Parting shot: Like dreamers do

If we believe the adage that “people get the kind of government they deserve,” isn’t it time that we try to become the people who deserve better?

October 2, 2014 20:32
4 minute read.

A joint Israeli and Palestinian youth choir at the YMCA sing together in an effort to build coexistence.. (photo credit: BRIAN BLUM)

The Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have not gone particularly well for Israelis and Palestinians. It’s been more like the Ten Days of Mutual Recrimination.

The speech given by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly in New York was depressing enough. Instead of seizing the opportunity presented by Operation Protective Edge and publicly stating that he preferred Israel to Hamas as a partner for peace, he trotted out the tired and inflammatory claims that have gotten the Palestinians nowhere for decades – “genocide,” “racist occupying state” and more self-serving clichés that continue to shoot the Palestinian cause in the foot.

Then in his General Assembly speech, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu dug into the trenches and earned the “hardline” adjective that the wire services tack on his name like an official title in their every dispatch. Painting a harrowing portrait of Israel’s plight, Bibi ticked off all of the culprits who are at our doorstep – Hamas, Islamic State, Iran.

Out of that bleak and ominous assessment, the apparent feel-good moment for us was Bibi reassuring us that he had our backs by recognizing that he was “entrusted with the awesome responsibility of ensuring the future of the Jewish people and the future of the Jewish state.”

And, of course, he’s right.

That’s what a leader should do – prepare for the worst and circle the ranch. But the inevitable outcome of that approach – and reinforcing it with policies that include no forward-thinking, and encouraging Jewish presence in Arab areas of east Jerusalem – is that we’ll be naming another “operation” before too long. Seventy Israelis died this summer – how many will it be the next time? But, when that happens, we can’t place the blame at Bibi’s feet, or Abbas’s. In reflecting this week on the two speeches and on my own behavior during the past year, I’m beginning to realize that maybe I’m part of the problem, not the solution.

For too long, like most of my fellow citizens, I’ve foisted the heavy load of making peace on our elected officials – when in practice, it’s people, not governments, that make peace.

I’ve been remiss, because I’ve lived in Israel for almost 30 years and I haven’t made much of an effort to engage our Muslim neighbors. I’ve seen the bridge-building work that organizations like One Voice, the Peres Center for Peace, Givat Haviva’s Jewish-Arab Center for Peace and dozens of others have initiated, and I have not participated – generally dismissing them as marginally effective and its practitioners as being blinded dreamers.

And closer to home, I’ve been aware for years of the efforts of a very special person and neighbor, Leah Lublin, who was the coordinator of the Interfaith Encounter Association’s Ma’aleh Adumim/Abu Dis group which regularly brought together residents of both community for social and spiritual encounters.

She believed that one-to-one contact between Jews and Arabs would help break down barriers and create neighbors instead of adversaries. Naïve perhaps, but isn’t building relationships preferable to building barriers and walls? And for skeptics who don’t believe there’s anybody on the other side besides terrorists and Israel-haters, Leah found the opposite in Palestinians who are eager for reconciliation and understanding despite the rhetoric of their leaders. I had always intended to join one of her sessions, but again, isn’t that for dreamers who think dialogue is stronger than bombs? Leah’s life was tragically cut short this summer by a heart attack in the prime of her life.

Thinking about her death – but more about how she lived her life – made me realize that I’ve been wrong. Leah was right.

We can’t leave our fate in the hands of our leaders. For far too long, we’ve allowed them to determine that there’s no future for us besides repeating the past.

In this period of introspection and reflection, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that it’s up to the Israeli and Palestinian people to do what our leaders are clearly incapable of. President Barack Obama told Netanyahu this week that the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians needs to change, but that’s only going to come about when the Israeli and Palestinian people stop sitting on the sidelines and start doing it themselves.

If we believe the adage that “people get the kind of government they deserve,” isn’t it time that we try to become the people who deserve better? One way to do that is to take on the task ourselves of trying to build a future one contact at a time with the aim of creating a glimmer of hope for future generations in this land that we all call home.

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