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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

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Accord kindles the flame of hope


By JULIE BLOOM and SUE SWARTZ, co-chairs of Bloomington chapter
Herald Times
December 19, 2003

This guest column was submitted by Julie Bloom and Sue Swartz, co-chairs of the Bloomington chapter of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom/The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.

This is the time of year when Jews the world over retell the Hanukkah story: a small band of Israelites determined to preserve their religion and way of life defeat the huge Greco-Syrian army, then retake and rededicate the Holy Temple. The Maccabees light the Temple menorah with one day's worth of oil and it miraculously burns with the flames of freedom for eight days.

Twenty-three hundred years later, we light the colorful candles with our friends and loved ones on these cold, dark winter nights, and are reminded that hope is possible even in the harshest of times.

And this year, the story leads many of us back to the Middle East where Israelis and Palestinians are locked in a devastating and violent impasse. Eight hundred Israelis and 2,300 Palestinians have been killed in the last 3 1/2 years. Each side recounts its legitimate grievances and fears and blames the other for the stalemate while their leadership offers a great deal of rhetoric and few workable solutions.

In this atmosphere of mistrust a small flame of hope was kindled on Dec. 1 with the signing of the Geneva Accord. This document, drafted by a group of Israeli and Palestinian politicians, security experts, and grassroots leaders, is the most far-reaching and detailed proposal ever to address the difficult issues of the conflict.

The accord includes Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people; establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state roughly along the 1967 Green Line; the division of Jerusalem along its already separated neighborhoods; the demilitarization of Palestine; Israeli control over how many Palestinian refugees return to Israel proper; and the use of an international force to oversee mutual borders and Jerusalem's Old City.

The signers of the accord do not officially represent their respective governments. Nor do they harbor the illusion that their plan, almost three years in the making, will be adopted in its entirety or any time soon. But they do present both peoples and all of us with a possible model of compromise for the region.

What these men and women have done, despite deeply held differences, is lay a foundation upon which much needed dialogue and eventual co-existence might be built. The full document has been mailed to every address in Israel and published in the large-circulation newspapers read by Palestinians. It has sparked intense debate in both societies and reinvigorated the long-dormant voices for peace. Most crucially, the accord has challenged both sides to move beyond the familiar stories, prejudices, and mistrust to forge an alliance for peace.

Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the principal architects of the plan, are asking Palestinians and Israelis to push their respective governments toward a fair and negotiated peace, and they are asking the United States to provide the support needed for that peace to be lasting.

In response, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Lois Capps have introduced bipartisan congressional resolutions that "applaud the courage and vision of Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to conceive pragmatic, serious plans for achieving peace" and "urges the president of the United States to encourage and embrace all serious efforts to move away from violent military stalemate toward achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace." We hope that members of the Indiana delegation will sign on to co-sponsorship of the resolution.

On the first Saturday of Hanukkah, we read from the prophet Zechariah, who sent words of encouragement to the tired and disheartened people re-building the Temple in Jerusalem 350 years before the Maccabees. Though the relationship with their neighbors was hostile and discouraging, Zechariah exhorted his people to continue their work "not by might, nor by power, but by (Divine) spirit."

His words find a modern day equivalent in the words of Yaakov Perry, a former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli security services. On behalf of three other former Shin Bet leaders, Perry said in a public interview last month that "if nothing happens and we go on living by the sword, we will continue to wallow in the mud and destroy ourselves."

The group of four men no strangers to the conflict also praised the grassroots peace effort The People's Voice, whose organizers have garnered 60,000 Palestinian and 100,000 Israeli signatures on a petition that calls for a negotiated two-state solution generally along the lines of those imagined in the Geneva Accord.

Not by sword, but by negotiation. We believe the accord, and other initiatives, prove that there are partners for peace on both sides of the conflict, and that these partners can enter into positive dialogue with each other.

In this holiday season, may governments and ordinary citizens summon the necessary faith to light one candle and then another with no promise that they will continue burning, but with the courage to persevere nonetheless.

May each one of us take a step to insure that the miracle of Middle East peace becomes a reality. Please visit the Website of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace a national organization whose members are committed to a two-state solution that will bring security and peace to Israel and the entire Middle East. Our local chapter can also be contacted directly at Bloomington@btvshalom.org
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