Israeli-Palestinian War

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(Host) Commentator Ellen David Friedman has been trying to understand events in the Middle East without much success – until recently – when she read an article that she found to be helpful.

(David Friedman) Eight years ago, as our son was preparing for the rite of Jewish adulthood known as bar mitzvah, the Oslo Accord was bringing a brief moment of world optimism about peace in Israel. At his service our son said something that surprised many of us. He said, "People seem to believe there will be peace now, but this conflict is so old, I don’t know if it’s possible." Eight years ago this seemed unduly pessimistic. But I am learning, now, to face this reality.

I was raised in a secular Jewish household. I loved the inheritance of progressive social thought and tolerance. And, only one generation removed from the holocaust, I was taught the need for a Jewish state. But I wasn’t long into adolescence before I learned about the displacement of Palestinians, and thus entered into a lifelong ambivalence about Israel’s conduct. Mostly, I’ve been a critic.

Now there are hard ¿ and understandable ¿ lines being drawn. Many people I love are single-mindedly defending Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories as necessary self-defense. But I can’t do that. It seems to me that the burden of a democracy, and one which possesses disproportionate might, must always be to create conditions for justice, not annihilation.

Nor, of course, can I defend that terrible expression of Palestinian desperation, which is contained in the suicide bombings. Even as I believe in the goal of a Palestinian state, I see how much these helpless gestures hurt that cause. Which leaves me ¿ and obviously much of the world ¿ simply bewildered. A clear analysis of the crisis seems remote¿ much less a realistic strategy for peace.

So I was immeasurably helped by an article I read recently, written by Amos Oz, who is one of Israel’s leading novelists and a founding member of the Peace Now movement. He wrote, "Two wars have erupted. One is the Palestinian nation’s war for its freedom from occupation and for its right to independent statehood. Any decent person ought to support this cause. The second war is waged by fanatical Islam to destroy Israel and drive the Jews out of their land. Any decent person ought to abhor this cause."

The overlap between these two wars is now very tight, but it need not always be. If the occupation ends and Palestinian statehood gained, then one war, at least, ends. And it may well lessen the fervor of religious fundamentalism which fuels the second war. It’s important to remember that not all Arab states, nor all Muslims, are opposed to Israel’s existence. Peace can’t be guaranteed if the first war ends, but it must be risked.

This is Ellen David Friedman in East Montpelier.

Ellen David Friedman is vice chair of the Vermont Progressive Party and has been active in the labor movement for 25 years.

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