Stepping Back from the Brink

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Stepping Back from the Brink

By Arthur Waskow

I think we are facing an incredible disaster.

The Palestinians are consumed by rage rooted in humiliation; the Israelis are haunted by fear, yet possessed of a belief they have so much greater power they can exorcise those fears by doing whatever they please.

Every rage-filled action the Palestinans have taken has stimulated the Israelis' underlying fears. Every action the Israelis take out of their sense of unstoppable power stimulates the Palestinians' rage.

In a situation like this, ultimatums almost never work.

Though the Israelis DO have overwhelming power in the short run, their use of that power in the short run will bring on disaster in the long run — disaster for Israel.

The disaster in store is not only the possibility of inflicting & suffering many deaths now, not only the possibility of shattering of the peace with Jordan and Egypt as well as the Palestinians, and the reengagement of Syria in active hostilities, but also an irereparable wound within Israel, between the Jewish & Arab communities.

What does that mean — a return to military govt of the Arab Israeli commmunity? A permanent Northern Ireland? Expulsion of the Israeli Arabs? God forbid, God forbade, God will forbid!!

What to do? In a mess like this where both sides have committed so much prestige, and where politicians hate to "back down" far more than they fear death, war, disaster — it has to be outsiders who act.

There are two kinds of "outsiders" that I can imagine acting. One — I am not saying this is at all likely, but — Women in both communities are outsiders because they are denied access to power on both sides and therefore have far less face to lose and might be able to get both leaderships to stop — if they could act quickly enough.

The second is more likely, but still in this situation a long shot. That is — a STRONG diplomatic intervention by the US & Europe & if at all possible Egypt & Jordan, saying BOTH that Barak must withdraw the ultimatum and pull back troops, AND that Arafat & the Palestinians must do the same, and that the Security Council will intervene to separate the sides and to sponsor negotiations.

Since the Palestinians' rage stems from humiliation, anything that does not look evenhanded, that looks as if they must knuckle under simply because they are weaker, will simply feed the rage. "Rational" considerations and the normal strategics of governments have, I think, stopped operating.

This much seemed clear on the eve of Yom Kippur. Now, thank God, Barak has moved back from the brink, even a little bit. We may sing "Dayenu! "— Yet — as in the song itself, while celebrating each step forward is life-giving, we must keep in mind that the next verse of the song — the next chapter of history — is coming up, VERY soon.

Sounds as if enormous international pressure probably got Barak to take his one step back.

So indeed, thank God he has moved back — and thank God for the international presssure to do it, may the pressure to get both sides back to the negotiating table continue, im rtzeh hashem.

For this to happen, it is likely that the American Jewish community will have to say to Clinton that they have no objection to this approach.

How can we help make this happen?

I suggest we move ahead in these ways:

1. Urge, in private letters to the White House & State Dept & Members of Congress, and/or in calls to the Israeli Embassy and official Jewish institutions in the US where you may have some clout, and/ or in public statements, that the parties meet again to negotiate, and that they agree to an international investigation of what happened. Be even-handed!

2. Arrange for public Jewish-Muslim or Jewish-Arab joint discussions and dialogues: for example "teach-ins" on Jerusalem from several perspectives — political, Jewish-religious, Muslim-religious.

3. Include as often as possible, shared mourning for the dead of the last ten days — using the Gen 25: 7-11 story, in which the joint mourning of Ishmael & Isaac for Abraham leads to Isaac's blessing & his going to live at the well that saved Hagar & Ishmael, Be'er Lachai Ro'i. Use "v'al kol Yisrael v'al kol Yishmael" at the end of Mourners' Kaddish.

4. Wherever possible, issue joint Jewish-Muslim and/ or joint Jewish-Arab statements and sign joint petitions for peace. We will be forwarding one such.

5. If it could be achieved, a joint statement by American Jewish and Arab-American and Muslim American leaders urging both sides to step back from the brink.

Such a statement —

should honor both sides for their love of and commitment to the Land,

should rebuke both sides for assaults and provocations on religious shrines,

should invoke the religious imperative that saving life and preventing war are paramount,

should celebrate both sides' efforts to work out an equitable sharing of Jerusalem while urging them to address the issue further, and

perhaps should ask both sides to await an international investiigation of the causes of the violence and the development of new measures to prevent such explosion

That might help — because each side could see it as a warning that it does not have unlimited support from its supporters, and because each sides could see it as understanding its nightmares.

With prayers for shalom,