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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


Don't Let Gaza Fail

Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
August 26, 2005
By Allan Abrams

Israel is disengaging. Settlers have departed from 21 Gaza and four West Bank settlements. Some of the infrastructure has already been dismantled. The withdrawal, after 38 years of settlement activity, has been a wrenching and disruptive event, exposing an ideological divide in Israeli society. Unlike in Gaza, which Israel plans to hand over to Palestinians in October, Israel plans to retain security control of the four West Bank settlements. More than 120 West Bank settlements remain, where some 250,000 settlers live among 2.4 million Palestinians.

Notwithstanding the noisy and angry rhetoric of some extremist settlers and their most vocal supporters, many of whom came to Gaza from the West Bank, there has been little violence. And the withdrawal was faster and smoother than envisaged merely a week ago. This may all be good news, but it is far too early to rejoice. If the disengagement is a step in the right direction, that's all it is - a step; a small, singular, albeit important step, on a very long road. However, no matter how problematic that road is, the withdrawal represents a new window of opportunity and hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - especially if the United States plays a constructive role.

As a Kansas City Jew with family and friends in Israel and a deep attachment to its people, I was very pleased with the Sharon government's decision to withdraw from a part of the occupied territories. I was impressed - and, yes, surprised - that Ariel Sharon would take such a bold step. I am very hopeful that the disengagement will help end the devastating cycle of violence in which Israelis and Palestinians have found themselves since September 2000.

Nevertheless, as hopeful as I am, now I am simultaneously afraid and worried. I remain afraid of the long-term threat to Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, a beacon of pride and hope for her citizens and Jews worldwide. It can't be both Jewish and democratic if the Palestinian population on the West Bank is considered part of Israel. The demographics just won't allow for that. The Palestinian birth rate is so comparatively high that Jews would likely be a minority in a mere 10-15 years.

And I am worried that the Gaza disengagement will, for Israelis and Palestinians alike, reinforce the notion that there's no one to talk to on the other side and that the deadly status quo will continue. Palestinians may give up on the possibility of peaceful coexistence, and Israelis may determine to never go through something so painful again.

Media images have focused our attention on scenes of anger and confusion and on both sides' extremists who want to sabotage or hijack the withdrawal, instead of on the solid majorities of Israelis and Palestinians who support moderation and negotiations. (84 percent of Palestinians and 85 percent of Israelis support negotiations on a comprehensive settlement; large majorities support the possibility of compromise with the other side's current leadership.)

Name an envoy
Because I want Israel to thrive and I want my daughters Ali and Amy, who have both recently visited Israel as part of Operation Birthright, as well as hoped-for grandchildren, to have a rich and positive connection to the Jewish state, I support negotiations leading to a comprehensive, reciprocal, two-state solution to the conflict. This is the only solution that makes sense; the only way that Israelis and Palestinians alike will know peace and security. To be successful, it must speak to the fears and hopes of both peoples. And it must demand painful sacrifices: Palestinians must give up the "right of return," while Israelis will confront the precedent set by the withdrawal from Gaza.

The ultimate outcome must meet Israeli and Palestinian needs for security guarantees, viable economies and democratic civil societies. It is in this spirit that I ask President Bush to take decisive steps to save the Gaza plan.

It is understandable that both sides to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, mired in internal debate, entangled by mutual distrust and consumed by longstanding fear, have been unable to achieve working agreements. Understandable, but very dangerous. With involvement of an influential third party, that danger will greatly lessen.

I thus call on President Bush to name a well-known and respected senior statesman or stateswoman as an envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to remain on the ground in the months following the withdrawal. This envoy should be provided with a team of monitors to enable independent corroboration of both sides' claims about the steps taken or not taken to implement and coordinate agreements. He or she should not dictate, but rather just encourage. And even this encouragement may be limited to furthering unilateral actions on either side that are consistent with a two-state solution. And effective security coordination is critical to prevent violence from halting progress. President Bush needs to take immediate action to see that failure is not an option. Appoint an envoy today.

I've written this from a personal perspective because of the strong connection to Israel that I feel in my kishkes, like other Chronicle readers. Since I was 7 years old and had the lead role as narrator in a Sunday school class play about the United Nations vote that gave Israel its independence, I have felt that if Israel were to not exist, part of my being would disappear, as well. Now, more than a half-century later, being a small voice for Israeli peace and reconciliation is one of my two passions in life (I have trouble reconciling this with my other passion, jazz!).

Grassroots action
My perspective is similar to that of my organization, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. Who are we? We are your neighbors, friends, rabbis and lay members of the community. We are a national network of some 30,000 members and supporters in 30 chapters, including Kansas City. We believe that the elusive Middle East peace so many of us h ave longed for may not be achieved unless there is significant, pro-active, "grassroots" involvement of individuals who understand the issues and who, in turn, occasionally communicate with the politicians and diplomats who need our encouragement and support. Just like 70 percent of recently polled American Jews, we support a two-state solution to the conflict. On July 29, we took our call for President Bush to immediately appoint a high-level political envoy to the grassroots, Capitol Hill and the White House.

Locally, each week we e-mail a compilation of articles from both popular and more obscure media sources so that we become better educated on the issues. Similarly, our monthly programs, usually held at the Jewish Community Campus, help in educating about complex international political issues.

Finally, and just as importantly, in cooperation with other organizations, we also encourage and facilitate interaction between Muslims and Jews locally and support various programs in the United States, the Palestinian territories and Israel where Palestinian and Israeli teenagers and adults live, study, work, and enjoy leisure time together.

We learn from experience that simply spending time with unfamiliar, ethnically diverse people in a non-threatening environment breaks down barriers and permits people to think far more positively about their perceived adversary. For example, the dividends from this type of interaction were notable in the Salaam-Shalom Celebration this past winter in Leawood's Ironwood Lodge, when more than 500 Jews, Christians and Muslims shared each others' company and delicious Middle Eastern food.

And we will see more such benefits on Sept. 12 when storyteller Noa Baum comes to the American Heartland Theatre for her one-woman show, "A Land Twice Promised." — (See article on page 6). — Noa took a risk by reaching out to someone who was perceived as an enemy, and that person reached back. Because of their dialogue, she wants to spread the word that we can all make such connections. I saw a preview of her performance; it was riveting!Come see Noa Baum on Sept. 12. And please support the appointment of a presidential envoy! I can tell you how. Email me, and go to Together, we can make it happen!

Allan Abrams is the chairperson of the Kansas City chapter of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and serves on Brit Tzedek's national board. He is semi-retired attorney and investment counselor and a member of Congregation Beth Torah.

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