When Israel is under attack, it is natural and necessary that our community should come together. Calls for unity and solidarity have traditionally taken the form of rallies, as they have these past weeks in Jewish community organized gatherings across the United States. We turn to each other and raise our voices in support of our family and friends in Israel who are exposed to random and deadly rocket fire, called up to defend their country.
Yet in the rush to support Israel in this time of war, these rallies have failed to lay the necessary foundation for peace. They have largely refused to acknowledge the pain and loss felt by innocent Palestinians, and they have missed a crucial opportunity to acknowledge that the only way out of this ceaseless and tragic conflict is a political resolution, resulting in two states for two peoples.
This is the third time in five years that Israel has carried out a sustained military action against Hamas in Gaza. Each conflict has visited destruction and heartbreak on both Israelis and Palestinians, and resulted in more shattered lives and embittered survivors. And the question for all of us must be, even as the war wages on, what will we do to ensure this does not happen again?
First, although Israel has made painstaking efforts to avoid civilian casualties – something Hamas cannot claim – the civilian toll has been enormous, brutal, and alarming. Israel’s ground and aerial actions, as a matter of fact, have visited pain and destruction for far too many innocent people in Gaza. But the civilians, including many children, who have lost their lives in the past several weeks are either completely ignored by the Jewish community’s response, or worse – justified. There is a way to mourn this loss while supporting Israel. A desire to sincerely recognize the horror that war produces is not beyond the pale of our community’s response to this crisis. To show empathy and concern for Palestinian civilians is the very least our community can do to end the cycle of violence.
But ultimately, even this is not enough. While these rallies may be well-intentioned, they fail to address, or even grapple with, the fact that the rockets and tunnels are part of a larger conflict. If our community genuinely wants to protect the safety and security of Israelis, we are obligated to provide meaningful support for the two-state solution. That means rallying in support of peace, when there is an opportunity for it, not just war.
Our communal leaders were provided with just such an opportunity only a few short months ago. Secretary John Kerry made a heroic effort to reach a two-state solution–a diplomatic agreement that would end the conflict, stop the violence and ensure dignity, security and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. He appealed to our community, asking our leaders to be part of a “great constituency for peace.”
However, when the chips were down, despite Kerry’s pleas, our leaders failed to rally behind his effort, which could have prevented this war, the rockets and the tragic loss of innocent life. They said precious little to publicly support these efforts, and took even fewer actions to bring them to fruition. In private meetings and public addresses Jewish communal leaders consistently say they support a two-state solution, but their actions speak loudly otherwise. From insisting on an undivided Jerusalem, to protesting that Abbas is no partner for peace, to frequently failing to distinguish between Israel within and outside of the Green Line, the Jewish community has offered limited leadership in supporting the two-state solution and a real resolution to this conflict.
What would be different if, when opportunities arose to make progress on peace, or to empower moderate Palestinian leadership, or to encourage American diplomacy, the American Jewish community was as loud as it is now in the face of war? Rhetorical concern for innocent life must be backed up by the actions needed to preserve it, whether in Sderot or Gaza city. It is no longer acceptable for our community leaders to practice something so radically different from what they preach.
It is time for our leaders to rally around the cause of peace with at least as much fervor as they have around Israel’s latest war. The challenge to our community’s leaders is: when this current round of violence is finally halted, will the community hold itself accountable to its support of a two-state solution? Will we begin a serious conversation about how to prevent future wars and the tragic loss of life that comes with them? Anything less is a promise to a return of the same situation we find ourselves in now.
Danny Blinderman recently graduated from Wesleyan University, and is hoping to pursue advocacy work that synthesizes Jewish and progressive values. He is a regional co-chair for the New England region of J Street U.