Beyond "Yes" or "No" to Hamas: US Aid to Palestine


By Rabbi Arthur Waskow *

Now before Congress is a bill (H.R. 4681 ) that would cut off all US financial aid to the Palestinian people, even to non-governmental humanitarian organizations and even to the office of peace-seeker President Abbas, because Hamas won the recent election.

The bill provides for the possibility that President Bush could make exceptions for humanitarian reasons, but the Administration has already demanded that the Palestinian Authority repay millions of dollars the US has already given it.

The bill and the Bush Administration are responding to the official Hamas platform, which calls for the abolition of Israel as a separate state, and to past Hamas behavior, which has included terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel. Just about every voice in the "official" American Jewish community has urged the passage of this bill. At a recent national
convention of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, only stalwart
independent-minded Leonard (Leibl) Fein warned this might be unwise.

This draconic bill is rooted either in revenge or in the politics of the iron fist, not in an effort to seek justice by just means. ("Tzedek tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice shall you seek." [Deut. 16: 20] Why "justice" twice? "Seek just goals by just methods.) And like most efforts at vengeance or the iron fist, it will almost certainly make matters worse.

Insisting that the Palestinian government recognize Israel's legitimacy is a just and praiseworthy goal, but this is a perverse and unjust way of getting there. It is far likelier to cause even more intense misery for the Palestinians, throwing them even deeper into the arms of a party that has shown one great humanitarian success and was elected not for its hostility
to Israel but for that humanitarian success: Hamas, everyone agrees, has addressed the desperate needs of human beings whose children have become malnourished, whose adults have few jobs and little hope - and has done this without corruption.

Every report, including Hamas' own comments, indicate that the Palestinian election turned on that question, not on rejection of the legitimacy of Israel or endorsement of terrorism. Indeed, polls of Palestinian opinion show that . And only about 45% of the Palestinian people voted for Hamas.
The fragmentation of Fatah -- a result of some parts of it trying to separate from its corruption and others not -- is what gave a heavy parliamentary majority to Hamas.

So the Palestinian people is not monolithic. In fact, neither is Hamas itself. During the past year, it affirmed and enforced a cease-fire toward Israel. Many say this was for tactical reasons only, and they may well be right. But the point is that there is an internal struggle within Hamas itself, AT LEAST at the tactical level -- and in almost all organizations,
tactics slowly come to reshape or trump ideology much more over time than the reverse.

Edmund Burke (a great British conservative) said in facing George III's efforts to punish the American Revolution: "I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people. "

And the Jewish people itself has even more recent, close-to-home reason to doubt this strategy. In the very sloppy controlled experiment that one can try to draw from the treatment the Allies accorded Germany after World War I
and after World War II, it seems that draconic punishment made things worse. Demonizing Germany after World War I produced a demonic Germany -- while after World War II, billions of dollars in aid to a Germany that had behaved
from top to bottom far worse than the WW I Germany produced a decent society.

We may debate forever about the impact of the last five years of Israeli policy on Palestinian politics, My own assessment is that the behavior of the Likkud government, even including the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, starved the possible sources of pro-peace energy in the Palestinian polity.

Why even the Gaza withdrawal? Precisely because it was done unilaterally -- not by working closely with President Abbas and giving both him and the policy of negotiation a major victory.

The Likkud approach for the last five years was far far more like the post-WW I policy of the Allies toward Germany than like the post WW II policy.

What to do? In the mid-'80s, I wrote that neither the Israeli government nor the PLO could make an effective peace between them -- that it would take a far deeper grass-roots process of "enacting the future in the present" before the governments could EFFECTIVELY make a real peace.

That remained true even after the PLO formally recognized Israel, Israel formally recognized the PLO, and both agreed to Oslo. NEITHER government was an EFFECTIVE "partner for peace" -- not because of secret trickery but because both governments were at the mercy of what the most rage-filled,
violent elements in their own society brought about in the other one.

Terrorist attacks again and again shattered the governments' abilities to make peace -- whether it was the Purim Massacre in Hebron carried out by Baruch/ Aror Goldstein (the first post-Oslo act of major terrorism), or Hamas' and others' acts of terrorism in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or the violence of Israeli settlers who destroyed Palestinian olive trees and harvests.

The need for grass-roots peacemaking -- what might be called the conclusion of "people's peace treaties" -- is now greater than ever. "Treaties" between a kibbutz and a village to share Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah when they coincide (as in 2005, 2006, and 2007), between a group of rabbis who replant
Palestinian olive trees and a group of Palestinian nonviolent activists protesting the route of the Wall that is destroying their city, between Israeli and Palestinian women, etc. etc .

To some Jews and some Israelis, to some Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, such shared peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians, between Arabs and Jews, between Jews and Christians and especially Muslims -- will look like
treason. Fraternizing with the enemy!

For example: Jews standing alongside Palestinians who demonstrate against locations of the Wall that destroy their villages? -- Treason, no???

For example: More and more Palestinians opposing terrorism and demanding nonviolent resistance! -- Treason, no?

We have ancient precdent for such "treasonable" people's peace treaties: By ordinary conventions, the conspiracy between Miriam and Pharaoh's daughter (later, according to tradition, renamed "Bat-yah," "God's daughter") was treason on BOTH sides. We Jews understand this in regard to Bat-Pharaoh --
though we do not do enough to honor her. But Miriam ALSO violated the normal rules. She collaborated with the enemy, made sure Moshe was raised as if he were Egyptian. Amazing risk she took!

This kind of grass-roots action, these "people's peace treaties," are already happening. We need to encourage many more. Instead of prohibiting grants to Palestine, Congress should proactively provide for US grants to Palestinian social service agencies that are doing humanitarian work and to Israeli and Palestinian organizations that will work together to meet the
needs of Palestinians for food, medical care, schools, jobs, access to their own crops and land -- and the need of Israelis for freedom from violence.

It is only by growing peace at the grass roots of both peoples that the US can make it more and more possible for the Israeli and Palestinian governments to turn away from violence. Pro-Israel Americans, whether Jewish or not, should stand together to demand that US grants help to water those grass roots.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center
which voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. He is also the author of many books on public policy and religious life, including Godwrestling - Round 2 (Jewish Lights). Subscribe to the free weekly on-line Shalom Report by going to www.shalomctr/subscribe .