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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace



Sermon: Peace in the Face of War

Seattle, WA

July 21, 2006
By Rabbi Hillel Gamoran

Friends, a rally in support of Israel will take place on Sunday afternoon in Luther Burbank Park in Mercer Island. It is sponsored by many synagogues and organizations in the Seattle area. A representative of the Israeli government will speak. So will several other prominent Seattleites including two rabbis. I am not on the program, so it is your fortune (I wont say good fortune or bad fortune; that will be for you to decide), it will be your fortune to hear what I would have said had I been invited to speak at the rally.

When Hezbollah struck a military camp across the international border killing eight soldiers and capturing two, Israel responded with its armed forces. It bombed suspected Hezbollah sites in Lebanon killing scores and, a few days later, sent its troops over the border to rout out the enemy positions. Hezbollah has responded with a continuous barrage of missiles and rockets which have hit Naharia, Haifa, Nazareth and Tiberius. As we speak, the fighting continues. Over 30 Israelis have died. More than a hundred have been wounded. Over 300 Lebanese have lost their lives.

What is war? It is death, bereavement, mothers lamenting their children, children without parents. It is burns, blinding, loss of limbs. War spurs feelings of hatred and revenge.

In 1982 Israeli forces entered Lebanon with the belief that it could bring about peace by the use of force. After 18 years of occupation in Lebanon and the loss of scores of soldiers, six years ago, Israel withdrew from Lebanon. Despite this, Hezbollah, a fundamentalist, terrorist group, built up a large arsenal in preparation for war against Israel. And when Hezbollah crossed the border and killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers, war began. But, friends, an end to the violence must be sought. A cease-fire must be brokered and negotiations entered into between the enemies to solve their outstanding differences. The United States must participate in the process and seek to end the cycle of violence. Our governments engagement is crucial to bringing an end to the bloodshed.

I have always tried to ground my remarks on Jewish sources. The story of Abraham and the shepherds is a model for me. Abrahams shepherds and the shepherds of his nephew, Lot, were quarreling over the grazing rights. Abraham entered the fray and said to Lot, Let there be no strife between us. If you go to the right, we will go to the left. If you go to the left, we will go to the right. What a perfect solution. With a few words, the problem was solved. Violence was avoided.

The rabbis taught, Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace. That is a teaching well worth remembering.

The loss of life is taking place not only in Lebanon and in Israel, but in Gaza as well. When Hamas militants entered Israel and kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, Israel responded militarily, bombing bridges, power plants and Hamas offices, generally inflicting misery on the residents of Gaza. Hamas continued sending Kassam rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. Israel bombed Gaza with the inevitable killing of innocent civilians. Israel responded as if it could coerce a solution by force. The military actions in Gaza will bring more destruction, more death, more bereavement, but it will not stem the hatred and it will not bring the return of Gilad Shalit.

Many have realized for years that if Israel is to live in peace in the Middle East, it must settle its dispute with the Palestinians. The key to peace is a two state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. If this could be achieved the differences with Lebanon and Syria could also be overcome.

Three years ago an important development took place. A group of prominent Palestinians and prominent Israelis concluded 2 1/2 years of tough negotiations with the signing of an agreement in Geneva. This is a detailed accord for peace between the two peoples. Some have called it the eighth day of Taba. You will recall that during the closing days of the Clinton and Barak governments, the parties engaged in strenuous negotiations to settle the matters uncompleted at Camp David in July of 2000. Those negotiations in Taba broke down after seven days. They came near to an agreement, but could not close certain gaps. Now a pact has been reached. It is a 50 page agreement with detailed maps, but the following four points give the essentials of the pact:

  1. Israel will be recognized as the state of the Jewish people and a demilitarized State of Palestine will be established along the 1967 borders with Israel. The State of Israel will include slightly expanded borders around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that will allow 75% of the West Bank settlers to remain in place. In turn, Israel will cede equivalent portions of land near the Gaza Strip and southern West Bank to Palestine.
  2. Jerusalem will be divided in accordance with its already separate Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, with each state having sovereignty over its holiest sites.
  3. The Palestinians will have an unlimited right to return to the new State of Palestine, but return to Israel will be decided by Israel. The refugees will be entitled to compensation and reparations.
  4. A multilateral force will maintain security inside the emergent Palestinian State and on its borders. Jerusalem will be the capital of both the State of Israel and of Palestine. The Temple Mount will be under the control of Palestine; the Wall in Israeli hands; Palestinians will renounce all claims against Israel and will cease all violence against the Jewish state.

The Geneva Accord is detailed. It goes into every dispute between the parties and seeks to settle each. There is, however, one major problem with the Geneva Accord. The Palestinian Authority has been noncommittal regarding it, and the government of Israel has opposed it.

But I believe that we should encourage endorsement of the Geneva Accord. Not every detail of the Accord may be accepted, but it stands as a basis for what can be achieved.

And this much we can say for sure. The path of violence does not work. It will not give the Israelis the safety and security they seek. Every time Israel kills a militant more militants are created. No, violence has not worked in the past and it will not work in the future. Ultimately the parties to the conflict will need to sit down at the table of peace to settle their differences.

We need to encourage Israel to adopt a formula for peace. The policy of retaliation is a proven failure. Israel must turn toward negotiation. The American Jewish community has a vital role to play in this process. We must encourage the president of the United States to place peace in the Middle East at the top of his agenda.

Friends, I believe with all my heart that what divides people in the world today is not so much Christian and Jew, or black and white, or rich and poor. I believe that the most important way in which people are divided is between those who believe that problems can be solved peacefully and those who maintain that the only way is by might and power. If you believe that it is possible to sit down with your neighbors, face to face, and find grounds for compromise, then I urge you to make your voices heard. Peace is possible; peace is necessary; peace is so sensible that it will come. My prayer is that it comes soon. Amen.

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