Tuesday, July 30, 2013

To Those Who Oppose Peace Talks

If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies. -Moshe Dayan

The late Moshe Dayan was a wise man who knew a thing or three about defending Israel. The wisdom of the Palestinian prisoner release is debatable at best, and while I support what Prime Minister Netanyahu did in the hope of advancing peace, I can understand those who disagree. What I cannot understand are those on the right who oppose any negotiation for peace. I cannot understand those who say Israel should not sit down at the table and talk.

I am an old peacenik going way back. Most of my friends know this. I guess I still am. I still believe in my heart that the only way Israel will ever know security is if there is peace. I believe every Prime Minister of Israel except Yitzhak Shamir has understood this and worked for the day that Israel will have peace with her neighbors. I believe the senseless deaths in endless wars has to end someday. That day will come only when there is peace.

The reason my family did not stay in Israel, the reason I finished growing up in the United States, is simple. My mother put her foot down. She said she did not want her children to go to war. If it was up to my father, who came to the States from Israel in the 1950s, we'd have settled in Israel permanently. A few years earlier when most Israelis were celebrating the great victory in the Six Day War in 1967, my father saw nothing to celebrate. His words: "Occupation. Bad business." I believe history has proven he was correct.

I believe Israel has the right to defend herself. I believe that unequivocally. However, I also believe, based on the liberal Jewish values I was raised with, that Israel also has an obligation to seek peace at every opportunity. The Jewish people have prayed for thousands of years for the peace in Jerusalem and all Israel.

Many right wing Americans, on various Internet sites, claim to be great supporters and friends of Israel. They also are dead set against peace talks. If you are opposed to peace talks, if you think war is preferable to compromise, if you believe annexation and expulsion is somehow the correct answer to the dispute, if you would in any way oppose even sitting down and talking, then I believe you are no friend of Israel or the Jewish people.

One of the most important principles in Judaism is pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a life. It is so important it trumps all other religious considerations. It is perfectly permissible to travel on Shabbat, on a holiday, even on Yom Kippur, if you can save a life. Another important concept I was taught when I was growing up is tikkun olam, which literally means repairing the world. We have an obligation to leave the world a better place than what we found when we came into it. What could do more to make the world a better place than achieving peace?

I am really and truly skeptical that these peace talks will go anywhere, at least in the near term. I just don't see Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership being ready to compromise on pretty much anything, and compromise is essential on both sides to achieve a peace agreement. Having said that, if you had asked me in college during freshman or sophmore year if Egypt would ever make peace with Israel I would have said "no way". I know because that is precisely what I said. I would have pointed out that Anwar Sadat flew planes for the Nazis and led his country in the Yom Kippur War. Then, late one evening in 1979, I was sitting in Wilson Commons, the student union building on the University of Rochester campus, watching the premiere of "Battlestar Galactica" with friends. The network interrupted the show... to announce the signing of the Camp David accords. What had seemed impossible to me a year earlier became reality that night. I will never forget it.

If you would condemn us to more war, more death, more destruction without so much as sitting down and trying to talk to our enemies, as Moshe Dayan said we must, then you are no friend of Israel and the Jewish people. I say "us" because so much of my family and so many friends, so many people I love dearly, live in Israel. I say "us" because anyone who has read my writing over the years knows that once I meet certain obligations here in the States and reach some goals which would make aliya successful for me, I plan on finally moving to Israel.

To those who say no talks, I say: די כבר - enough already. Give it a rest. We've had enough killing, enough death. We must at least try to make peace even if we are doomed to fail. It is our moral obligation.