Tuesday, March 1
Written by Mike Diamond
Thoughts on our visits on Sunday, February 28 and Monday, the 29th
The last two days, Sunday and Monday have been a whirlwind focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We visited Sderot and the Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah (we visited the Moshav on our last trip) both of which are a stones throw from the Gaza Strip. Here you see the physical and psychological affects of the continuing war and the toll it has taken – at least on the Israeli side of the border. I can only imagine what is like on the other side of the border. The bottom line is that it is worse than it was two years ago – more on that later.
We returned to Jerusalem and spent most of Monday learning from the Hartman Institute with one of the sessions led by Micah Goodman focused on his analysis of the conflict and how it might be resolved. This was followed by a discussion led by Leon Weiner Dow on the biblical arguments around the concept of disagreement. What we needed was a third session that tied these two sessions together (the reality on the ground of actual disagreements and the biblical concept of disagreements) but that awaits next years’ trip.
These wonderful Hartman discussions were followed by a tour of the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem where we saw first hand the affects of the occupation (I will use that word without taking sides on whether it is appropriate or not- some call these the disputed territories – language is critical in the Middle East) on Palestinian neighborhoods. The tour was led by a guide from Ir Amin (an organization focused on equitable and stable Jerusalem) and was quite biased, but it is very important to hear different and strong views. Finally, this was followed by a terrific talk/discussion by Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. He also negotiated the release of Gilad Shalit.
In between these presentations, visits and on the ground tours were two wonderful discussions about the reform movement in Israel – the first one was a visit on Sunday to the Shaar Hanegev community where we met with Rabbi Yael Karie; the second was a visit lecture discussion on Monday with Orly Erez Likovsky from IRAC.
To sum it up – my head is spinning and my brain is fried.
So, what did I learn? A few observations
My thoughts really are all about points and counterpoints, one idea balanced almost equally by another contrary idea – just as compelling. The ongoing discussions with my fellow travelers over lunch and dinner and on the bus really add to the richness of the trip and my evolving thoughts. I will try and focus on three areas:
- We had an in-depth discussion with the spokesperson of the Moshav that is right on the border of Gaza. He was the same person with whom we met with last year. Clearly, the 2014 war has left scares on both the physical nature of the Moshav (the entire area is beginning to look like a bomb shelter – necessary but how can one live in such a place?) The war also left an undeniable mark on the psychological of the folks living in the area. Listening to the Moshav spokesperson. Raz, left me with a personal dilemma – how to balance ones strong belief in the need to stay in the area as a symbol of Israeli strength and will against Hamas versus the physical and psychological safety of oneself and family. When asked why he stayed at the Moshav, Raz (I am clearly paraphrasing) stated that we must be strong against Hamas, hold our ground and make a statement on behalf of all of Israel. He also made it clear that there was a cost to this – he has three young children and at least one of them is in therapy and the spokesperson also admitted he has been diagnosed with PTSD. His house and it seems, as well all those in the Mashov, is a fortress – all have safe rooms. So, how do you balance your strong sense of will to stand your ground on behalf of the country you love against the terrible affects on yourself and family? Why do you put yourself and your family under such stress – why not let somebody do this? Are you sacrificing the long-term will being of your children for your own sense of bravado? I have never had to confront this in quite this way and I just don’t know what I would do – I do know as an individual I decided to fight the draft during the 1960’s – did I do this for my own safety or as a statement of my disagreement with the killing in Vietnam and the US role there? Did I renege on my obligation to my county by not be willing to fight in Vietnam or did I do the right thing for others and my country by fighting against the draft? Did somebody go in my place and get killed? Fifty years later I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but this trip to the Moshav has made me again think of this issue.
- Competing (perhaps complementary??) views on the finding a solution to the 50-year occupation of the West Bank and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Micah at the Hartman Institute proposed an innovative and fascinating idea that he calls Catch 67 (’67 being the start of the occupation) which links the solution to the internal religious conflict in Israel – the increasingly nasty confrontation between the Ultra Orthodox and secular (which in Israeli terms really means the emerging reform and conservative movements) with resolving or at least putting on hold the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. His view is that a 10-year timeout is needed. What he means is put a hold on settlements for 10 years and at the same time put a hold on the peace process (is there really a peace process?) for 10 years to give everybody a breather. Most importantly, he feels if the Likud and Labor and other non-religious parties can agree to this and create a broad-based coalition government, you can diminish the stranglehold of the small religious based ultra orthodox parties and make headway on diminishing the increasingly hateful environment between secular Israel and religious Israel. In effect, he sees this as even a more pressing problem than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict the solution to which is even more elusive.
So, the issue here is really a critical case of priorities for Israel – what is the biggest threat to Israel as a Jewish democratic state – the growing ascendency of the ultra Orthodox in defining Judaism in Israel, creating inequities in social and economic realities in Israel (inequalities that hurt all Israeli citizens) or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? How does one affect the other? Do you fix your internal society before you try and fix the external threats to your society? Having said that, Gershon Baskin, made a strong case for the two state solution and the need to move forward on negotiating that. I have to leave this one to Israelis to decide but this trip has more and more convinced me that nothing is going to change on the conflict side until the current leaders on both sides ride off into the sunset so why not begin to focus on internal social and as we will learn more about today (Wednesday) economic issues inside Israel.
- Competing priorities within the Reform movement in Israel. My view of the Reform Movement in Israel has been a broad one – probably based on little knowledge and looking at things at a 30,000-foot level. But, actually (and not surprisingly when I think about it) there are competing priorities exemplified by the differing views of the Reform Rabbis we have met with as well as the folks from IRAC. Should the focus be on the Western Wall as defined by the Women of the Wall; should it be focused on broader issues of gender equality, on racism, on economic inequality and/or other issues I may not be aware of? All this adds to my thoughts that the focus of struggles within Israel are turning somewhat away from the Israeli / Palestinian conflicts (seem as intractable) to internal social and economic issues seen as just as critical to strengthening Israel as a Jewish democratic state.
So, which battle do you fight first? Maybe we will learn more as this trip unfolds!