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When will they ever learn...that violence is not the path to security?

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Today we write those words about Israel and Palestine, yesterday about the U.S. in Iraq, tomorrow about China in Tibet, and it goes on and on. And the only solution is to break the chain of pain and say, "No more-we will not respond to violence with violence. We will follow the teaching of the Torah that says 'love the stranger' and Jesus that says 'turn the other cheek' and we will stop this madness forever if we could really sustain the courage to do that."

This is a tough moment to say this point-and yet it needs to be said to both sides. I start with Israel only because it is the greater military power, but I'll get to a critique of the Palestinians too, so read this whole thing through. Tikkun's progressive middle path for Middle East Peace rejects any attempt to say that one side is the pure bad and the other the pure good.

So, the details of the day. Israel is the military power occupying the West Bank and surrounding Gaza. By all international standards it has no right to do either, but if it does so it has an absolute obligation to treat the civilian population with certain respect and basic human rights. Israel continually fails to do this and has become one (not the worst, but one) of the world's major human rights violators.

No wonder that people are asking their Jewish neighbors, "Do you really think that is morally acceptable to cut off electricity and water for a million and a half Gazans as a retribution for the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the kidnap of a third? Isn't this the kind of 'collective punishment' that ruthless dictators have used against the civilian populations of countries that they controlled to the horror of the rest of the world? Don't you realize that when you face acts of terror against Israeli civilians that it is because the Palestinians have no army, no airplanes, no tanks, so they fight with their improvised weapons as resistance forces have always done, and it makes no sense to call that "terror," particularly when the targets are members of the armed forces on active duty. And don't you think that the U.S. should be allowed to stand up for human rights there rather than be restrained by the fear that anyone criticizing Israel will be described as anti-Israel and their political futures put in danger by the AIPAC-related crowds that have been so effective in shaping the media and the public discourse in this country? And while we are at it, don't you think that it's really not great for the Jews to be identified with AIPAC and neo-cons and their spokespeople in Congress like Senator Lieberman who support the war in Iraq and who have become a major voice for trying to push the US into conflict with Iran?"

Those who care about the Jewish people, want to preserve it and protect it, want to see a safe and secure Israel and a safe and secure Jewish people all around the world, have to shout out now in very clear words: "Stop what you are doing, Israel, not just at the moment, but in the essence of your policies. Forget about taking over the part of the West Bank within the Wall built by the Israeli Right and their Labor party collaborators. Get out of the West Bank, and do it in a spirit of generosity, not of resentment and begrudging response to world pressure. Do it in a spirit that communicates that you recognize the humanity of the Palestinian people and recognize their suffering! Imagine, for example, how different the feelings would have been this week in the Arab world if, after killing a family on a Gaza beach through an IDF shelling, the President and Prime Minister of Israel had together gone to visit the family of the deceased to offer apologies and to share in the mourning of this loss, rather than trying to prove (unsuccessfully) that it wasn't really Israel's shell after all! Imagine how different things would be if today the Israeli government said, "We will find a way to create an international consortium to provide reparations for those Palestinians who have lost their homes in 1948-1967, and those whose homes were unfairly bulldozed to support the needs of the Israeli settlers on the West Bank! Imagine how different things would be if Israel could say, "We recognize that we have the greatest power in the area, that we face no credible threats from our neighbors, that our actions since 1948 have been ungenerous and sometimes outright immoral in the way we've treated not only Palestinians outside our state but also Arabs who have lived and paid taxes inside our state, and we want to stop all that, stop the escalation of weaponry and the arrogance of power, so we will take the first steps to show how generous the Jewish people can be when it follows its Torah's command to "love the stranger" and then announces concrete acts of love and generosity! Nothing less than this will work.

That is the way to break the chain of pain. The only way. And that's why eventually the path that Tikkun put forward years ago in our Resolution for Middle East Peace, and then in our support for the Geneva Accord, will be recognized as necessary components of peace. But we are not believers in power politics-in the final analysis what counts is transformations in consciousness and in the heart, and that is why the world so badly needs the New Bottom Line with its call to privileging love over power. Unrealistic, you say? No. What is unrealistic, in fact pure craziness, is for Israel to keep acting the way it has been acting for all these many years, imagining a different result from the same behavior.

So, does that mean that there's one side that is good and the other evil? No, the world rarely works that way.

So, we have a message for the Palestinian people also: Violence doesn't work and it is not working for you. You have every democratic right to elect a government that declares it does not recognize the very existence of the State of Israel, and that sees the fundamental crime not in expanding into the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 but rather in its coming into existence in the first place in 1948. Sure, you can do that. But if your government that you elect says it is in a war, then don't be surprised to find that war getting carried to your doors, to your electricity and water supply, and to your children. If it's war that you want, you'll get it. But if it is peace, then there is only one way: totally, 100% renounce violence, renounce the articulators of that violence (whether they be in Hamas or in Fatah). Embrace the path of Martin Luther King, jr. and of Mahatma Gandhi and of the later Nelson Mandela, and physically restrain those people among you who will resort to violence or even to violent speech. If you want to win, you can't do it by kidnapping, or sending missiles across the border, or throwing rocks. You must be disciplined soldiers of non-violence in your actions and words. You must not only unequivocally announce your support for the Right of Israel to exist, you must put forward your vision of a peace in which you live together with Israel in two sovereign states. And you must acknowledge that when it was Jews who were climbing out of the concentration camps and gaschambers and crematoria of Europe and desperately looking to return to their ancient homeland that it was your Palestinian leaders who, in alliance with British imperialism, tried to keep those refugees from settling in Palestine, thereby confirming to them the previous experiences they had in Arab countries where they were often treated as second class citizens. Acknowledge that when offered a two state solution in 1947 it was your own people who rejected it and denied that Jews could have any state of their own, while Muslims could have more than a dozen states in which their language, culture and religion was the official position of the society. Speak about that, teach it to your children, and enunciate it in Arabic for everyone to hear, and you will have some credibility in talking about the only thing that will make it possible for you to win: a strategy of open-hearted reconciliation with Israel and the Jewish people. So you must reject the anti-Israel lefties who give you the fantasy that you can keep on talking about the destruction of Israel, or embracing fanatics like the president of Iran, and then hope that Israel will be gentle and generous. It's a fantasy. Your only power is moral credibility, and you build that by giving yourself to that vision of peace and non-violence and love of the enemy. Don't listen to the people who tell you you have a right to struggle-because of course you have the right. The question is not whether you have the right, but whether it s SM...RT to follow that path. Those who care about Palestinians will come to a different conclusion: that the smarter path, the path most likely to lead to an end of the Occupation and to peace and security for the Palestinian people, will come through developing the kind of compassion for the other, for the oppressor, combined with absolute commitment to non-violence that made Martin Luther King Jr. and Mandela so successful. Your misleaders have taken you on a self-destructive path, and a path that has led you to immoral actions against innocent civilians. Stop that path-it brings only more suffering and no liberation.

This is the message that our ancient prophets have been trying to communicate in various languages: that the only path that can work is the path of peace, social justice, love, compassion, kindness and generosity. And the path to peace is a path of peace.

When will they ever learn?
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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun and national chair of the Tikkun Community/ Network of Spiritual Progressives. People are invited to subscribe to Tikkun magazine or join the interfaith organization the Network of Spiritual Progressives-- "both of which can be done by (more...)
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