End the Violence in Israel/Palestine: Cease Fire NOW!

Once again the violence of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza and the violence of Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza have combined to create a spiraling violence that serves the extremists on both sides who can point to the intended violence on the other side to justify their own. We call upon both sides to agree to an immediate cease fire from both sides.

In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine, I show how both sides have co-created this mess, and why it is futile, stupid, intellectually lacking in credibility, and ethically perverse to try to pin the blame on one side or the other, because both sides have been incredibly tone deaf to the suffering of the other side and the most negative possible interpretation of the other side’s intentions increasingly prevails in the public perceptions on each side of the intentions of the other. Of course at the moment there is no equivalence in power or violence. Israel has already killed over 150 Palestinians, and wounder hundreds; Gazans have not inflicted any deaths and few injuries on Israelis (which I’m glad about–I don’t want Israeli blood to flow any more than I want Palesitnian blood to flow! My fervent prayer: STOP ALL THE VIOLENCE, END THE OCCUPATION AND CREATE A LASTING PEACE AND A RECONCILIATION OF THE HEART.  This reconciliation does not deny the vast inequality of power between Israel and Palestinins, and the corresponding responsiblity of the more powerful force to take the first major steps toward a real peace, NOT a “peace process” which goes nowhere, but a true resolution of the conflict. 

Please order Embracing Israel/Palestine and create a study group around it in your neighborhood, friendship circles, synagogue, church, mosque, ashram, political party, civic organization, labor union or professional organization. Order the book at www.tikkun.org/eip or on Kindle at Amazon.com.

Nothing is going to change in the Middle East until we can change the way the struggles are understood both in the media and in the larger publics that have increasingly moved toward extremist perceptions of one side or the other. The extremists who killed three Israeli teens must be celebrating at the moment–because Netanyahu rewarded them by giving them precisely what they wanted, the kind of violent repression in the West Bank of Hamas sympathizers that would push Hamas into feeling the need to retaliate with a resurgence of missile strikes on Israel, thereby precipitating the predictable scenario: the ultra-nationalist Netanyahu has to show his toughness by escalating attacks on Gaza while Hamas in Gaza has to show its toughness by escalating attacks on Israel.

Of course, at any point either side could have broken this cycle. Israelis could have refused to allow Netanyahu to use the tragic murder of those teens as excuse to arrest dozens of West Bank Hamas supporters and refused to let the IDF break into hundreds of homes. Hamas could have refused to allow their even more extreme opponents in the Islamic fundamentalist world to use the situation to resume bombings of Israeli towns. (The bombs have no impact except to provide justification of Netanyahu’s militarist approach).

Netanyahu could have told Israelis the truth: that the bombs from Gaza are militarily so unlikely to cause significant loss of life that it could be seen as politically and militarily irrelevant, given Israel’s missile shield.

But instead, the ridiculous and yet dangerous and murderous leadership

on both sides choose their insane path: Hamas chooses to continue the shelling of Israel, refusing to acknowledge that none of its missiles are going to do any damage but only supply the Israeli militarists with the excuse they need to enter and decimate Gaza; Netanyahu, faced with even more extremist pressure from his political right, uses this opportunity to create a hysteria in Israel and the global Jewish community so that they will resist future pressures to push Israel to end the Occupation, and will insist that the Palestinian Authority stop its reconciliation with Hamas.

And the resulting anti-Arab riots scare Israeli Palestinians into feeling that they can’t trust their Jewish neighbors, and gives “proof” to Arabs and Muslims around the world that Israel is indeed a hate-dominated society. And all this will only increase the likelihood of the Occupation continuing, the oppression of Palestinians continuing, and the recruitment of more Palestinians to extremist groups and suicidal attacks on Israel and Jews around the world. 

So yes, a first and critical step is to change the discourse, and only you and hundreds of thousands of others can do that by refusing the dominant discourse, challenging the media and the politicians who side blindly with Israel no matter how horrible its escalating violence becomes, and challenging the leftists who rightly criticize Israel’s occupation as the central cause of the present violence but wrongly refuse to challenge Hamas’ violence or to see how that violence is a gift to the Israeli settlers who insist that it is they who will provide the first line of protection against Palestinian extremists.

What can you do?

Challenge the public discourse everywhere you can.

Form a local chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (need help–email Cat@spiritualprogressives.org).  Go to media and picket their buildings until they give a fairer and more nuanced account of what has caused the current mess. Meet with your elected officials and insist that they publicly endorse the Tikkun plan for peace (outlined in Embracing Israel/Palestine). Form a study group to read Embracing Israel/Palestine and to read articles in Ha’aretz newspaper–so that you and fellow participants can feel adequately knowledgeable to challenge the distortions that exist on both sides. Challenge the dehumanizing of each side by the other, of Israel by the Left in Western countries and of Palestine and Palestinians by the Right. 

Stop saying, “I don’t know enough about it to actively participate in discussions,”  and instead LEARN ABOUT IT  in all its complexities. Above all, refuse every act that seems to dehumanize the other side. YOU, YES YOU, can be the vehicle for spreading a new way of thinking. And to do that you need to prepare yourself for a tough and long-lasting process of consciousness changing. And that is precisely what the Network of Spiritual Progressives is all about–It’s about changing consciousness locally, nationally and globally to achieve a New Bottom Line of love, kindness, generosity, environmental sanity, social and economic justice, and awe/wonder/radical amazement the grandeur and mystery of the universe. Help make this happen: join the Network of Spiritual Progressives and help build a new consciousness in your area.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, July 15, in a one-day Fast for Peace, called by some a Hunger Strike Against Violence. TIKKUN’s ally Rabbi Arthur Waskow and the Shalom Center point out:  This day is in both Muslim and Jewish traditions a time of Fasting from sunrise to sunset, arousing inner spiritual reflection and shared effort to turn from violence to compassion, from idolatry to celebration of the One. This year it is specially intended as a response to the worsening spiral of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.  Tuesday, July 15, in the Jewish calendar is the 17th of Tammuz. It commemorates the day in 586 BCE when the Babylonian Army broke through the walls of Jerusalem. Three weeks later, on Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) the  invaders destroyed the First Temple. The Fast therefore recalls the suffering of people subjected to  war and conquest by more powerful armies, and renews our sacred calling for compassion rather than hatred.

This year, the Jewish lunar month of Tammuz coincides with the Muslim lunar month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast on every day from sunrise to sunset. During that month Mohammed the Prophet, peace be upon him, first received the early revelations that came to make up the Quran.


But of course, fasting is not enough. Neither are demonstrations against the violence on both sides. These are valuable things to do. But a more serious effort will begin when you and others you know are ready to articulate what a world of love and kindness could look like, in the Middle East but also here in the U.S., how it could work, and what you and your neighbors are going to do to make it all happen! And the NSP will help you do that.

Join us. Join the (interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives. at www.spiritualprogressives.org. (with membership comes a free sub to Tikkun Magazine).

Warm regards,

Rabbi Michael Lerner



And please read the following articles from Ha’aretz:

It’s time for Israel to seek a cease-fire in Gaza

Israel should declare that it achieved its aim of punishing Hamas, before tragic surprises strike on either side.

Like in previous operations in which the Israel Defense Forces has confronted Hamas, throughout Operation Protective Edge politicians and commentators have been using numbers to describe the balance of forces.

After six days of the operation the meaning of these figures should be questioned. Does it really matter how many targets the IDF hit in the Gaza Strip? Is there any meaning to the number of missiles Hamas has fired so far? Only one piece of data has chilling significance, and that is the number killed.

Israel can note with satisfaction that thus far Hamas missiles have only inflicted damage to property, while in Gaza the number of killed has passed the 100 mark. Many of them are innocent citizens, children and women, whose death was a result of “collateral damage,” the type that reputedly is unavoidable in war.

The decision makers in Israel, and at their head, the prime minister, are still finding it difficult to define the operation’s purpose. “The attack will continue until there is quiet,” says Benjamin Netanyahu. The foreign minister, Avigdor Leiberman, has a far-reaching suggestion of his own, “to go all the way,” that is to conquer the Gaza Strip. Others are offering ideas such as conquering Gaza, then handing over its control to Mahmoud Abbas, and forming a Palestinian army along the lines of the South Lebanese Army. These solutions are imaginary and untenable.

Operation Pillar of Defense brought quiet for a year and a half. Operation Cast Lead produced a longer period of quiet. In both an attempt was made at “going all the way,” which clarified time after time that it is possible to reach understandings with Hamas. In doing so, Hamas recognizes that the missiles will not destroy the State of Israel, while in Israel the recognition exists that “wiping out the terrorist infrastructure” is a nice motto that cannot be carried out.

In the absence of a diplomatic process, Israel has to depend on partial understandings and arrangements that do not guarantee absolute solutions, but do allow periods of normalcy. This is the type of understanding Israel must reach with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Israel can wait until public opinion worldwide and in the Arab countries begins to rage. It can also expect that, as in several previous operations, tragic surprises on the Israeli or Palestinian side could produce strategic changes in direction.

On the other hand, Israel could declare that the operation’s aims, especially punishing Hamas, have been achieved. This is the time to let the mediators achieve a cease-fire and leave the infrastructure alone for another long period of quiet.


The shame of an Israel dripping with venom

A new protest is forming, and not just against the occupation. It’s against the racism that’s erupting everywhere.

The tension is affecting us all, regardless of our political opinions. When the bombing of Gaza and the rocket fire at Israel cease, the question will be asked once again – did the terrible destruction wreaked on Gaza change the rules of the game? What are those rules? A cease-fire for a year or two? A budding insurrection against Hamas in the Strip? No one can tell.

What’s clear to me is that the past two months can’t be ignored as if they didn’t happen. We should be ashamed of an Israel dripping with venom toward the other, an Israel that easily moves on after the Facebook comments about the burning to death of an Arab boy.

I tried to think up a response to these questions, even a partial one, involving a wider opposition, an enhanced Jewish-Arab solidarity. I was told I had to wait because the entire country was anxiously waiting to learn about the fate of the three kidnapped teenagers.

When their bodies were found I was told the pain would make any protest seem pathetic. Then came the military operation with its bombastic name and unattainable goals, during which real or phony patriotism extinguished every other aspect of Israel.

Suddenly, however, came articles by young writers expressing shame and scorn about the Internet comments by paid hacks or volunteers. There was a feeling that something was brewing.

The 2011 social protests revolved around one issue: the way of life of Israel’s productive sectors – young people who won’t ever be able to afford housing or enjoy a secure pension. So when the match was lit it showed the way for many people.

The current protest isn’t the usual one of the left protesting the occupation’s evils. It’s one that addresses the country’s basic values and the path it’s following. It’s targeting the racism that’s erupting everywhere, the hatred and disregard shown toward the pain of others.

Many people yearn for a different kind of Israel. The protest won’t succeed through decisions by opposition parties or parties that joined the Netanyahu government and are now straddling the fence. The protest will come from a wider community that’s ashamed of an Israel that has abandoned its democratic goals. These people are ashamed of an archaic, faith-based interpretation of concepts such as Zionism and Judaism.

The slogan “We want a different Israel” could attract tens of thousands of people — or more. Clearly this would be an anti-establishment protest, and some people would try to steer it in totally different directions.

Astute commentators have stated recently that the left no longer exists in Israel. This may be true based on the way these writers define the left and its objectives. Their left is clear and concrete but powerless to attract communities that don’t think the way it does, despite the common revulsion for the new right, for hysterical Economy Minister Naftali Bennett or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fails to confront the filth. In every corner one can sense anger, fury and shame.

“We want a different Israel” can be a rallying cry for Israel’s Arab citizens who, according to opinion polls, seek to integrate into the country’s fabric. When an Israeli cabinet member visits the family of the murdered Arab boy that minister is hit by threats to his family on Facebook, we can’t remain silent. This isn’t the Israel envisioned by its founders, and something needs to be done about it.

In the Haaretz supplement that accompanied the paper’s Israel Conference on Peace, writers seemed divided on the solution. They offered models for attaining peace, but all seemed anachronistic and unfeasible. A nation that desires peace is one that will fight for a different kind of country and society. The new mutation on the extreme right, whose rabbis have contempt for anyone different, demands a clear statement: This shall not pass.



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