Friday, April 25, 2008

Pesach Thoughts 5768: Four Sons and the Conflict

The Hagaddah speaks of 4 sons - wise, wicked, simple and one unable to ask. Over the generations, this theme was expanded…four different Jews, four generations, four characteristics present in each one of us.

In this context, here is a reading based on different Zionist approaches to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.

The ‘Redemptionist Child’ – what does he say? The whole of the historical land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people and talk about ‘peace’ with the Arabs is dangerous utopianism. The world has an implacable hatred towards us and nothing we can do will change that. The international community may show sympathy when we are weak but it can’t stomach the resurgence of Jewish sovereignty and power to its ancestral homeland. Even when we endanger our own soldiers so as not to hurt Palestinian civilians we are accused of carrying out massacres and genocide.

Whether we like to admit it or not, Jews will always be a ‘people that dwells alone’ and concessions in order to gain favour with the Arabs or ‘Goyim’ makes us look spineless and imperils more Jewish lives.

Things may look bleak but redemption is within reach. We need to have faith, be steadfast and unify the people around true Torah values, one of which is settling and taking ownership over all the land of Eretz Yisrael.

The ‘Realist’ Child - what does he say? Peace with the Palestinians may be possible, but not in this generation. At the Palestinians’ core - their public statements, television programs, textbooks - they don’t accept the right of the Jewish people to live in a state of our own.

Each withdrawal is not perceived as a sign of our peaceful intentions but as weakness and capitulation, evidence that we’re no longer willing to fight and struggle for the justice of our cause. We withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza and got rockets in response. How can we consider a similar withdrawal from the West Bank?

We need to cause the Palestinians to internalise the fact that we’re here to stay, that we have roots in this land, that we’re not leaving. We can ultimately achieve peace, but it will take time, and we need to be patient. In the meantime we need to sit tight, and continue to fight. It sounds fatalistic but with the correct education, Israeli society has the capacity to survive the storm.

The ‘Pragmatic’ child – what does he say? I’m not necessarily a fan of the Palestinians, but Israel’s continued control over the West Bank is bad for our national security. ‘Occupation’ causes our friends to desert us, demography erodes the chances for the two state solution and isolated settlements actually make it harder to defend ourselves against terrorism. We think our control strengthens us. Yet ultimately it weakens us.

The forces of religious extremism are on the rise. And unless we resolve our differences with those Palestinians who accept the two state solution, the window of opportunity for a secure Jewish and democratic state may close.

Peace doesn’t mean we’ll eat hummus in Damascus and Ramallah or stop calling up people to Miluim. But in an unstable neighbourhood in unstable times, an agreement that ensures a Jewish majority in approximately 80% of Mandatory Palestine while guaranteeing normalization with the Arab world is worth considering, even if it entails painful concessions.

It is after all, a situation that original Zionist leaders could only dream of.

The ‘Justice’ child – what does he say? The continued occupation over millions of Palestinians is poisoning and corrupting Israeli society, undermining our social fabric and is a betrayal of the core values of Judaism (and Zionism).

The Israeli – Palestinian conflict is a tragic struggle of right against right – with both sides having legitimate claims and grievances on the other. As a people, the Jews deserve the right to self determination, to express our national values and dreams…but so do the Palestinians. While we have religious, historical and cultural connections to this land, so do the Palestinians.

Zionism is the national liberation movement for the Jewish people. But it loses its moral legitimacy when it denies that same thing to another people. We have a responsibility to partition the land and undo the injustice our (justified) presence in our homeland has caused to the Palestinians.

All that remains is for each of us to decide which child is wise and which is simple (naïve)...And which is so blinded by their opinions that they are not even able to question them?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pesach Thoughts 5768: Of Pesachs Past and Present

Sometimes I wish things went quicker, that changes happened sooner, that the society people are trying to build here was more caring…that after 60 years Israel still wouldn’t be beset with so many problems that Pesach behooves us to try and alleviate…

But as the leader of one of modern day's great stories of national liberation writes in his autobiography, it’s a Long Walk to Freedom.

There are hiccups on the way, ups and downs, years spent in the desert.

Yet just because we haven’t reached the road's end, doesn’t mean we can't express thanks that we are alive, sustained us, and allowed to see this time, of celebrating Pesach in our own sovereign state.
שהחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה
p.s. I'm not sure if its good or bad that I still find old posts about Pesach relevant so thought I would allow everyone to judge for themselves.

Chag Sameach
Pesach 2006

Pesach is a festival about freedom – and what freedom means in our day and age. What freedom means when there are people who were forced out of their homes 9 months ago that are still in hotels; or when families who work full time still can’t afford to feed their children, or when young 18 year old Israeli boys are forced to make thousands of people wait in line at roadblocks.

It’s a festival that reminds us of the need to ask questions, to critique, to not take things at face value, a time for not only asking in what way this night is different to others, but in what way our year has been different, in what way we are different from last Pesach, what we have accomplished since then, who we have met, where we have traveled, who we have helped, who we have hurt…

To read the rest click here


Pesach 2007

The Exodus story has always been reinterpreted to be meaningful…In the 20th Century, Jewish Communists celebrated being liberated from Capitalism, Jewish feminists celebrated liberation from patriarchy and early Zionists marked being free from exile and anti Semitism. Even Martin Luther King used Yetziat Mitzrayim as a paradigm for the African American struggle for equal rights.

21st century Israelis meanwhile need to take a minute to think of those in our own society who remain 'enslaved'…The festival of freedom demands us not to close our eyes to our neighbour, even when they are a different colour, gender, religion or political persuasion to us. And as long as these injustices exist, our Israeli journey isn’t complete.

Yet this morning as I went to burn my pittot in our local park, saw the excitement on the faces of the children in my secular neighbourhood as they threw crumbs into the flames…it reminded me of how far we have come…We haven’t reached the end of our own story of creating a truly egalitarian and equal society living in our Bibilical homeland in peace with our neighbours. But we’re on a journey, and I’m grateful enough to say Dayenu.

To read the rest click here

Friday, April 11, 2008

Op-ed in Ha'aretz - From a Card to a Vital Interest

Today Ha'aretz published an op-ed I wrote based on some of the work we have been doing at Reut. I just hope the talkbackers don't go into overdrive!

Following the meeting earlier this week between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and reports of another summit being planned to coincide with U.S. President George W. Bush's visit in May, negotiations seem to have returned to the frequency and seriousness of the pre-Intifada period. A decade, though, is a long time in politics, especially in the Middle East. Yet despite this truism, Israel seems to be approaching negotiations with exactly the same mindset as in the past - a position that may undermine its ability to achieve its interests.

Since the Oslo Accords, Israeli policy has been guided by the assumption that the goal of the Palestinian national movement was the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Israel viewed its decision to "grant" its adversaries such a state as a negotiating "card" that could be "traded" for Palestinian concessions in other areas, specifically Israeli security demands. If the Palestinians wanted a state so much, the logic went, they would agree to certain restrictions on their sovereignty - such as demilitarization, Israeli use of Palestinian air space and early-warning stations in the West Bank. However, recent regional trends have eroded these assumptions to the point of irrelevancy, and are turning the establishment of a Palestinian state from an Israeli "card" into a pressing Israeli interest.

For one, the changing demographics and international balance of power are threatening Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state. Predictions that Arabs will reach demographic parity with Jews in the Land of Israel within the next decade, coupled with Palestinian and international impatience with developments on the ground, are bringing the threat of a binational state closer. For this reason, many Israelis now consider the creation of a Palestinian state not as a threat to Zionism, but, rather, as its lifeline.

Second, while Israelis increasingly see the desirability of the "two-state solution," more and more Palestinians increasingly doubt its viability. In addition to greater support for Hamas, which promotes a state in place of, rather than alongside, Israel, the lack of progress in negotiations has also taken its toll on more "moderate" Palestinians. Many view the Palestinian Authority as simply granting Israel a "license for occupation," and now suggest dissolving it and returning the full economic and political burden of that occupation to Israel.

Third, those Palestinians who still support the establishment of an independent state alongside Israel are raising the bar regarding what type of state will be acceptable to them. If in the past the Palestinians were willing to consider a state with provisional borders, Abbas now sees this as a trap. If during the Camp David negotiations Palestinians agreed to certain Israeli security demands that infringed on their sovereignty, they now oppose anything less than a full-fledged Palestinian state.

This new situation poses several dilemmas for Israel, most notably in its need to balance between security and political interests. Israel's security interests in relation to the Palestinians dictate, among other things, that it be able to prevent rocket fire on its population centers, the emergence of an eastern front, and the presence of enemy troops in the West Bank. In other words, military logic generally requires that Israel maintain control on the ground, or that it agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state only after its demands are guaranteed.

Israel's political logic, meanwhile, is to avoid having to retake responsibility for the fate of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as stopping the continuing erosion of the two-state option and of the Jewish state's legitimacy in the international community. In contrast to its military logic, Israel's political logic requires further withdrawals from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Whereas Israel traditionally believed that a peace agreement with the Palestinians could ensure both these logics, the changing reality may force Israel to choose - between creating a Palestinian state without seeing its security interests guaranteed, on the one hand, and continued security control without a political solution, on the other. In other words, the choice could well be between an agreement without security interests or no agreement at all.

There are ways Israel could alleviate this situation. It could reframe the negotiation agenda so as to leverage its security demands by discussing them alongside Palestinian demands to "intrude" into Israel's sovereign territory. Such a negotiation agenda could see Israeli demands for Palestinian demilitarization and use of air space "exchanged" for Palestinian demands for safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, and access to Israel's labor market. At the same time, Israel could begin to formulate a national security doctrine based on deterrence within its own territory rather than on security arrangements around the external perimeter of Palestine. But regardless of these options, without a comprehensive reevaluation of the new reality, Israel may find it difficult to attain any of its political and security interests vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Nonetheless, to date, such a reevaluation does not seem to have taken place.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Aliya and Changing Computers...

My work computer was ‘upgraded’ this week. There was nothing wrong with the old one – it had served me pretty well…its just the new one is supposed to better, more advanced – an upgraded graphics chip, a faster hard drive.

Yet in many ways the process has been frustrating. Some things didn’t quite survive the move - desktop items, my screensaver. Email addresses and signatures were lost.

My favorites webpages are somewhere in cyberspace. I-Tunes music needs to be downloaded again.

Things that made the old computer mine – pictures, emails and music - are no longer to hand.

Making the switch means being prepared to take a short term loss for what one assumes will be a longer term gain. And the hardest time comes before the gain becomes apparent.

In many ways changing computers reminds me of making Aliyah.

My friends and I didn’t run away from a country – our computer wasn’t broken. We just fancied an upgrade, believed that the new life offered a richer, (clearly not financially) more meaningful experience.

Yet the moving period is never without its problems – acclimatizing takes time, bureaucracy needs to be overcome, new friends and memories need to be forged anew. Professional and social status takes time to re-establish.

Sometimes important things disappear along the way. Some can be reclaimed; others can't.

Olim trade in an old life for a new because we believe (or hope) that in the long run it will be worthwhile… its just the bit in between that's difficult.