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Stop the Violence in Israel/Palestine

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 16/10/2015 Rabbi Michael Lerner
ISRAEL VIOLENCE © HAZEM BADER via Getty Images ISRAEL VIOLENCE

As we watch in horror as violence in Israel and Palestine escalates and there continues to be needless and senseless killings, we offer a prayer of love, compassion and strength.

May Israelis and Palestinians find the love that resides deep in their hearts and pulses through all of us, the love that cries to us from the loving energy of the universe to love the "Other," the "Stranger." This is a love that can be hard to access and find and yet it is a never-ending, all pervasive love that encourages and calls us to stand-up for the well-being of each other, for the security of all, for justice for all, for peace. May the Israelis and Palestinians use this well-spring of love to overcome their fears and stand for a new future.

May the Israelis and Palestinians find the compassion that lives in each person (but that is often suppressed in times of fear and anger) and learn to ask the questions that so many seem afraid to ask. What would cause a young man or woman to kill a stranger? What fear, what sorrow, what pain lurks in their hearts? How can we begin to heal the pain, the sorrow, the loss? Where can we start?

May the Israelis and Palestinians access the strength that permeates the roots of Mother Earth and embolden them to demand a different future. Let them be emboldened to cross divides and build bridges that flow with human beings coming together opening their hearts to each other with generosity and love and work together towards peace and reconciliation.

We bow our heads in sorrow, in grief, in angst and even in rage that innocent lives are being lost on all sides and pray for a healing and reconciliation.

--The above prayer was written by Cat Zavis, executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

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This analysis was written by Rabbi Michael Lerner:

So where did all this violence in Israel and Palestine come from? Where shall we start? If you want the big historical picture from 1880 to the present moment, you'll get two very different narratives depending on who is telling it. In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine I try to tell the story in a way that is sympathetic to each side, and critical of each side. The truth is that each side has at times been cruel and unreasonable toward the other.

But if you focus on the past few decades, the reality is that both people are currently suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder--the Jewish people from the trauma of living as a homeless people for some 1700 years, many in a Christian Europe that blamed us for killing their messiah/god or in Muslim countries in apartheid-like powerlessness, eventually culminating in the murder of one out of every three Jews alive at the time from 1939-1945; and the Palestinian people from the Naqba or disaster of having 800,000 driven from their land in 1948 during Israel's war for independence and then those who remained being conquered in 1967 and living under Occupation or blockade ever since for the past 48 years. While the Israeli army has been occupying the West Bank, what was originally in 1948 800,000 Palestinian refugees living in exile have grown to 4 million, many of them living in some of the worst conditions anywhere on the planet, often treated horribly by the Arab countries where they live in refugee camps. Meanwhile, Israel has provided economic and political incentives to Jewish Israelis to move to the West Bank, build settlements there that under the protection of the Israeli army have seized Arab lands to expand and appropriated the water resources while Arab Palestinians have had desperate water shortages.

Palestinians living within the borders of the pre-1967 Israel have been given equal rights legally, but de facto face discrimination in housing and employment while those living in the occupied West Bank face a de facto system of apartheid with housing in the settlements closed to Israeli Arab citizens, with special roads built for the Jewish settlers and prohibited to the Arab residents, and with an army presence which responds to demonstrations with systematic violence and a quasi legal system which typically imprisons thousands of Palestinians without trial in what they call "administrative detention." Israel claims to be a democracy, yet denies the West Bankers the right to vote in Israeli elections but meanwhile imposes taxes and creates laws for those over whom it has been ruling for the past 48 years.

While Israel signed the Oslo Accords which promised to end the Occupation in five years, after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish religious fanatic the accord was defacto gutted by Israel increasing the settlers from the 150,000 that lived there in 1993 to some 500,000 living there now. And every week some Palestinians are killed by the Israeli Army, often young teenagers protesting the Occupation.

This story is enough reason to understand why the Palestinian people have twice risen in rebellion against the Occupation, yet these Intifadas, as they are called in Arabic, only increased the denial of human rights of the Palestinians. Yet Israelis, many of them either survivors of the Holocaust or the children of survivors, have been led by their government and by the dominant right-wing Zionist ideology, to see these rebellions as manifestations of hatred toward Jews rather than as desperate measures by an oppressed people. So whereas Israeli violence against Palestinians has always been described as legitimate acts of self-defense, every act of rebellion against an unjust occupier are called the acts of terrorists.

Not that the Palestinian people have always had clean hands, Their refusal to allow Jews to come to Palestine in the years when Nazism was sweeping Europe, their ability to convince Arab states to use their oil-based influence to get the British occupiers of Palestine to set up a blockade against Jews seeking refuge in Palestine not only before and during the second world war, but also from 1945-48 when hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors of Nazism were placed in refugee camps in Europe and prevented from coming to Palestine, created a legacy of anger at the Palestinian people. And the assault on the newly proclaimed Jewish state by 7 surrounding Arab states seemed to have the covert and sometimes overt support of sections of the Palestinian people, which contributed to the anger of Israelis at those who insisted that Jews had no right to a state of their own even though Arabs had over a dozen Arab and Islamic states at the time. The nationalist extremist section of the Zionist movement that had hoped that Arabs would simply leave Palestine used the 1947-49 war to terrorize Palesitnian civilians, causing hundreds of thousands to flee for their safety, while at least another 80 to 100 thousand Arabs were forcibly removed from their homes by the Israel Army (IDF). These Arab refugees were not allowed by Israel to return to their homes, though most had not sought to hurt Israelis but only to flee to a safety in surrounding Arab lands that was not available to Israeli Jews who had no other place to flee. The guilt over this unusual and human-rights defing act by Israel in not allowing civilians to return to their home at once created the Arab refugee problem, and unleashed a hatred by Palestinians that had been much more narrowly based among Arabs before this development. When refugees sought to take back some of their stolen farms or houses, they were met with the armed might of the fledgling Israeli army, and were described as Arab terrorists.

When Israel opened its gates to hundreds of thousands of Jews who had been living in Arab states in the 1950s, it was flooded with people who brought with them a history of anger at Muslims for what they perceived to be the hatred and anti-Semitism that had shaped their experience of living under Arab rule. While I believe that experience was shaped in large part by the way the colonial powers set up the tensions between Arabs and Jews in north Africa and in Middle Eastern states in the years before the creation of Israel, the actual experience of being a hated minority by these Sephardic or Mizrachi Jews from Muslim lands seemed to mesh well with the Zionists who created Israel and who had refused, once the fighting stopped in 1948, to allow Palestinians to return to their homes.

Yet from the standpoint of many Israelis, all this is ancient history, and Palestinians ought to have adjusted to life under Occupation. But that has not happened. Instead, Islamic fundamentalism spread among powerless and impoverished Palestinians, first in Gaza, and more recently among some in the West Bank as well. The primary organization of fundamentalists, Hamas, has never rescinded its commitment to eliminate the Jewish state, unlike the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization that have over and over again proclaimed their willingness to live in peace with Israel. In the past ten years, the Palestinian Authority has actively collaborated with the Israeli security forces, for the most part succeeding in preventing terrorists from using the West Bank as a launching pad for attacks on Israel or even on the West Bank settlements.

In an act of deep cynicism, Israel withdrew from Gaza and refused to pass its military control over to the Palestinian Authority, knowing that Gaza would thus fall into the hands of Hamas. Then, using the excuse of Hamas' relentless opposition to the State of Israel, the right-wing governments of Israel in the past ten years have used fear of these fundamentalists as their excuse to continue to stir up anger at Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular. And after Israel pretending to want negotiations with the Palestinians during the Obama years, Israel kept on expanding its settlements in the West Bank, imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza, and then refused to honor the promise it had made to the Palestinian Authority to release Palestinian prisoners in March of 2014. When 3 teenagers from the West Bank settlements were kidnapped and brutally murdered, the Israeli government escalated its harassment of Hamas supporters in the West Bank and killed some Gazan Hamas activists, which in turn precipitated Hamas responding with rocket attacks on Israel which were thwarted by the US military's Protective Shield, while Israeli devastated Gaza that summer of 2014, killing over 2400 Gazans and wounding thousands more, and leaving tens of thousands more homeless. Yet from the standpoint of the Israeli people, the intent of those rockets aimed at Israeli cities was proof that if they could, Hamas would tryi to wipe them all out--and that gave the Israeli right a further legitimacy to escalate its vilification of all Palestinians and allowed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to win reelection in March of 2015 and to create the most right-wing and racist coalition Israel has ever seen.

It was in this context that a group of Israeli Jewish fundamentalists decided to provoke a new struggle for control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem which is where one of Islam's holiest sites, the Al Asqa Mosque is located. Under agreements that Israel has made with the Islamic authorities, the Temple Mount has been under the control of Muslim religious leaders who prevent Jews and Christians who visit the Temple Mount to pray there. Yet some of the settlers believe that they should reclaim that site and rebuild the ancient Jewish Temple and resume the daily sacrifices of animals prescribed in the Torah and abandoned when the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. So every year at the time of Jewish holidays some of them go to the Temple Mount to symbolically reclaim that space for Jewish nationalist religious extremism.And in anticipation of this happening again, the Israeli government closed the Temple Mount to most Palestinian men under the age of fifty, allowing a very small number to come to pray.

Why is this nationalist extremism and not simply a legitimate expression of a religious yearning to return to the period two thousand years ago when Jews controlled that religious site? Because for the past many hundreds of years most orthodox authorities explicitly prohibit religious Jews from going to the Temple Mount at all, arguing that we do not know exactly where the Holy of Holies of the Temple was located on that space, and that stepping into that space is forbidden by Torah law to anyone but the High Priest (a position which has been vacant for the past two thousand years). So the reason why this group of nationalist fundamentalists go up to the Temple Mount in large numbers on Succot is to provoke the Palesitnians and to demonstrate the absolute powerlessness of the Palesitnian people to even protect their own holy Islamic site. The response has been consistent and predictable: young Muslims throw rocks at these Jewish provocateurs, Israeli police then teargas the Muslim demonstrators, the Mosque is shut to Muslims and the Palestinian people are once again humiliated and prevented from praying in their holy mosque. To add to the tension, members of the Knesset held public hearings about the status of the Temple Mount in which they publicized the position of right-wing settlers that the Temple Mount should revert to Jewish control and the Mosque should be shut.

Given all the rest of the story, it was not surprising (though deplorable) that some individual Palestinians would respond to this whole history, and then to the repression symbolized by the Israeli authorities preventing access to many Palestinians to the Temple Mount, with acts of violence.

Acts of random violence and murders of some Israeli civilians by individual Palestinians acting often on impulse, deplorable and morally outrageous, were not unpredictable--in fact, many Israelis at this moment wonder if they are only the first stage in yet another widespread Intifada. I hope not, because I don't want to see either Israelis or Palestinians killed. Yet I can also undersnd (though not condone) the outrage of Palestinians to this whole history, and now to the greater repression facing Palestinians as Prime Minister Netanyahu's government has given the ok to respond to by killing Palestinians engaged in acts of rock throwing or other acts of violence. In the past week Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have faced systematic harassment and violence from police and the IDF called in to supplement police forces. And the government has encouraged Israelis to carry firearms and to shoot people suspected of being on the verge of doing acts of violence. By and large Israelis have responded to these calls with acts of vigilantism, and the situation might soon explode to deeper violence.

But I doubt if it will. The reality is that the Palestinian people on the West Bank, and most Palestinians living in Israel, are well aware of the futility of armed struggle, and in any event mostly don't have arms even vaguely sufficient to hold off the immense power of the Israeli army. The truth is that the Palestinian people at the moment are largely a psychologically defeated people, and though some individuals are likely to continue random acts of violence, most observers think it unlikely that we will see anything like the level of response to occupation that characterized the intifadas of the past.

We who are spiritual progressives find ourselves in a similar position of powerlessness. Yet as Cat Zavis' prayer (above) suggests, there is one thing on our side: the abiding hunger of every human being to live in a world of love and kindness and generosity. That yearning has not been totally defeated among Israelis or Palestinians, and though this looks like a very dark time, it will emerge again, though that day may be several decades into the future.

What will help that yearning emerge more fully in Israel and Palestine is if it can first become a shaping force in Western societies. We in the United States have the blood of hundreds of thousands on our hands from Vietnam, and more recently from our war in Iraq that eventually virtually destroyed that country's capacity to function and unleashed forces that now manifest as ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist groups. It is our responsibility, and our opportunity to transcend the militarist approach to world problems, to reject the strategy of domination as the path to homeland security and replace it with a strategy of generosity as manifested in the Network of Spiritual Progressives' Global Marshall Plan. If there was a candidate for the President who was talking about this kind of approach and endorsing the strategy of generosity and the Global Marshall Plan, the most loving and hopeful parts of most Americans would respond and that candidate would have a good chance of becoming the next president, or the next president after that!

It is only when such a development happens in the West in a real way, and Western societies replace their attempts to dominate the world with attempts to engage in a respectful and generous way with the world's population that there is the chance that we can help Israelis and Palesitnians move closer to reconciliation of the heart. No political solution without that change of heart is likely to last or be viable for any length of time.

And that is why it is so important for those who want a world of peace to embrace the Global Marshall Plan. Please download the full 32 page description of it in the pamphlet you can get for free at www.tikkun.org/gmp. And in the meantime, join with all of us in the relgious and spiritual world who are praying for an end to the violence from both sides, and for a miraculous appearance of a new spirit of love and generosity.

To help make that happen, please not only pray with us, but join the Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives.org/join and help us get your local city council, state legislature, and elected Congressional reps (your Congress person and your two senators) and any presidential candidate you support to endorse the Network of Spiritual Progressives' version of the Global Marshall Plan. This is specifically what You can do, so don't say you didn't know what you could do, because this is concrete and possible for you to do!

As a religious Jew, I'm committed to the Torah injunction to not only love my neighbor as myself, but as the Torah goes on to say, "thou shalt love the stranger/the Other: (in Hebrew, ve'ahavta la'ger) and to not oppress them. It is this commitment that made me write Embracing Israel/Palestine and that makes me today pray for the well-being of both peoples recognizing that the only real way to be pro-Israel is to also be pro-Palestine, and the only real way to be pro-Palestine is to be pro-Israel, because both peoples well being is intrinsically tied to the well being of the other. And this is true for all of us, because our well-being as Americans or whatever your nationality depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself. This is what it means to be a spiritual progressive (you don't have to believe in God or any other metaphysical entity)--so if you agree with us, join us!

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tiikkun Magazine, which for the second year in a row has won the "Best Magazine of the Year" from the Religion Newswriters Association. He is chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in Berkeley, California, and author of eleven books, including Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, and most recently Embracing Israel/Palestine (available on Kindle from Amazon.com or in paperback from www.tikkun.org/eip).

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