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Galilee Diary: Peace talk

Galilee Diary: Peace talk

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in Galilee Diary and Ten Minutes of Torah)


...Priest and prophet alike, they all act falsely, They offer healing offhand for the wounds of My people, Saying "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.-Jeremiah 6:13-14 (and 8:10-11)

Recently I was invited to speak at a conference on "Discovering and Accepting the Other," at Nes Ammim, a Christian community tucked among the avocado and banana orchards just south of Nahariya. Nes Ammim was founded in the 1960s by European Protestants who sought to support the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and to provide opportunities for Christians to live and study in Israel. Until a recent financial downturn, this peaceful little kibbutz raised flowers, produced furniture, and offered study programs for visiting Christians; today the population has declined, and the only continuing business is their kosher hotel, which serves Israelis and tourists. Their study center presents various public events in the course of the year, most notably a Kristallnacht commemoration that generally focuses on one of their main themes - the role of the bystander and the importance of taking responsibility.

This conference, attended by a miscellaneous assemblage of local Arabs, European visitors, and a few local Jews, was typical of other such gatherings I get invited to attend now and then at various venues. They tend to encourage somewhat predictable speeches/sermons on the importance of peace and good will and brotherhood - i.e., if only we could just treat each other as human beings, with human dignity, then we could break out of the cycle of violence. In preparing to speak, I really didn't want to fall into that pattern of platitudes for peace. Indeed, I have developed an aversion to such homilies, which are of course a regular part of public discourse around here: we talk a lot about wanting peace, praying for peace, loving peace, making peace. However, somehow when it comes to the bottom line, it is always some else's fault that peace remains a distant hope. It seems to me it would make more sense honestly to consider what we value more than peace - and what we even mean by peace. If the cost of peace is giving up certain other values we hold dear - identity, or political power, or beliefs, or economic benefits, or real estate - and we are unwilling to pay that price, then it seems a little disingenuous to go on and on about how much we long for peace.

With respect to the local situation in the Galilee between Jews and Arabs, since the riots of 2000 the phrase "peaceful coexistence" has become passé. It turned out that for Jews it meant quiet, while for the Arabs it meant redress of injustices (discrimination at various levels). And since we weren't talking about the same thing, we stopped using the words, at least in talking to each other.

So I said that before we can talk about Jews and Arabs living together in peace in Israel we have to talk about a few preconditions: a) finding a model of common loyalty, shared citizenship, defining how to apply the slogan of "democratic Jewish state" in everyday reality; b) reaching some kind of understanding of each other's "narrative" - finding a view of history that is not a zero-sum game (i.e., if I'm right you must be wrong and vice versa); c) becoming more knowledgeable and understanding of each other's cultures and the values and behaviors that are culturally determined; and d) overcoming the classic symptoms of fear, stereotyping, and hatred of the Other, whoever s/he may be. This is of course a huge challenge, and we could (and do) argue endlessly about where to start. The hard part, wherever we start, is taking responsibility for the status quo. We've been saying "he made me do it" since kindergarten; it didn't work then and it won't work now.

Published: 5/26/2009

Categories: Reform Judaism, Israel
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