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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Mideast Violence Is Misery For All

The Register-Guard

July 16, 2006
By Maurice Harris

On June 28, one of my many Israeli cousins was married in a beautiful ceremony in Tel Aviv. My wife, Melissa, and I were there, snapping photos, dancing the night away, and celebrating our cousin's newfound happiness.

At the very end of the wedding ceremony, the groom repeated these words from Psalm 137: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning." And then he smashed a glass, concluding the wedding in the traditional way.

Many say that the smashing of the glass reminds us of the brokenness of our world. We break a glass to remember that which is still unredeemed even in the midst of our greatest joy.

Not two hours drive away, in one of the most unredeemed corners of the Earth, the Gaza strip, Gilad Shalit, the 19-year-old Israeli soldier being held hostage, surely wondered whether that night would be his last, as he surely continues to wonder now. Or perhaps Gilad wept that evening for his dead comrades, Hanan Barak and Pavel Slutzker, the two soldiers killed in the same attack that resulted in Shalit's abduction.

And while I was direct witness to the psychological havoc that the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier plays upon the tightly knit Israeli community, I also was aware that in Gaza more than a million people were spending the night in fear. What might the night bring into their lives? Another round of shelling from the Israeli Air Force, knocking out power or accidentally killing civilians, including children? More Gazan neighbors fleeing their homes as leaflets fall from the skies advising the general population to leave?

That night, while we danced and hoped for a better future for the newlyweds, perhaps the parents of Gaza's children threw their hands up in frustration, unable to calm their sons and daughters after the trauma caused by Israeli jets flying low over population centers, causing sonic booms that terrify everyone, but most of all children.

Perhaps while we were refilling our glasses, Palestinians were shaking their heads in astonishment that Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had said that he was not employing tactics of collective punishment, even though hundreds of thousands of civilians were without electricity and not knowing what to expect next.

Maybe while we danced, the parents of Eliyahu Asheri, the 18-year-old Jew who was abducted in the West Bank and murdered by Palestinian militants that week, sat inconsolably in a darkened house on the floor.

Maybe when the DJ played the last song in our wedding hall, some of the people in the Israeli town of Sderot, which had endured relentless rocket fire from Gaza all that week causing dozens to be treated for shock, were beginning to experience the early effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of them may have been debating whether to send their children to school, given Hamas' latest threats to blow up Israeli schools in retaliation for what the Israelis are doing in Gaza.

The day after the wedding, Melissa and I flew back to the U.S., putting thousands of miles between us and that last evening of such great joy - joy encapsulated by a psychological security wall to keep out the surrounding suffering.

As a rabbi who has been active in Israeli-Palestinian peace work for more than a decade, I can't tell you how heartbroken I feel about this massive escalation of violence. Now there are more Israelis being held hostage, and a new front has opened up in this war in Lebanon.

I am frightened to the core. I'm afraid of what my relatives might face if this thing turns into a major regional war. Afraid of what Hamas and Hezbollah might do to Israelis in their schools, buses, restaurants and open markets. Afraid of what the Israeli military might do if rockets keep falling on Haifa and other northern Israeli cities, given the Israeli army's overwhelmingly superior firepower. Already, there are dozens of Lebanese civilians among the dead, and Israeli civilians are starting to die as well.

I only know this: this path that Olmert and Hamas/Hezbollah are taking - the path of violence, the path of escalation, the path of "force is the only thing the Arab/the Zionist understands" - this path has been tried before, repeatedly, and it has not worked. It has not brought Israel security, nor has it driven out the Jews and returned Palestinians to the homes they keep keys to.

For the Israelis, blowing apart Palestinian or Lebanese civilian infrastructure to apply "pressure" to the enemy has not eliminated terrorist organizations. Rather, it has only strengthened and validated militants in the eyes of the general population.

And for the Palestinians, holding hostages and bombarding Israeli towns with rockets has not taught the Israelis a lesson. On the contrary, it has only served to give Israelis a fear of Arabs that runs so deep that compromise of any kind feels to many like it might just be suicide. We're talking about two groups of people living with trauma and acting from unaddressed and unhealed trauma. This is dangerous.

Ultimately, the spiritual, moral, and practical truth that violence will not resolve this conflict remains.

I'd like to invite the readers of this essay to do something to try to help defuse this horror show before it gets worse. Contact your senators, representatives and the president, and urge them - no, beg them - to throw the full weight of the United States' clout behind ending this crisis. There needs to be a serious political incentive for the various warring leaders to start backing down from their entrenched positions.

Gilad Shalit and other Israeli soldiers being held captive must be released unharmed, and the Israeli Defense Forces must stop besieging dense population centers, causing civilian deaths and putting hundreds of thousands at risk. Rockets, no matter how crude or homemade, must not continue to be fired at Israeli civilians.

The United States is one of the only actors that has the political weight to act decisively and redirect the key leaders to the negotiating table and away from a path that may lead to a war including Syria, Iran and others. Please, contact our American leaders and urge them to act swiftly, creatively and determinedly to stop this escalation before it goes any further.

Israel and Palestine don't have to be like this. Despite the hellishness of this moment, there are many possible frameworks for coexistence and peace, and many courageous people on both sides of the conflict who take great risks to try to manifest a new reality. Most people in the region know that the only way out is an agreement that ultimately involves sharing the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and the political specifics of how that sharing will work are not impossible to sort out.

Whatever your feelings about the Bush administration, it is currently in a position to push hard for the goal that eluded President Clinton - a comprehensive end to this conflict. The rapid escalation of the violence these past three weeks has frightened the region's Jews and Arabs enough that a strong diplomatic hand from the United States might be more welcome now. Let the glass that is smashed in the future be only the glass of wedding celebrations, not the glass of windows blown out by rockets, whether they be crude Palestinian Qassams or high-tech Israeli guided missiles. If I forget to work to end the suffering we thrust upon each other, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning.

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