From Spiritual/ Jewish Values to a Peace Policy for the Middle East

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The stance from which I approach issues of peace in the Middle East — just like the stance from which I address issues of healing the earth, seeking social justice, encouraging a rhythm of Free Time against overwork — is the stance of a spiritually renewed and renewing Judaism, a tree fed by the universal Breath of Life.

That universal Breath teaches --

That life is interwoven, that all communities and life-forms can be valued organs within the body of life, each organ different from the others as the heart and liver and brain differ while all are parts of a sacred whole.

That self-restraint by each center of power -- not negating its own value but not domineering over others -- is crucial.

From that stance, I affirm these things below. —

1. BOTH families that identify themselves with ethnic and spiritual descent from Abraham have a special relationship with the Land between the Jordan & the Sea, and BOTH are entitled/ obligated to work out a sacred and decent relationship with each other and the Land, each governing itself internally as each seeks in its own way to carry out that task.

2. Each of these peoples is obligated to affirm the right and the obligation of the other as well as of itself to do this; each must see itself as part of a conjoined twinship, in which the health of our twin is our own health, and the hurt of our twin is our own hurt.

3. For Jews and Jewish organizations wherever they live, this means support for Israel as a state with a special relationship to the Jewish people -- a state that expresses Jewish values, including the ancient value of justice and love for the foreigner who lives within the Land and in a Jewish jurisdiction.

It also means support for the creation of a free, peaceful Palestine that observes basic human rights — not as a reluctant concession to realities of power but in joyful embrace of a sacred obligation and a recognition of our conjoined twinship.

4. Such a state of Israel does not need to reenact the individualism of modernity but can legitimately root itself in communities and encourage communities, so long as there is equality in access to economic goods, civil and human rights, education, etc.

So it is legitimate for Israel to affirm its special Jewish character so long as it accords full equality to its communal/ ethnic minorities in those ways and in the ability to flower as a community and culture. That is not the way the state is now behaving, and Jews who are trying to renew Judaism have both the right and obligation to criticize and protest those failures.

5. Israel has the right and obligation to defend a territory that is sufficient to support a flourishing state, and the obligation to NOT claim possession of any territory beyond that necessity (on the ground of the spiritual importance of self-restraint — see Shabbat, the corners of the fields, the fringes of the tallit, etc.) as well as on the ground of justice, practicality, etc.

6. Control of land within the Green Line, plus only the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, is essential to the nationhood of Israel.

Control of land beyond that is NOT essential to the nationhood of Israel.

Control by Palestinians of all the land beyond the Green Line (with those tiny exceptions) IS essential to the viability and peacefulness of a Palestinian state. Israel should therefore be insisting on both, as its own values.

7. Both the creation of Palestinian refugees from Israel and the creation of Jewish refugees from a number of Arab states and territories were the expression of the fears and rages of the early years of Israel's independence. Many ethical failures on all sides, committed under great pressure, are visible in retrospect.

For both sides to ackowledge these ethical failures and do tshuvah for them would be important. For Israel, this should include a formal recognition that there were ethical failures; substantial investment in resettling Palestinians abroad in a new State of Palestine; admitting carefully limited numbers of the original inhabitants into Israel; and negotiating compensation for Jewish refugees as well.

8. The occupation and blockade of the only possible peaceful Palestine — East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza — by Israel makes peace impossible, damages Israeli security, and brings about the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians.

Ending the settlements, the occupation, and the blockade is NOT a win-lose but a win-win event.

"Ending the settlements" might mean bringing the settlers home and/or their agreeing to live as Palestinian citizens under Palestinian law, without special protections from Israel.

9. For Jews who see peace and nonviolence as a higher good than violence, even if they are not absolute pacifists, and especially for those Jews who are ready to take the risks of nonviolence upon themselves, it is appropriate and important to support those voices in the Palestinian community who are urging a turn to nonviolent rather than violent resistance to the occupation. For everyone, it is an obligation to condemn the use by some Palestinians and the use by some Israelis of violence against unarmed civilians, whether under color of governmental authority or not, whether deliberately or as the clearly predictable result of violence directed at others.

10. One of the most powerful forms of action for social change is to create in the present the forms that one envisions for the future. Thus Jewish wisdom teaches that if the whole Jewish people were to observe two Shabbats in a row, Messiah would come — because Shabbat is itself a mini-Messianic moment. The US sit-in movement was based not on petitioning for the end of segregation nor on attacking its defenders but simply on integrating drugstores, buses, and voting booths — and forcing segregationists to respond to those faits accomplis.

As Martin Buber wrote in "Recollection of a Death" (in Pointing the Way, p. 118):

"I cannot conceive of anything real corresponding to the saying that the end 'sanctifies' the means; but I mean something which is real in the highest sense of the term when I say that the means profane, actually make meaningless, the end, that is, its realization!

"What is realized is the farther from the goal that was set, the more out of accord with it is the method by which it was realized."

And to put this in positive, rather than negative, terms: The means BECOME the end. Act out the vision in the present, and you are far likelier to achieve the vision.

In regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the most powerful version of this approach has till now been the original creation of ultranationalist Israeli settlements on the West Bank. They envisioned a future of Israeli domination, they acted to create that vision in the present, and they dragged a great deal of Israeli politics along in their wake.

Now the question is whether Jews and Palestinians committed to a just peace can do what the ultranationalists did: create pieces of our envisioned future, NOW. That is what Rabbis for Human Rights, Bat Shalom, and the Israel Comnmmittee Against House Demolition are doing when, TOGETHER WITH Palestinians, they create a nonviolent action that interferes with home demolitions, breaks through siege and blockade barriers, replants destroyed trees, etc.

11. Jewishly committed Jews who are Americans also have both the right and obligation to bring their values, rooted in Judaism, to their influence on US government policy, including US policy toward the Middle East. Those values include protecting the peace and safety of Israel, insisting on the emergence and safety of a Palestinian state, and also pursuing the other Jewish values mentioned above.

In regard to HOW these values should be enacted, their views should take into serious account the wishes of any Israeli government, but not be controlled by its views.



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