Counterpoint: Transcending attachment

In negotiating about Jerusalem, each party should reveal its hand at the beginning of the process.

September 28, 2007 19:41
4 minute read.


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Succot is one of three annual festivals when the ancient Israelites made their pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Since biblical times, Jerusalem has been the centerpiece of our spiritual and physical longing, sustaining us throughout our long history of dispersion. But Jerusalem is not the sole possession of the Jewish people. It is a holy city for two other monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, which, together with Judaism, have shaped its history, geography and demography. The literature of each religion is filled with earthly and mystical musings about Jerusalem. Yet Jerusalem is a city of strife. Cultural, political, social, ideological and, above all, religious conflicts are constant elements. Today in Jerusalem, we find three religions coexisting within two nations which are locked in deep conflict. Jerusalem is considered the core of the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio. If an accommodation can be reached on sharing Jerusalem equitably, there is a sense that the overall conflict can be resolved. Therefore, Jerusalem must serve as a paradigm for peaceful coexistence among Jews, Muslims and Christians. For this to happen, fear, anger and grief - the emotional investments that most Israelis and Palestinians have when contemplating Jerusalem - must be dispelled. To transform fear into trust, anger into forgiveness, grief into compassion, religion must provide some healing or therapeutic effect on these basic human responses to conflict. There must be sacrifices that amount to earthly ego-renunciations, including attachments that have historically nurtured each side's hostility and resentment, which too often have resulted in violence. Successful negotiations on the status of Jerusalem, and consequentially on all aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, depend upon honesty and frankness, on a willingness to say things that may be painful for the other to hear and on the ability to listen. In listening, we come to the realization that the words of the other have a history - years, decades, even centuries of painfully lived experiences, with personal and national aspirations - that color and shape the way present realities appear. IN THE Middle East, the burden of history presents a formidable obstacle to peace. It is virtually impossible to find any mutual narrative of the history of Jerusalem. Facts, events, statistics are manipulated to support predetermined positions. An endeavor that would serve the cause of peace would be to seek a common reading of the city's history. In such an attempt, could one grant that another has, even in a slanted presentation, valid points which can provide a foundation for impartial judgments? But a respectful reading of history is not sufficient to reconcile differences. Related to historical arguments is one of methodology. For each side to the conflict, there are certain issues that are more important than others. These issues so intimately touch on matters of self-identity, economic or political survival and religious and national concerns that one would consider them intrinsic to any acceptable solution. It is part of human nature to confront one another like bargainers in the marketplace, slow to reveal the top price and concealing the bottom line at which the enterprise is no longer worth pursuing - when we are prepared to walk away empty-handed. If there is ever to be peace, this usual human process must be reversed. Each party must reveal its hand at the beginning of the negotiating process. It would be constructive for each side to articulate the barest minimum of non-negotiable demands, without which one is convinced there can be neither justice nor peace. In such statements of minimal acceptability, it is possible one would discover areas of agreement that could then become the basis for exploring new ideas. In addition to reaching some sort of objective reading of history and employing a proper methodology for negotiations, something else needs to be thrown into the mix - exorcising demons. To the extent that propaganda can demonize the "other," whether by repeating half-truths, distorting national characteristics, reinforcing prejudices, generalizing specific wrongs or exaggerating actual weaknesses, demonization gives a spurious validity to the refusal to cooperate in seeking solutions. Demonization and propaganda go hand-in-hand. Together they reduce the complexities of human life to a two-dimensional drama. This dangerous fusion creates a world in which the "forces of good" take it upon themselves to use whatever means necessary to oppose an enemy that one need never listen to. Those who convince themselves that God is on their side feel justified in whatever action they take, no matter how excessive, against those they have dehumanized. While each community must defend itself by exposing and correcting lies, half-truths and distortions directed against it, peace is best served when Jews, Muslims and Christians make theological common cause to oppose injustice and oppression by whomever it is perpetrated, and defend their victims, no matter to which community they belong. For the fast-approaching international Mideast peace conference to succeed, each side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide must - when discussing Jerusalem, which is the heart and soul of the conflict - commit itself to historical objectivity, to a methodology that incorporates the art of compromise and to a willingness to end the delegitimization of the other. On this holiday of Succot, as we Jews make our tri-annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, let us set an example by transcending narrow applications of our religious attachment to the city, thereby promoting peace for all our peoples.

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