Is There a Moment of Opportunity in the Middle East?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 1/19/2005

The two most violent hot spots in the broader Middle East are for the moment just barely cooler enough that maybe it is possible to touch the fire without melting an arm off.

So the timing of our Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah ad, signed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, urging changes in US policy toward both Iraq and the Israel-Palestine conflict, could hardly have been better.

Click here to view the statement.

New gifts to support it will help us spread the word of the confluence of Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan, and the saint's day of Francis of Assisi around October 3 as a time for action. For ideas on how to draw on this miracle of confluence, click this link.

We are not alone in the peacemaking efforts, and want to point out the work other groups are doing.

For US policy in the Israeli-Palestinian war to change, right-wing Christians and Jews who follow the Likud/Sharon banner will have to change.

Three Jewish organizations are best placed to help accomplish the change among Jews: Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace; Americans for Peace Now; and The Tikkun Community.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom will hold its national conference, From Gaza to Negotiations: The Role of American Jews, in New York City on Presidents' Day weekend, February 19-21, 2005.

Keynote speakers will be Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo architects of the Geneva Accord that is an unofficial draft peace treaty between Israel and a new Palestine.

They will be joined by leading scholars and activists in 40 workshops about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more information and to register, go to or call (312)341-1205.

Parallel in part with our Abrahamic efforts, the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NLIP), has just issued a statement calling for a renewed strenuous effort by the US to address Israeli-Palestinian peace. (Unlike our Tent of Abraham initiative, NLIP does not address the Iraq War.)

NLIP rows out of the valiant perseverance of Ron Young, who one generation ago founded the US Interreligious Conference on Peace in the Middle East (USICPME).

Why is a change in US behavior so important? Whenever there seem to be openings toward peace between Israel and Palestine, all the usual suspects fall into their well-worn habits - The Killing Grooves. — As soon as the Palestinian elections were complete, some Palestinians killed Israelis. Their new President ordered his security forces to forestall such actions, but Mr. Sharon responded by cutting off relations with him and carrying out new attacks on Gaza.

Only if both leaderships can swallow hard, can say publicly that peacemaking in this situation inevitably means that Palestinian and Israeli ultras will try to sabotage peace, and can resolve to keep going anyway — only then might peace emerge.

As our Tent of Abraham statement said, for THAT to happen, the US must take a vigorous hand. On paper and in surveys, most Americans agree with the two-state peace and approximate boundaries defined by the Geneva Accord. But opponents are far better organized to affect US government action. That is what needs to change.

In Israel and in America, some powerful rethinking has been sparked by those Israelis who have decided to refuse service in the occupation of the West Bank/Gaza while remaining available to defend Israel.

One of them is Yonatan Shapira, one of 27 pilots who signed the "Pilots' Letter" in October, 2003. From February 18 through March 12, 2005, Shapira will be touring the United States and is available for speaking engagements. Shapira served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a helicopter pilot for more than 10 years, flying more than 100 rescue and assault missions. As a refuser, he joins more than 1,300 other Israeli soldiers refusing to serve in the occupation.

This national tour is sponsored by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and Refuser Solidarity Network. For more information, please contact Money contributions can also be made through their website.

Rabbis for Human Rights/ North America has broadened its role. It continues to be a support system for RHR in Israel, raising money and organizing trips to the US by Rabbi Arik Ascherman and other Israeli RHR activists. Now it has for the first time also raised its voice against human rights violations by the US: specifically, the use of torture by the US in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

Ascherman has been on trial for standing between an Israeli bulldozer and a Palestinian home. His trial has been held intermittently over months, and meanwhile home demolitions in expanded Jerusalem continue.

RHR has increased its educational work on human rights with Israeli army recruits and pre-Army high school students, drawing on three sources: Torah, the Israeli Declaration of Independence, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Contact to help defend Ascherman, end home demolitions, and support all the work of RHR.

Meanwhile, the US occupation of Iraq is going very badly, and the opening now exists for a great national debate and the beginnings of political challenges that might boil over into Congressional changes in the 2006 election.

Support for the war is beginning to crack, even among the neocons. Many more people are demanding that the US end the occupation of Iraq and bring all troops swiftly and safely home.

But the very depth of failure and growth of opposition is driving some officials toward another way of coping with it: War on Iran. Some in the Bush Administration may believe that war will reunite the country around its Leader, and that if the US simply bombs Iran from the air, the war will not risk American lives.

One more war by the US against a Muslim nation will simply reinforce the sense and the reality that the US is at war with Islam, partly for economic-strategic reasons tied to Oil, but increasingly driven by right-wing religious hostility to Islam, as well.