By Rabbi Michael Lerner
All the usual suspects are cheering on their respective sides in the latest struggle between Israel and Palestine being fought out at the expense of some Israeli and more Palestinian civilian lives. I’ve been overwhelmed with sadness at the tragic loss of lives and harm to the bodies of Israelis and Palestinians, and outraged at all those who continue to justify their side and demean the other, implicitly cheering on the violence even as they officially deplore it! Enough is enough. Stop the violence immediately!
First step: the international community, led by the U.S., should impose an immediate cease-fire on all sides of the struggle, and should introduce an international peace force to restrain and if necessary arrest anyone involved in any side of this struggle who is acting to continue the violence. That force should be equally charged with arresting any military figures on the Israeli side or guerrilla forces on the Palestinian side that are attempting to engage in hostilities.
Second step: hold an international conference to create a politically and economically viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel (details on what that would look like are in my bookEmbracing Israel/Palestine which you can order online at www.tikkun.org/eip, or on Kindle format at Amazon.com).
Third step: begin a truth and reconciliation process to coincide with implementing the creation of a politically and economically viable Palestinian state.
So how do we get there, given the apparent willingness of everyone from Obama to the most liberal Dems in the Congress to want to be seen as giving Israel carte blanche to do what it will to punish Hamas, and even the normally predictable peace voices are keeping a very low profile?
We have to move the focus from who did what to whom and how badly should we feel to the more significant question: how do we use this moment to push beyond the usual cacophony of righteous believers in the goodness of their side’s cause so that we can realize that the issue for all humanity is how to put love, kindness and caring for each other and for the earth on our collective agenda, realizing that the human race simply cannot allow itself to be distracted by outrageous and endless vicious nationalist struggles.
Yes, there are steps that could be taken to guarantee a lasting cease-fire. Israel could offer to end the blockade of Gaza (which in any event has been ineffective in keeping Hamas from gaining long-range missile capabilities) and end all drone over flights in both the West Bank and Gaza and all targeted assassinations in exchange for Hamas agreeing to allow international monitors search all forms of entry to Gaza to prevent that military hardware from being imported and simultaneously agreeing to prevent all future bombardment of S’derot and any other Israeli targets and to punish those engaged in rogue actions of that sort (e.g. Islamic Jihad or whoever else tries to provoke war by shooting at Israel from Gaza). This same force should be policing West Bank settlers some of whom are committed to disrupting any peace process that might lead to a reduction in the West Bank settlements.
But no such moves are likely to work without a fundamental change of attitude: a new approach of compassion for each side by the other, the adoption of a zero tolerance of war as a solution to anyone’s problems, and the replacing of the strategy of “we’ll show them how tough we are” attitude that I call a strategy of domination with a new strategy of generosity (“we’ll show them how much we can care for them beyond all reasonable expectations”). Cancel the endless attempts in the media for each side to try to prove that their side is the righteous victim and the other side the “evil other.” Most important: we need to develop a societal wide therapy to help Israelis overcome their greatest fear: the fear of being seen as a “fryar,” someone who is too optimistic about the decency of other human beings and the potential or turning enemies into friends. Until this Israeli pathology is overcome, no amount of rationality is likely to emerge in Israeli discourse or poltics.
The first steps in this process: it is time the Israelis acknowledge the cost of their Occupation and denial of fundamental democratic and human rights on the Palestinian people. Much of the Israeli media gives little attention to the ongoing violence directed at Palestinians, such as outright stealing of land from Palestinian farmers, IDF suppression of non-violent demonstrations against the Occupation, and holding Palestinians without charges. Targeted assassinations now carried out by drones whose daily presence in the skies over Gaza make that tiny area the world’s largest outdoor prison. Ironically, except for the tiny percentage of Israelis who read Ha’aretz, most Israelis don’t even have a clue about what the daily oppressive reality is like for people in the West Bank, much less for the million plus human beings living in Gaza.
The majority of Israelis go about daily life oblivious to the suffering that the status quo generates until Palestinians launch their (thankfully mostly ineffective) missiles against hapless citizens in S’derot and other southern Israeli towns. And when Israelis flex their overwhelming military muscles, the leaders (sic) of the organized Jewish community in the U.S. jump into line, screaming that Israel’s existence is in danger (a complete fantasy) and that the U.S. must support its “ally” (which meanwhile is scheming how to drag the US into a war with Iran).
While it is true, as Palestinians and their global supporters purport, that Israel can (and does) murder far more Palestinians than Hamas murders Israeli civilians, nonetheless, the murder of civilians on either side only builds resentment and entrenches both sides in their self-righteous indignation. As civilians on both sides hide in terror (one in their bomb shelters, the other hiding wherever they can), their political leaders play a game of chess to promote their position and prolong the fighting. When in actuality, neither Hamas nor the Netanyahu government wants peace.
Hamas wants to subvert the P.A. efforts to get Palestine a higher status at the U.N. because that would make Hamas less viable in the coming Palestinian national elections. Its willingness to continue these symbolic (and more recently less symbolic and more substantive) launchings of missiles against Israeli targets are not aimed at winning anything. Though some may justify them morally as the response of the powerless to the ongoing evil of the Israeli occupation and its murderous day-to-day reality, we must also note that it is a cynical ploy by Hamas to undermine the Palestinian Authority’s past seven years of non-violence and seeking accommodation with Israel. At the same time, Palestinian non-violence is the last thing the Netanyahu government wants, hence its provocative policies and statements as it continues dunam by dunam to undermine the possibility of a two state solution that it deceptively claims to still support, and now escalating the violence against Palestinian civilians as its calling card for the forthcoming Israeli elections. Netanyahu is willing to endanger the lives of Israelis by failing to reward Palestinian non-violence from the P.A. but instead escalating violence against Gaza. It’s his ticket not only to reelection, but also to his legacy as “the Prime Minister who stood firm against outside pressure.”
Nothing Israel can offer short of ending the Occupation now and creating a politically and economically viable Palestinian state (along terms I’ve outlined in chapter 9 of my 2012 book Embracing Israel/Palestine) will change anything. A cease-fire will lead to continuation of an awful status quo. Yet the kind of generous offer I propose in my book is not going to happen until there is a much larger change in the consciousness not only of Israelis and Palestinians but of their champions and cheerleaders around the world.
In short, what is needed is a new global ethos of recognizing that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else alive today and the well-being of the planet as well. The path to homeland security for everyone and every country is a path of generosity. And that generosity has to take form both in consciousness and in action. Consciousness that is learned by hearing each other’s stories so that we are able to see the world from the others’ perspective. In Israel and Palestine, that must involve learning about each other’s histories to provide compassionate understanding for the current situation.
The action form: the U.S. should take the leadership with the other advanced industrial countries (the G-20) to launch a domestic and global Marshall Plan aimed at giving 1-2% of each country’s Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty to once and for all end global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care and to repair the damage done to the global environment. Such a program, financed from the trillions saved in military spending, and in part by a 1% Tobin tax on all global money transfers of more than a million dollars. This strategy would provide the world with a far more effective path to safety and security. If implemented in a true spirit of generosity, such an action would break the depressive certainty that every country has that no one cares about anyone else but themselves, and thus open the hearts of people in the Middle East who remain stuck in various demonizing visions of who the other “really is.”
To implement such a strategy, it will take average citizens around the world, like you and me, not only to demand an end to this senseless violence, but also to insist that our own countries reject the strategy of domination and adopt the strategy of generosity. As a symbolic statement of our support for this direction, I urge you to use this Thanksgiving to raise this idea of generosity and caring for others as the foundation for our global survival and as the only practical and realistic path to end the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians!!! And lovingly tell the partisans who will insist that what is needed is more support for the violence of one side or the other that their approach is really destructive to the well-being of the very people they claim to be serving, because the endless cycle of violence does damage both to the bodies and spirits of both Israelis and Palestinians. And then, if you can develop this capacity of compassion within yourself, provide empathy for the depth of their pain (try to understand their story – the story of those who will put you down for being too idealistic – because they too are in pain and can only be moved when their pain in listened to and understood). And then engage with them in visualizing a way to bring a lasting peace that doesn’t involve annihilating or expelling the other from the Holy Land! And recognize that the realists who insist that caring for others is unrealistic are actually the reason why we’ve never been able to eliminate war, poverty and oppression. So affirm the centrality of love and generosity, because in fact these provide the foundation for the only strategy that can possibly work.
To assist in this process, please read the following prayer or meditation early in the Thanksgiving meal, and then be prepared to face those who seek to minimize the seriousness of your statements or to tell you how unrealistic it is or how inappropriate since they don’t want to think of anything serious. Tell them that it’s time for them and for the world to be less “realistic,” (to the extent that realists allow “that which is” to shape their vision of “that which could be”) and more visionary, else we are condemned to endlessly repeat the self-destructive behavior being manifested in the current struggle in the Middle East. The path of the so-called “realists” has led to endless wars and destruction. Enough is enough! It’s time to stop being realistic and instead start insisting on the kind of world that we, and all humanity need and want. After Thanksgiving, contact your Congressional reps and tell them that you want the US to change its role from lead cheerleader for Israel to actually being substantively pro-Israel, understanding that the only way to be pro-Israel is to also be pro-Palestine, because the fate of both peoples is eternally interlocked and interdependent.
The Thanksgiving Meditation, Prayer or Guided Visualization
Today we give thanks to this incredible universe for all the beauty, the goodness and the miracles that surround us every day and to which we have given too little conscious attention. And we celebrate the ability to be with friends, neighbors, family or others on this holy day of joyful appreciation of all the good in our lives.
This is the right moment, then, for us to also put forward our prayers or intentions for a world of peace. We who recognize that our ability to live today enjoying all the benefits of North America was achieved in part through a genocidal struggle against the native peoples of this land are not willing to live through another period in which other peoples may be losing their lands to settlers or oppressive colonization.
This year it is hard not to be dismayed at the murdering that goes on between Israel and Palestine, and the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians. This Thanksgiving some of us commit ourselves to doing all we can to stop the conflict and to start the process of non-violent, open-hearted reconciliation and peace. We reject the advice of the “political realists” who tell us that this struggle will go on forever, at untold levels of human suffering. Instead, we urge our own government to work with others to impose a cease-fire, and then to convene an international conference of the most powerful and spiritually responsible countries that can act together to build the new consciousness our planet so badly needs.
Some of us, whether or not we believe in God or Goddess or Spirit, are Spiritual Progressives—that is, people who want the world to be reorganized in ways that promote love, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of all that is. We spiritual progressives believe that the real source of strength for any country or people will come from the degree to which its neighbors and the people of the world see that country as a source of generous love, social justice, peace, non-violence and generosity toward all and environmental sanity toward the earth.
So on this Thanksgiving we call upon the world to actively involve itself with bringing peace and prosperity to all places where violence and wars continue to be waged. We call upon the advanced industrial countries to launch a domestic and global Marshall Plan by dedicating 1-2% of the GDP of the economically advanced industrial countries of the world, the G-20, to be used to eliminate poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and to repair the global environment—to be paid for by the trillions of dollars that will otherwise be spent on militarism and attempts to dominate and control the world. We know that this approach will require major political changes, and that is why we support the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ “Money out of Politics” campaign that goes way beyond affirming that corporations are not people and money is not speech. The ESRA also bans all private and corporate monies from national and state elections (check it out atwww.spiritualprogressiives.org
And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we affirm our dedication to being unrealistic for peace, social justice, environmental sanity, and a world based on love, caring, kindness and generosity. In so doing, we will make realistic what at first seemed to be unrealistic. And so it is. Amen.
–Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of the Jewish and interfaith quarterly Tikkun magazine (in print by subscription and on line at www.tikkun.org), chair of the interfaith (and atheist-welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in Berkeley and San Francisco California www.beyttikkun.org. ,
Author: Embracing Israel/Palestine, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, Spirit Matters, The Politics of Meaning, with Cornel West: Jews and Blacks–Let the Healing Begin, The Socialism of Fools: Anti-Semitism on the Left, Surplus Powerlessness: The Psychodynamics of Daily Life and Work and more