How do we take a step forward from wherever we are toward an “other” who we
neither know, trust, nor like, in fact who we fear? Peter Beinart has written
another ground-breaking article in The New York Review of Books
, “The American
Jewish Cocoon,” in which he states that Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation
League and Elie Wiesel “are unfamiliar with the realities of ordinary
Palestinian life because they live inside the cocoon the organized American
Jewish community has built for itself.”
It seems to me we all, (at least
most of us), live in cocoons that involve family, friends, an extended
religious/ secular, fraternal, academic and work-related community that defines
our lives, our interactions and our relationship to other organized and
All that gobbledygook really separates us
from those we don’t know and may not want to know because they are different
Enemies don’t need to find reasons to separate themselves,
(although they often do), because there is a deep seated hatred born from all the
pain that lies between them.
So Israelis are separated from Palestinians
for security reasons and Palestinians are separated from Israelis for a
different set of security reasons.
The American Jewish community, (the
Diaspora community), has a long, fundamental connection to its sisters and
brothers in Israel and has acted as a pipeline for support since long before
Israel’s Independence in 1948. It is a duty of that community not only to
provide material assistance but also to relate to the people and their problems.
Accordingly we open our mouths as well as our wallets and continue to foster the
human relationship between us.
For many years people have drawn lines in
the sand and suggested that you cannot speak about the security of Israel unless
you make aliya, put on the uniform of the IDF and defend it with your life.
Others believe that if you are born a Jew or convert you have every right and a
responsibility to play an active role in supporting the future of Israel in
deeds and words. But is Peter Beinart right? I believe he is right in
underlining the distance of American Jewish leaders and most American Jews from
interaction on any level with Palestinians in America and in the West Bank and
in their own Diaspora. We need to establish relationships, rapport, consider the
terms of reconciliation, to do our part not only to be informed Jewish American
citizens but to help lead friends and family here and in Israel to understand
Palestinians as individuals and human beings who live in America, Europe, the
West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and now Turkey, too, as well as in many other
countries around the world.
We may not change the world overnight. But we
can actively work to let some light in.
I believe he is wrong in not
concretely speaking to the enormous anger which exists on the other side and
leads Palestinians to pursue a rabid BDS, (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)
program, as well as an anti-normalization program that often imposes the
separation of Palestinians from both Israelis and all Jews as a policy that has
been enunciated and followed by Palestinian Authority officials.
are real and imagined problems on both sides as well as here some 5,000 miles
away in America that inhibit even the simplest joint activity out of fear of the
response of Jews within the Jewish Community and Palestinians in the Palestinian
Community on both sides of the Atlantic. Beinart put his finger on an issue that
Underneath all the anxiety that lies between us there is a
fundamental need to know each other, to talk, to listen, to learn and to
understand. I believe this fundamental need extends far beyond the criticism of
Beinart to be a missing piece in the very complex puzzle that involves the
current American-led 2013 peace process that is being conducted quietly today
between Israelis and Palestinians. Without beginning a complementary
people-to-people dialogue facilitated between Palestinians and Israelis from
Haifa to Eilat, Jenin to Hebron and in Gaza, too, the likelihood of achieving a
lasting peace that will be endorsed and supported by both peoples is
This ongoing process must be internationally financed and
formally authorized by both leaders, (Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and
President Mahmoud Abbas), to overcome the multiple naysayers who work hard each
day to enforce the isolation.
American Jews as well as those of many
faiths have a role in reaching out and connecting with Palestinians here and
there. Through this process we can get to know others as people who become a
part of our own orbit and we can work together to help establish and build the
relationships that will promote understanding and ultimately peace.The
author is president of ICMEP – the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace,
an NGO based in suburban Philadelphia. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The words of the author do not represent the policy of ICMEP.
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