I have a dream: King's words still ring true in Israel

Fifty years on from the March on Washington, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King can be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 370 (photo credit: Reuters/ screen shot)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 370
(photo credit: Reuters/ screen shot)
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with Israeli and Arab moderates. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the great stumbling block in the stride toward peace is not hardline settlers, those who oppose a peaceful solution, or fanatical Islamists; it is the Arab and Israeli moderates, who are more devoted to the status quo than to justice; who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly say: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believe they can set the timetable for another person’s freedom; who live by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advise Palestinians to wait for a 'more convenient season.'”
With this statement, I would like to raise a issue that constantly plagues peace activists within Israel and the Palestinian Territories. There is not and never will be a ‘right time’ to change the status quo. I should, before I continue, confess that I’m an American Jew. I have heard the criticism that American Jewry, especially younger Jews like myself, simply don't understand the conflict. Indeed I was not here during the intifadot (uprisings) and aside from the sirens during Operation Pillar of Defense last November, I haven’t experienced conflict the way people here have. Fair enough. But it is, in my opinion, important for American Jews to have an opinion on Israeli public affairs. To love Israel, in addition to being concerned about its security, does not mean that one has to like everything the government does.
In some cases just the opposite is true. When I see the government violating some of the key principles Israel and Judaism are meant to stand for, then the right thing to do is to oppose them. When I talk with my Israeli friends about politics, specifically the peace process, they generally disagree with things like the strict restrictions on Palestinian movement -- especially as it relates to their ability to get to school, work, and hospitals -- but this conversation, when taking place in public, is generally conducted in hushed tones. Unfortunately, most of my friends, and in fact most people here, are far too comfortable remaining voiceless and apathetic, rather than upholding our moral duty to speak out against unjust laws. As it stands, we are one of the greatest stumbling blocks on the road to peace.
Moderates listen up: be brave and muster the courage to face tension, discomfort, and the potential social hellfire that comes with breaking the status quo. More vocal moderates means less invisibility and dilutes the voice of extremists. Yes, we’re always complaining that our voices are never heard!
Now onto my second confession, the words in the first paragraph are not my own. The text comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I just switched a few of the words: "moderate whites" to "moderate Israelis and Arabs." I also replaced the word "Negros" with "Palestinians." I did this to illustrate the idea that even today, fifty years (28 August, 1963) from the date Dr. King delivered his legacy “I have a dream” speech in Washington DC, his words remain relevant and not just in the context of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. King wrote this letter while he was imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama, USA. He was jailed because of his participation in a nonviolent demonstration for civil rights. His full letter defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance, arguing that people have a moral responsibility to speak out, and to break unjust laws.
Since the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, there has been a bit of progress. But still, the reality of this conflict is played out in the day-to-day experience of average Palestinians and Israelis. In addition to the words above, Letter from a Birmingham jail also says, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These words remain relevant given the current quest for peace and equality. I understand the safety concerns, but realistically speaking, the lives of Israeli Jews are far less impacted by this conflict than that of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
As such, we can assume that if Dr. King were alive today, he would likely assert that his dream is not yet fulfilled. So on the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington and the I have a Dream Speech, let's remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, and his actions as a model for courage and idealism. Let us also remember his call to action: Moderates, remember that you have a great deal of power. You have a role here and you have a choice. Don’t be afraid to speak out. People are free to make their own choices and I understand the discomfort one must face when breaking the status quo; moderate Palestinians and Israelis need to recognize that by staying silent, they are a contributing factor to the hostility they face. Dr. King dedicated his life to love and to justice. His dream for a more just and humane world is as important as ever, so lets throw caution to the wind and bring that dream to fruition.
Tiffany Harris is an MA candidate for Security and Diplomacy at Tel Aviv University and the director of YaLa Young Leaders' USA program.