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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace



The Jewish Response to Hamas Should Require “A Clear Sense of Intended Goal”

Herald Times

April 2, 2006
By Shaul Magid

Sometimes when things seem the clearest, they are the most complex. Such is the case with the recent victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections. On the one hand, Hamas is a terrorist organization that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. This would certainly justify total political and financial separation. On the other hand, polls consistently show that over 70 percent of those who voted for Hamas support a two-state solution to the conflict. And, this "government" will not rule a sovereign state, but a largely disempowered and disenfranchised enclave still under occupation. These factors should give us pause as to the proper course of action.

French physicist Pierre Duhem famously argued that given identical data, one can posit many theories equally well, i.e., any “objective” situation can be interpreted in a number of reasonable ways. What something means - and how we should react to it - requires something more than “evidence.” In political situations, the correct reaction often requires a clear sense of our intended goal, for what actually happens may partly result from what we want to happen.

Should we react to Hamas by cutting off all aid to the Palestinian people? This would clearly punish the government and those who elected it. But do we really expect to starve the Palestinians into moderation? Do we really expect anyone to say, “Oh, yes, let’s have a more moderate stance towards those who are starving our children?” If moderation is what is desired, we must act in a way that exhibits our dissatisfaction with a political choice, yet does not shirk our humanitarian or peace-making responsibilities. We should remember that this is still a population whose ports, borders and freedom of movement are controlled by others, which means, if nothing else, a limited ability to maintain an independent and stable economy.

In a March 3, 2006, letter to President Bush, close to 400 American rabbis from across the denominational spectrum implored the president to continue humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population and to remain actively engaged in re-starting a peace process that is the only solution to this crisis. Why did these rabbis send such a letter?

I signed the letter because I believe that Zionism is sustained by the threads of two interwoven and mutually inclusive principles: first, that Jews, like other peoples, have the right to a nation-state where they could nurture and cultivate their own society and become part of the global community; and second, that this state must be guided by the vision of a moral society as outlined in the prophetic and rabbinic Jewish tradition. When these moral threads begin to unravel, the Zionist project loses its bearings and too easily collapses into statism. The right of the Jewish people to self-determination cannot exist at the expense of another people's identical right (which holds true on the Palestinian side as well). The dichotomy of “Pro-Israeli” and “Pro-Palestinian” is false. These two peoples are destined to share a land and a holy city, even as necessary compromises may challenge their respective ideologies and desires.

I believe that long-term, stable peace requires the support of the Palestinian street. The party that convinces the average Palestinian its way holds the best chance for his family's future will win the day. Israel and Fatah have thus far lost this battle. Hamas now has its chance. As American Jews, we can convey to that average Palestinian that we recognize his right to self-determination and that we will not allow the moral thread of the Zionist quilt to unravel. Without our humanitarian intervention and acknowledgment of the rights of the Palestinian people as individuals and as a nation, Israel and Palestine are headed for a head-on collision, even if Israel continues to unilaterally draw borders and disengage. And we sadly know that it is often the case that in head-on collisions that both parties die.

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