Talk about talking

American Jews as well as those of many faiths have a role in reaching out and connecting with Palestinians here and there.

Pro-Israel supporter in New York City (photo credit: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)
Pro-Israel supporter in New York City
(photo credit: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)
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 unorganized constituencies.
All that gobbledygook really separates us from those we don’t know and may not want to know because they are different from us.
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.
There 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 is vital.
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 limited.
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 protected] The words of the author do not represent the policy of ICMEP.