Published in the Syracuse Post-Standard, May 2001

To the editor:

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians threatens to escalate into full-blown war. War is always a bad way to solve international problems, however, in this situation where the balance of military power is so terribly uneven, it is particularly dangerous. This lack of symmetry also lies at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a Jew committed to peace and social justice, I am deeply-pained at the brutal Israeli repression now occurring on an almost daily basis. The argument put forth–that Israel is merely defending itself–rings hollow when one looks at its actions over the past eight months. The Israeli government’s goal, under both the Barak and Sharon administrations, has been to hold onto control of the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Only if one accepts that Israel has the right to continue its illegal and immoral role in these territories, conquered in 1967, can these actions be justified.

It is vital for Jews to speak out publicly about these Israeli policies because they not only deny the human and national rights of the Palestinian people, but also threaten Israel’s future. In early May, I attended a conference in Chicago where I met with nearly 200 other Jews committed to a just and viable peace between Israel and the Palestinians, including a complete end to the occupation. Participants hailed from 25 states and five countries, including Israel, and ranged in age from16 to over 70.

We came together under the auspices of Jewish Unity for a Just Peace, an ad hoc organization "motivated to do this work because of our rich Jewish culture and heritage, which inspires us to speak out against oppression, particularly oppression committed ‘in our name.’" The broad participation of both secular and religious Jews demonstrates that there is no longer a consensus in the Jewish community in favor of blind support of Israeli government policies.

Despite the media image that the Israeli peace movement is dead, Israelis committed to peace continue to take action. The Israeli Peace Bloc, describes the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as follows: "It is the occupation which is the culprit, which breeds the hatred and the conflict. The victims–the Israelis and the much more numerous Palestinians–are all victims of the occupation. There is no assurance that the hatred will automatically disappear with the end of the occupation; but we can be certain that continuation of the occupation will lead to increase of the hatred."

Another important organization, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, has sought to debunk the commonly-accepted viewpoint that Israel made a "generous" peace offer last summer–Palestinian control of 95% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip–which was rebuffed by the "uncompromising" Palestinians. "Why is 95% not a good deal?" they ask. "The answer is control." They draw an analogy with a prison. The prisoners have their cells, the cafeteria, recreation facilities, educational facilities, visiting rooms, etc. The guards control only the fences, bars, offices, etc. However, the very small percentage of space controlled by the guards gives them almost complete control of the facility and the daily lives of the prisoners.

The Committee doesn’t believe that their government is really committed to a peace settlement, noting that since Oslo, while Israel was negotiating a peace agreement, the settler population doubled and 250 miles of bypass roads were built in the West Bank. These steps, along with demolition of Palestinian homes, destruction of farmland and economic strangulation led to the current Intifada.

The recently-released Mitchell Report calls on Israel to stop all settlement construction and expansion. This is a vital first step. However, it does not address the uneven nature of the situation. If we expect the Israelis and Palestinians to compromise equally to create an agreement, conflict will continue to flourish.

A just and viable solution will require those of us who are Jews to put ourselves in the shoes of the Palestinian people. If we draw on the best in our Jewish tradition–the commitments to peace and to justice for all people–the long sought peace in this embattled land is within our grasp.

Sincerely,

Andy Mager

Andy Mager is a longtime activist for peace and social justice. He works as a domestic violence educator.