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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Op-ed: Western Negev experience is only a part of the story
By Joel Glick and Sandy Polishuk
Israel is almost 60, a living testament to the Jewish people’s steadfastness and ingenuity, and our ability to overcome adversity, time and again.
It’s a source of great sorrow among American Jews that the struggle continues. On a recent trip to Israel, Robert Horenstein was able to view up close the suffering of Israelis in the western Negev.
Horenstein wrote here about his horror at what he saw, and that horror is justified. No one should have to live under rocket attacks. No family should have to clutch their babies as they run for bomb shelters. No one.
Unfortunately, what Horenstein saw was only part of the story.
Israeli-Palestinian violence is now, as it so often is, stuck in an appalling cycle of action and reaction. Since January, Palestinian violence has killed two Israelis and one Ecuadorian volunteer.
During this same period, Israeli military operations have resulted in the deaths of more than 70 Palestinians, including several children. These attacks have come in response to rocket fire into the Negev. Israel has also retaliated by sealing off Gaza almost entirely, cutting off supplies, occasionally cutting off electricity. And still the rockets come.
Yet this shouldn’t be surprising. After Israel seized two suspected Hamas members on June 24, 2006, Hamas retaliated with a cross-border attack, killing two soldiers and capturing Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Israel responded with air raids across the strip, destroying Gaza’s power plant, strafing bridges, ultimately killing some 400 Palestinians over the summer. Yet today, Shalit remains in Hamas hands. And still the rockets come.
Wanting to learn more about the facts on the ground, Steve Masters, president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), and Rabbi Brant Rosen, a member of Brit Tzedek’s Rabbinic Council, recently led a delegation to Israel and the Palestinian territories. They met with settlers, academics and peace activists on both sides, and, not least, the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers, Ehud Olmert and Salam Fayyad.
Masters and Rosen expressed anguish as their trip unfolded. After observing Palestinians passing through one of Israel’s 546 West Bank checkpoints, Rabbi Rosen wrote, “Though many of us intellectually understand the reality of the occupation upon both sides… it is something else entirely to witness it firsthand.”
Frighteningly, the Brit Tzedek delegation heard of a steady collapse of hope. After meeting with prominent Israelis, Masters couldn’t help but conclude that “time is fading for a two-state solution.” Getting a powerful sense of the urgency of the need for a resolution, the delegation returned determined to see that the opportunity for peace is not lost.
“Because we love Israel,” Masters told Brit Tzedek members, “we’re going to advocate aggressively for what Israel needs, and that’s peace.”
Back in 2005, Israel declared that the Palestinians were not partners for peace, and so the country would pull out of Gaza unilaterally, without coordinating with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In so doing, Israel not only allowed itself no security arrangements or backup, but also created a circumstance in which Hamas could claim a victory for its terrorist tactics. Within months, Hamas had been narrowly elected to government.
If we have learned nothing else in the meantime, perhaps we can finally see that not talking, acting unilaterally and engaging in a nonstop round of violence has not improved Israel’s situation. It certainly hasn’t helped the people of the western Negev.
If the American Jewish community wants what’s best for Israel, we’ll put our collective will behind President Bush’s fragile efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We’ll call for robust American diplomacy, for real accountability on all sides, for a mutual recognition of each side’s legitimate needs for security.
We’ll advocate for peace.
Joel Glick and Sandy Polishuk are co-chairs of the Portland chapter of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.