Peace now, not later


Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy
Published: 11/25/2016 9:29:51 PM

Few moments in history provide such a palpable realization to those that can analyze the evidence to properly look forward in time, in order to comprehend the fact that a schismic human reckoning is imminent and in our midst. A most appropriate example would be that of the voice of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who, upon witnessing the destructive and indiscriminate power of the world’s first atomic weapon’s explosion, cited the foreboding wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, and, on behalf of his species, stated, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Peace now, or, with real pessimism, we can hope for a difficult and fragile peace that may or may not come into existence much later. Such is the mixture simmering in the vessel of the Promised Land, that precious yet geographically trivial space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel has the military and political power to determine the fate not only of the Jewish people who live in the land and those that live elsewhere and share their spiritual roots, but also of the subjugated Palestinian people who, by a decree of the leaders of nations allied with the United States following the second World War, congregated in a cozy Manhattan edifice and enacted 1947 U.N. Resolution 181, which explicitly sanctioned a forced removal of a people from their land.

When it comes to the equation of right and wrong, there is no appropriate measure that allows us to put the two states of Israel and Palestine next to each other, and, as a result, and in mathematical terms, this is an expression which is without definition. This is primarily because the values are changing every day that goes by; in effect, we cannot determine a final answer to an equation whose variables are fluid.

Israeli settlements — which are illegal not only by international law, but also by Israeli law — continue to be built on Palestinian land, the land to the east of the Green Line, a political demarcation of land resulting from a 1967 conflict between Israel and Arab states. The division divides land that would be Israel’s from land that would be under the oversight of the Palestinian people (and, some years later, by the Palestinian Authority). Israel has been unwilling to curb these land incursions, and Palestinians are powerless to prevent them.

Similarly, fluidity emerges in population indicators: Most notably, the population of Palestinians in Palestinian territories and in Israel will equal the population of Israeli Jews by the end of 2017, and will convincingly outnumber them by the end of 2020, given the unequal birth rates (Palestinian birthrates per household are higher).

Two possible outcomes

No matter the variables, there are only two possible outcomes: Israeli Jews and Palestinians exist in a single state called Israel, or the same populations live in two states, existing side by side. The first outcome progresses toward a dangerous path, where a majority population (the Palestinians) would be ruled by a minority population (the Israeli Jews), and without political recourse to have their opinion heard, given the certainty that Israel would not retain its Jewish identity in name if all citizens of a democratic Israel were offered the right to vote.

Recent history provides us a salient example of what might be in this case: South Africa and its apartheid state, where a white majority ruled over a black African minority. The second outcome, the two-state solution, allows for self-rule for both populations, albeit in a compromised state of existence for Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

It is worth stating that a major consideration that has not yet been addressed is the place of prophetic pre-determination, embedded in the Israeli identity of God’s chosen people, and affirmed, for some, by scripture presented as evidence in the Jewish Torah. The two-state solution, according to many Israelis, releases land that God had promised, and, in a disastrous twist, hands it to their Biblical enemy, the descendants of the Canaanites. Such perspectives cannot be understated, but it is a complicated and dangerous path to speak of one’s religion as a final truth, particularly when collateral conclusions are made for people whose story resides outside of an exclusive scriptural path.

Playground epiphany

On a recent visit to Sderot, a Jewish town not more than a few kilometers from the northeast border of Gaza, a Palestinian region ruled by Hamas, a political organization which includes an ideological mandate to destroy Israel, I visited a playground. Amongst the swings and play equipment were two large hollow structures painted as yellow caterpillars. These winding caterpillars were at least 15 meters long, and their diameter was about two meters from the ground up, giving ample room for children and adults alike to run, play, and hide in them. It was this instant, when I saw how easy it was to go into them at a moment’s notice, that the macabre reality of the situation dawned on me: These were bomb shelters, intended to offer families at play a refuge from an unexpected rocket attack from Gaza.

As the figurative Oppenheimer moment for me in my brief visit to the Biblical land, and in the playground of my very own Alamogordo, the progressive path forward of history was “becoming death.” Peace now. We cannot settle for the uncertainty of peace later.

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