olive Tree Summer: During Summer 2001, a group of American Jews (target number: at least 10) spend one week in training with Israeli groups that have worked closely with Palestinians in nonviolent opposition to the Occupation (e.g. Rabbis for Human Rights, Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, Bat Shalom) and at least one month living in pairs in Palestinian towns and villages, rebuilding demolished homes, replanting uprooted trees, reopening blockaded roads, and meeting humanitarian and environmental needs of grass-roots Palestinians.

B) Sukkah of Shalom: On Sunday, October 7, 2001, the 6th day of Sukkot, 5762, Jews gather in Washington, DC, carrying a portable Sukkah to the Israeli Embassy, the offices of the Palestinian Authority, and some center of US government (White House? State Dept?) in a call to (1) end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank/ Gaza as a crucial next step toward achieving a two-state peace settlement between Israel and a viable Palestine, (2) encourage the use of nonviolent resistance rather than violence by Palestinians, Jews, and others opposed to the occupation, and (3) urge vigorous support by the US for these goals.

Kaddish for all victims of violence: This event would include the reading of the names of all Jews and Palestinians killed by violence from the other community, beginning on Rosh Hashanah 5761 (September 30, 2000). The names would be followed by recitation of Mourners Kaddish, including the invocation of shalom for "all Israel and all Ishmael."

C) These efforts would be intended to continue into 2002 and beyond. Just as Sukkot and Hanukkah are celebrated every year, so would Olive Trees Summer & Sukkah of Shalom. Just as Tu B'Shvat has become a festival of eco-Judaism for the revitalized and creative Jewish community, so would these peace-committed efforts enter into the bloodstream of Jews committed to peace between the two peoples. These efforts would require continuing grass-roots organizing among American Jews throughout the year.

1. Why these two efforts? Two changes are needed: one in grass-roots contacts between Jews and Palestinians, not only for dialogue but for joint action to end the Occupation and to make possible peaceful cooperation of the two peoples beyond that ; one in the reality and the public perceptions of American Jewish attitudes. Each of these efforts will strengthen the other; both are likely to take years to succeed in changing grass-roots attitudes and governmental action. Establishing a rhythm of direct connection during the summer, public action in the fall, and grass-roots American Jewish organizing through the year is necessary.

2. Olive Tree Summer would aim to break through the present hatred and fear in both directions between Palestinians and Jews, encouraging each community to see the emerging peace-committed energies in the other; creating clusters of American Jews who have a real sense of life in Palestine and of the Occupation's impact; breaking through the US media blindness toward grass-roots Palestinian life and the US media deafness toward Palestinian & Israeli nonviolent action.

3. Sukkah of Shalom would make public the existence of a Jewishly-committed community opposed to the Occupation. It would draw on the symbols of Jewish culture, not only for their visual/ emotional resonance but also for their deepest spiritual/political meanings:

The sukkah, an open house that trembles in the wind and rain, is a symbol of the vulnerability in which all peoples live. If we acknowledge our vulnerability and share it with each other, we can shape shalom. If we try instead to protect ourselves with car-bombs, helicopters, mortars, we abolish what protects us. As one of the evening prayers says, "Ufros alenu sukkat shlomekha — Spread over us the sukkah of shalom."

Celebrating in this way with the sukkah during Sukkot is also visible evidence of the Jewish character of the protest , and of the commitment of the protesters to strengthen rather than denigrate or weaken the Jewish people and Jewish culture.

Why say Mourners' Kaddish for those Jews and Palestinians who died as victims of violence during this past year? There is an ancient Torah story that after the death of Abraham, his sons Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury him, and then were reconciled. This can be seen as an archetypal story that speaks to the sharing of grief as a way to end the repetition of cycles of abuse and violence.

Some Jews have responded to centuries of oppression, including the Holocaust and a series of wars and terrorist attacks in the last century, with fear and violence toward Palestinians. Some Palestinians have responded to centuries of colonialism, the Naqba, and decades of flight as refugees and denial of self-government with fear and violence toward Israel. This cycle of rage and despair cannot be ended by governmental agreements alone. Sharing our grief at the deaths suffered by each people at the hands of the other could help to interrupt this violent cycle.

4. Why demand an end to the occupation? Because this is the key demand for creation of a peaceful Palestine alongside a peaceful Israel.

5. Why urge Palestinians to turn to nonviolence? First, for universal human reasons: All human beings are damaged by violence, even if it is intended to advance justice. Secondly, because as Jews we are responsible for the physical safety of Jews and Jewish communities, as well the physical safety of others. Third, because "the medium is the message," "the means beciome the ends"; Israeli and other Jews will be far more responsive to Palestinian demands for justice if they come in the means and medium of peace as well as with the message of peace.

6. Why urge the US to act? Because the American people will benefit from peace in the Middle East, and the US has the power to make a major difference there — if it chooses. Vigorous support from part of the Jewish community is most likely to spark that will.

7. One of the most powerful forms of social change is action that embodies in the present the future to which we aspire.

If the goal is peaceful coexistence and cooperation between Israel & Palestine, it must begin with shared acts of peaceful cooperation and shared resistance to injustice — shared by Jews and Palestinians.

If the goal is both to create and make visible an American Jewish community that believes peace and justice are central Jewish values, living at the very heart of Jewish symbols and practices, and that each of the two peoples in what Jews understand as the land of Israel must freely govern itself and live in peace with the other, that must begin by publicly affirming Jewish culture, symbols, and calendar in support of peace and justice.