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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Atlanta, GeorgiaAtlanta Jewish Times
June 4, 2004
By Richard Breitkopf
Last November, I attended the Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) conference, in Boston. The pro Israel organization advocates a negotiated settlement to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
There were many Jewish participants, including rabbis, Israeli politicians and military leaders. However, the speaker who made the strongest impact on my personal vision of a two state solution was James Zogby, Arab American Institute president.
As one might expect from an Arab American leader, Zogby's talk centered around Palestinian suffering under occupation. But he also did something I never thought I'd hear from an Arab leader. He acknowledged Jewish suffering. He recalled his mother's tears when Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg were executed and his own tears when he read "The Diary of Anne Frank," and he condemned suicide bombing.
By the time he broached the topic of Palestinian hardship, he had gained our attention and respect because we felt that Israeli pain had been acknowledged. By opting for this productive path, he opened listening channels and freed a potentially adversarial audience to hear about the real obstacles that we, together, must face.
We learned some valid reasons for Palestinian frustration including the inability to bring investment dollars to Palestinian businesses in the territories and the Israeli government's refusal to halt rapid settlement construction from the time of Oslo through the present. These were difficult messages to hear, but Zogby's approach allowed us to learn about the other side's perspective as a consideration in shaping a responsible American Jewish role in solving the conflict.
We need to consider proposals including the Quartet Road Map, the Geneva initiatives and Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan. The latter option is popular in Israel because it puts security first and reflects the minimal interest that a majority of Israelis have in remaining in Gaza. However, we need to consider whether an independent Palestinian state can emerge from borders designated by Israel alone. While any withdrawal from the occupied territories is welcome, if a non viable Palestinian state results it will only perpetuate terror.
The Geneva initiatives engage a Palestinian voice in the settlement. The exchange with Zogby demonstrated the spirit of Geneva, which is based upon quality listening and continues to be promoted by Brit Tzedek.
Naomi Chazan, a former deputy speaker of the Knesset and Labor Knesset member Amrarm Mitzna, both strong proponents of Geneva, have scheduled upcoming U.S. speaking tours sponsored by the organization that will likely reach Atlanta Board members from the organization continue to meet with Congress to support recent legislation introduced by Rep. Lois Capps (D Calif.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D Calif.). Six months later we find Sharon's disengagement plan with strong support from the majority of Israelis. The Labor Party is now showing signs of Ye as evidenced by a recent peace rally attended by more than 150,000 in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.
The American Jewish community must listen to Arab and Palestinian Americans and in turn we will be heard. We must think about the interconnected fate of Israelis and Palestinians and shape our message to policy makers in Washington accordingly. We should not squander our power to make this move toward peace.
Richard Breitkopf is the Atlanta chapter leader of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.
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