Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Decency


I was taken by a quote by Ezra Nawi, the Israeli human rights activist who was arrested and will soon be sentenced for opposing the Israeli army's destruction of Bedouin encampments in the south "Har Hebron" area. You can read about Ezra's case in the New York Times, or here, here or here. (The latter two sites also let you join a campaign to overturn his conviction - a worthy cause in my opinion. And thanks to Rabbi Brian Walt - http://rabbibrian.wordpress.com/ - for bringing the Times article to my attention.)


In the Times article, Nawi is quoted as saying:


“I don’t have a solution to this dispute. I just know that what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It is about decency.”

This is an extremely significant statement. It deserves to be up there in the pantheon of Jewish aphorisms from Pirke Avot. The world stands, first and foremost, on common decency: "Derech Eretz Kadma La'Torah."

I don’t have a patented solution to the Israel/Palestine problem either – but I do know that the current situation is intolerable and immoral. Israel has taken more than its fair share of land and water. It has stolen property both from individual Palestinians and from the Palestinian people as a whole. It is daily imposing unjustifiable and extreme hardship on the entire population of Gaza.

One doesn’t need a solution in hand to the entire conflict in order to object to this behaviour and these results.

Peace should not be the only (or maybe even primary) goal in Israel/Palestine. Justice – or its poor cousin, Decency – are important too, and maybe more so. This is the problem with Peace Now. Every time Hamas or Fatah display some intransigency, every time there is a terror attack, the Right says (well, not in so many words) “See, peace is impossible and therefore we can go on oppressing and stealing from the Palestinians.” But the point is to be decent and just even in the face of war and security risks. This conflict may go on for another century. (I hope not, but it might.) Are we to reduce the Jewish people to wild vicious beasts, like some barbarous warlike tribe of another era?

The core of the issue today is the settlements. They are all the fruits of sin – of theft. Even if you allow (and I don’t) that the Israel cannot evacuate the territories for fear of the radical Palestinians, what right does that give us to move Jews into the occupied territories, to build modern homes with modern infrastructure only for Jews, to appropriate land and water only for Jews, and to deny Palestinians freedom to build and travel in the occupied territories in order to defend the privileges of the settlers. If Israel was only concerned with security, it would keep the army in the territories and remove all the settlements and then relax all restrictions on movement, building, and economic activity within the territories.

But covetousness for land, greed for economic advantage, and a scorn for the Palestinians that rivals the worst racist attitudes of other societies, has overlaid Israel’s initial security concerns and turned Israeli society into one that daily acts indecently towards nearly 50% of the people under its control.

Obviously not all Israelis and not all Jews feel or behave this way. But we are all complicit.

The question for Jews who see all this, and morn all this, is how do we create a more decent environment for the Palestinians and how do we save the Jewish people from the indecency into which it is being dragged. If this conflict goes on another hundred years, will there be anything left of the message of justice and the identification with the stranger that has been the core of Jewish civilization for millennia? If we – progressive Jews – cannot change the situation, how do we at least make it a bit better and how do we prevent it from changing, permanently and for the worse, the Jewish people?

I don’t have answers. But I am looking. Any ideas?

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