As Elul draws to its close
Six ways to usher in the new year

Hopes for Israel and for Palestine

Outside the Ein Yael checkpoint. As described in this post about the All Nations Café, 2008.

It's been a busy week for those of us who try to carefully follow happenings in/around Israel and Palestine. I want to write about this week's new developments, but I have a tremendous amount of work to do -- practically, emotionally, spiritually -- in preparation for the Days of Awe. Then again, engaging with happenings in the Middle East is arguably part of my work. Hence this post...though, thanks to the obligations of the season, this may be briefer (and my ability to respond to comments may be less) than might otherwise be the case.

Israeli-American blogger Emily L. Hauser is worth reading on Israel/Palestine this week, as always. Here's an excerpt from the post she put up on Friday, after both Abbas and Netanyahu had spoken to the UN:

After a quarter of a century of living, studying, reporting, researching, and writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, my demoralization has reached a low that I never dreamed possible. I cannot do it.

I will say only this: The Palestinian statehood bid is an entirely legal, nonviolent attempt at a work-around to Israeli and American intransigence. 

Along with the 600+ other members of the JStreet rabbinic cabinet, I support the existence of a free and prosperous Palestine which could be a good neighbor to Israel -- and, it goes without saying, the existence of a just and safe Israel which could be a good neighbor to Palestine. I know that many Israelis and Palestinians share this yearning. Everyone I know in Israel wants two safe, independent, thriving states alongside each other.

And yet it keeps not happening. Not only that: the two sides continue to be at one another's throats. Settlements continue to expand, carving the West Bank into the proverbial block of Swiss cheese. Rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Injustice continues to unfold, and in its wake come its close cousins resentment and terror. I can understand why these realities might spark depression in those who care about this place.

I imagine that if the Israeli government had been able to respond to the Palestinian statehood bid differently, that might have changed the conversation. (One interesting possibility along these lines was suggested in Tikkun: Recognize Palestine AND Reaffirm Israel as a Jewish State.) But that's not where Netanyahu is coming from. Gershom Gorenberg of South Jerusalem writes, at the American Prospect, about Netanyahu's remarks at the UN:

His truth, he said, would include "the fact that [Jews] are not foreigners … that we have rights in this country that go 'only' 4,000 years"—an argument not likely to convince U.N. delegates that the Palestinians do not also have a right to self-determination. Nor will his claim that "the Palestinians are doing everything to torpedo direct peace negotiations" erase his own refusal to stop settlement construction...

But Netanyahu is playing to a different audience. He may hope that his speech...will appeal to the legitimately scarred side of the Jewish psyche that says that the whole world is against us, that we must demand our rights, but that any recognition of them is really only the smile before betrayal.

The historical traumas that produced these fears are entirely real. The problem with post-traumatic stress is that it alerts you not only to real dangers but false ones. For the mugging victim, every friendly wave of a hand may look like the prelude to the blow of a fist.

Gorenberg notes that Netanyahu has legitimate reasons to relate to the Palestinians with fear -- but also notes, quite pointedly, that so did Yitzchak Rabin (of blessed memory), and Rabin was able to put those traumas aside and choose the path toward peace. I wish I thought that Israel's current government were capable of learning from Rabin's example.

I continue to hope that change is possible; that peace is possible; that someday I will be able to travel with my family to two thriving, independent, safe, and beautiful states of Israel and of Palestine. I don't know how the world is going to get there, but I continue to pray and to hope.

Perhaps the most poignant response I've read to this week's events is Uri Avnery's "Sad and Happy About Palestinian Statehood Bid," printed at Tikkun as part of a selection of responses to the potential UN recognition of Palestine. Remembering 1948, Avnery writes:

The idea of peace between two gallant fighters after the battle is as old as Semitic culture. In the epic written more than 3,000 years ago, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk (in today's Iraq) fights against the wild Enkidu, his equal in strength and courage, and after the epic fight they become blood brothers.

We had fought hard and had won. The Palestinians had lost everything. The part of Palestine that had been allotted by the U.N. to their state had been gobbled up by Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, leaving nothing for them. Half the Palestinian people had been driven from their homes and become refugees.

That was the time, we thought, for the victor to stun the world with an act of magnanimity and wisdom, offering to help the Palestinians to set up their state in return for peace. Thus we could forge a friendship that would last for generations...I am telling this story (again) in order to make one point: when the "two-state solution" was conceived for the first time after 1948, it was as an idea of reconciliation, fraternization, and mutual respect.

Given the status of things now, after 60 years of strife between the two sides, reconciliation, fraternization, and mutual respect seem unlikely. But I join Avnery in continuing to dream that this is possible. There must be a way to get there from here.

Please, God, may the coming year of 5772 be the year in which things begin to change for the better in that beautiful, complicated sliver of land which so many people love so fiercely! I don't know whether the Palestinian request for membership in the United Nations can create that reality, but I know that what's been tried over the last several decades hasn't worked. I'm ready to place my hope in new alternatives, if they might help create the paradigm shift which will lead to the change I yearn to see.