Saturday, May 17, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ISRAEL, AND RELATED TOPICS

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the independence of the State of Israel. It is also the 60th year of prolonged struggle and war for the people of Israel; sadly, there is no end of conflict in sight. Sherry and I have been to Israel several times; to visit friends and relatives, to develop business for my company (unsuccessfully), and as part of an interfaith journey of peace. Israel is an exciting and fascinating country filled with beauty, history, and archaeological wonders. It is a land of contrasts; the Old City of Jerusalem and the modern Tel Aviv; the lush green of the coastal plain and the dry austere interior deserts; the ultra-religious and the secular Jews; those who assume that god gave all of Israel to the Jewish people and those who push for peace and coexistence; the Jewish Israelis and the Arab Israelis.

The story and existence of Israel are complex; many of the "facts" of the history of this land are muddled by those who recorded and recite them. Multiple realities seem to abound and intertwine. What is real, what is not?

Unfortunately, there is no one truth upon which everyone can or ever will agree. And, unfortunately, it appears that this conflict of "what is true, what is real" will continue to keep people apart.

As a Jew, I am happy that the State of Israel exists, and I congratulate the people of Israel on this anniversary. The history of persecution of Jews throughout the world is real, and continues today. The Holocaust seared images of hate and bigotry into the minds of the world, and created the "never again" will of those who founded and live in Israel. There are many countries that are dominated by Christian or Muslim religion and teachings (including the United States), including some that are governed on the bases of religion. There is only one country where Jews are the dominant culture and religion, and where Jews can feel secure, or at least be in control of their own security - and that is Israel.

Having said the above, I also have to say that this is not the only operative narrative in Israel; there is also the narrative of the Palestinian people. To Palestinians, this is also a 60th anniversary, of the Nakba - the Catastrophe - during which many Arab people lost their homes and lands. This narrative also has to be recognized because it is part of the story. Arab people and their families displaced by the war of 1948 have legitimate grievances that need to be recognized and addressed. In the U.S.A. we now recognize that our country was build on top of the lands and lives of native people who were killed or displaced by waves of European immigration to North America.

There are many obstacles to peace in Israel/Palestine, and only one way to break through - compromise. The fiery anti-Zionist/Jewish rhetoric of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Osama bin Laden and other extremists is designed to promote bigotry and hatred against Jews, and to keep world opinion on the side of the Palestinians. Will Israel ever go away or be "wiped off the map?" No - it will never happen. There are only two choices: 1) continue the endless cycle of violence, hatred, attacks and counter-attacks, with each side digging a deeper and deeper pit of hate and misery; or 2) find a way for reasonable people on both sides to agree on compromises that both sides can live with, and learn to live side-by-side in ways that result in tolerance, partnerships and peace. The Palestinian people need to repudiate the acts of violence and war that are hurled daily at Israel in the form of missiles, rockets, and suicide bombers. The Israeli people need to make solid commitments to resolve the issues of settlements and borders, Jerusalem, and reconciliation concerning Arabs displaced from their lands and homes during and since the war of 1948.

This 60th anniversary of Israel is bittersweet, with positives and negatives landmarking it's brief history. Think about what the Middle East would be like without the constant of Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a place where people work together to solve the global issues of our time.

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