“Anachnu lo rotzim etchem po — Ma bidnaash an takuunu hone! — We don’t want you here!”
30 Israeli and Palestinian men, women, and children spoke these words alternately in Hebrew and Arabic in a short film shown to 3000 delegates of the J Street National Convention in Washington, D.C. this past week. Each person had lost a close family member to Palestinian or Israeli violence, and they wanted no more to join them in grief.
At the film’s conclusion, Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin walked arm-in-arm onto the stage.
Robi is an Israeli mother whose 28 year-old son David, a student who was working on his masters in the Philosophy of Education at Tel Aviv University, was murdered by a Palestinian sniper a few years ago. The murderer had witnessed the killing of his uncle when he was a child, and when he was grown stepped onto a path of revenge and took David’s and 9 other Israeli lives.
Bassam is a Palestinian father whose 10 year-old daughter, Abir, was shot dead by an Israeli border policemen in 2007 as she walked down the street with her sister and two friends after buying sweets in a shop across the road from her school in the West Bank village of Anata at the end of a math exam.
When David was murdered, the first words his devastated mother spoke were: “Do not take revenge in the name of my son…get out of the occupied territories.”
Robi and Bassam are the Israeli and Palestinian Spokespersons for The Parents Circle, a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children to violence (see http://www.theparentscircle.com/). They say, “There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… More war creates more victims on both sides … The power of Israel and the resistance of the Palestinians doesn’t work. We need to sit down and negotiate.”
J Street is a pro-Israel pro-peace American organization based in Washington, D.C. that advocates before Congress and the President the necessity of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. J Street has 180,000 members, a college division of thousands of students on 125 American campuses, 60 chapters in cities around the country, and a rabbinic cabinet, that I co-chair, of 850 rabbis from across the religious streams of American Jewish life.
J Street represents, however, the opinions of far more American Jews (and many thousands of Israelis) than its membership numbers reflect. J Street’s positions are held by roughly 70% of the American Jewish community who believe that a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is in Israel’s best long-term interests. J Street has endorsed more than 90 members of Congress (its endorsees are growing by roughly 15-20% in each Congressional cycle) who agree with J Street’s principles and who have welcomed J Street as a pro-Israel organization that does not necessarily agree with every policy position taken by any particular Israeli government or Prime Minister.
Like Robi and Bassam, J Street recognizes that there is no military solution to this conflict, that the only way Israel will remain secure, Jewish and democratic is in a negotiated two-state end-of-conflict agreement.
Specifically, J Street agrees with the broad consensus of the international community of what a two-state solution will look like. The border will be drawn roughly along the 1967 Green Line with land swaps that would include within Israel 75% of all Israelis living in the large settlements blocks in the West Bank and around Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be the shared capital of Israel and Palestine. Palestine will be demilitarized except for necessary police forces. There will be firm security arrangements in place for the benefit of both Israel and Palestine. Palestinian refugees will have the right of return to the new state of Palestine and not to Israel. Appropriate compensation for refugees will be given.
My purpose here is not to get into the weeds of this conflict which are long, deep and complicated, but rather to communicate the human costs of this conflict as embodied by the pain and suffering of only two families, that of Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin, and to articulate what I believe is ultimately at stake for the Jewish people and state of Israel if a two-state resolution to this conflict is not reached soon.
Without a negotiated settlement, in a short amount of time Israel will cease either to be a democracy or a Jewish state. Settlement building by Israelis and population growth among Arabs in the West Bank, Gaza and within the Green Line of Israel, all taken together, ultimately will doom the Zionist enterprise, arguably the most important historical event in the life of the Jewish people in the last two thousand years.
Yes – there is still time for a two-state solution, but time is running out.
For the sake of the future of Israel and the Palestinians, the status quo is unsustainable. “Managing the conflict,” as many in Israel believe is their only option, is unsustainable. Only a two-state solution can, as J Street’s communication Vice President and journalist Alan Elsner recently wrote, “complete the Zionist dream” of Israel being Jewish, democratic and an “or lagoyim – a light to the nations.”
There are risks no matter what Israel chooses to do, but the risks are far greater in doing nothing.
Perhaps the insights of one of Israel’s greatest poets, Yehuda Amichai, will inspire clarity and hope:
“From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.”