Gaza & Beyond: What's the Alternative?
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center
Late Saturday night, I asked us to live with the vertigo of choosing between two versions of the Jewish future: the vision of Zechariah, which we read every year on Shabbat Hanukkah -- "Not by might and not by power but by My breathing-spirit, says YHWH Infinite" and the vision of permanently using --as right now in Gaza -- -- superior power to impose superior violence.
I received many brickbats, many thank-yous and blessings, and one calm question: What's the alternative?
So after simply living with the despair of what seem like impossible choices, we might begin to ask ourselves the necessary question: What's the alternative?
Right away, the UN Security Council (with no US veto interposed) has called for an immediate end to all violence into and from Gaza. So have J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace Jewish lobby, and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom. This call makes sense, and should be applied with equal and immediate insistence and enforcement to the Hamas rockets against Israel, the Israeli bombing of Gaza, Israeli interference with shipments of food and medicine and fuel to Gaza, and Egyptian violence against Palestinians trying to flee the bombs of Gaza.
But this is a palliative, not an alternative.
The alternative for Hamas would have been to multiply the approach of the nonviolent boatloads of people who were in the last month bringing supplies to Gaza, ignoring or violating the Israeli blockade. This approach was building support in much of the world. Of course it was not enough to feed the whole people or heal them of disease, but it was pointing out the injustice and violence of the blockade. Instead of canceling the cease-fire and aiming rockets once again, they could have turned those boats into a multitude.
(A message to those who blindly support whatever Hamas does because they are the underdog: The teaching of the Prophet Zechariah is not just for Jews. It is about self-restraint when you have greater power, and it is about nonviolence -- also a form of self-restraint -- when you have lesser power. It is God's word for everybody.)
The alternative for the Israeli government would be to say: --- Instead of scornfully rejecting the Saudi/ Arab League proposal for a region-wide peace settlement among Israel, all Arab states, and a viable Palestinian state, we encourage it, and encourage its proponents to press Hamas to join in, while making clear that for us the deal must include only very small symbolic numbers of Palestinian refugees returning to Israel itself, and control of the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. And we encourage, instead of blocking, a Palestinian government of national unity, including Hamas as well as Fatah. We will attend that peace conference tomorrow - tonight! And meanwhile, we seek as much peace as possible with Hamas -- if not full recognition, then a 50-year truce (as one Hamas leader had proposed.) . We negotiate openly with Hamas toward ending the blockade, encouraging economic development inside Gaza, welcoming European and Egyptian aid and investment, releasing the members of their parliament we are holding in jail, and in exchange, get an end to the rocket attacks by Hamas and their acceptance of governmental responsibility to control other groups that may try to continue. We use the checkpoints to prevent terrorist incursions into Israel, rather than preventing delivery of food and medicine to Gaza.
(Perhaps even now an Israeli government could take that road ---- arguing, Now that we have proved we can be bloody, we are not negotiating from weakness, we are not rewarding terrorism, we can walk this path!)And the alternative for the US government would be to use the disaster of this attack to call for all the above: To insist on a regional Middle East peace conference, to insist that even a Netanyahu government of Israel and even a Hamas leadership of Gaza or Palestine take part and accept a decent deal. And that's where the long-range intentions of The Shalom Center come into focus --- Working for a peaceful and peace-making US policy in the broader Middle East and the even broader Muslim world, and intertwined with that, a new US pursuit of sustainable energy sources to heal our planet and make the conquest of Middle East Oil unecessary. That long-range intention is where we need your help!
Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur Waskow