Tuesday, August 15, 2006

There is no military solution

Last week Former MK Naomi Chazan and Arnold Roth, whose daughter was murdered in the Sbarro bombing were interviewed on Late Night Live hosted by Philip Adams. They had divergent opinions about the current war against Lebanon, but both treated each other with respect. They repeated the views of the other before they spoke, they addressed each other with their proper titles and they didn’t raise their voices.

A dialogue of this manner and maturity is what I was thirsting for, but thoroughly lacked during a number of experiences I had this weekend.

Professor Naomi Chazan repeated several times during the interview, as if it were a mantra handed down by a yogi master, “there is no military solution to this conflict.” It sounded so simple.

Discussing the conflict with my colleagues in Zionist education last Sunday, I felt that opining anything other than a military solution to Israel’s woes was heresy. One said: “It is wrong when Lebanese civilians die, but I don’t feel sad for them.” Another said: “There are no ‘two sides’ to this conflict. There is only one side. Ours! This is a war for our survival, for our right to exist” It could have been Anilewicz speaking in the Warsaw Ghetto. It wasn’t. I was in Melbourne.

Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz today that our favorite phrase "an existential war" is nothing more than a ridiculous slogan, as it was actually a “war of choice” from the beginning.

Another of my acquaintances said that those who feel guilty for what Israel is doing in Lebanon are not real Jews. They have no pride in their tradition.

Moving on to Monday night, I went to hear Labour-Meimad MK Rabbi Michael Melchior speak at the house of Mark Baker, the President of my Kehilla, Shira Hadasha. He said about Qana “if you see crushed children and it doesn’t move you, something is blocked in your heart.” Hearing Rabbi Melchior, I was reminded of the midrash in Talmud Sanhedrin 39 about the angels who wanted to sing to Hashem as the Egyptians were drowning in the sea. God says to them, "My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?'"

Rabbi Melchior is often invited to speak on panels in Israel where he is thoroughly outnumbered by those who disagree with him. They say that the Geula (redemption) depends on how much land can be accumulated. He asks them to show where this is written in the shulchan aruch. They can’t. I think that the ideology of those religiously opposed to ceding land is much more potent than Torah.

On one page of the Talmud, there is a debate about when the world was created. The debate is not regarding the year in which the world was created, although this sparks great debate in the secular world. Instead, the debate focuses on which DAY the world was created. Two dates are offered. The 1st of Nissan, the month of our Exodus from Egypt, and the 1st of Tishrei, the creation of Adam and Chava.

Tishrei is a universal date for all mankind, Nissan is a particular date to the Jews. The rabbis say both dates are correct. Why? Because the tension between the two aspects is what keeps Judaism in balance. To only focus on our problems is as wrong as focussing only on the problems of everyone else.

Jews are perfectly placed to be the leaders of this new dialogue. We have one foot in the western liberal camp, and another steeped in dialogue with the Holy writings. Our home is not somewhere between Canada and Mexico, but in the Middle East surrounded by Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. Is there a better place in the world to start talking peace?

We must realise that as long as there is no peace for the Palestinians, there will be no peace for the Jews. The silly labels of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian are infantile. One can only be pro-peace or pro-war.

Many criticize the anti-war camp by asking what other option did Israel have on the 12th of July when Hezbolla kidnapped our soldiers? How else could have Israel have responded? Melchior did not say whether we did the right thing or not in launching operation “Change of Direction” but what he did say is that now is the time to prevent the next war. What I understood him to mean is that once an incident has happened between us and our enemies, it is too late to start negotiating and building bridges at that point. Rabbi Melchior is not a pacifist and acknowledged the need for a military option. But it is not the only option. What we must do now is start creating the situation where it is preferable to choose the path of peace and compromise rather than war. I don’t want to be writing this again in 6 years after the next Lebanon war, God forbid. I don’t want our grandchildren to say to us, why didn’t you guys speak to each other earlier?

And what about the threat posed from Iran? Again Melchior said the best thing we could do to isolate Ahmadnijad is make peace with the Palestinians. He explained how when Rabin signed an agreement with the Palestinians in 1993, it was not because he was a great humanitarian. It was because he wanted to isolate the Shiite extremists. He could see the threat from back then. How much more can we see it now? How much more should this impel us to act in a way that leads us to a two state solution immediately? Repeated polls show that approximately 75% of both Palestinians and Israelis support a two state solution based on the 1967 borders if this would guarantee an end to all hostilities. The will is there. It is up to the people to make it happen.

The reason we should leave Judea and Samaria is not because of the demographic argument. The reason we should leave is because it is wrong to occupy the Palestinians in the way that we do. It is wrong for us to use the sort of force we use against them.

I agree with Rabbi Melchior in saying that if one believes in the sanity of us Jews and in the future of humankind, then the path of dialogue and tolerance must be tried. After Rabbi Melchior signed the Alexandria interfaith agreement, a Yediot Achronot reporter ridiculed him because the next day there was a terrorist attack in Rechov Yafo, Jerusalem. The reporter said, “See, your dialogue can not bring peace.” What this reporter, and many of my dear friends who have a deep love for Israel don’t realise is that making peace is a process that takes many generations, and must involve the citizen on the street more than the politician. It will take many years, but there is will on both sides to make it happen. Let the healing begin, and may we all learn how to be Menchen from this great leader of our time, Rabbi Michael Melchior.

To all those who have lost loved ones in this past month, may these lives not be lost in vain and may we merit to see this path of healing begin whilst this narrow door of opportunity is still open.

In King Solomon’s famous writing Shir HaShirim, we have a love story between a man and woman set in the hills of Jerusalem. The man is lusting after the dark skinned woman for many chapters until he finally finds her. He knocks on her door, and she decides to keep him waiting for a while, She washes her feet and makes herself look pretty. The man gives up waiting and leaves. The moment for the union is lost. Rabbi Melchior quotes this to our struggle for peace. Now is the time to knock on the door, and hope there is an answer. What alternative do we have?


Debbie Miller said...

yasher koach Ittay. thank you for this summary. I agree he has a great and holy message and was very disappointed to miss hearing him last night. many thanks,
Debbie Miller

Michael Lawrence said...

Ittay - I respect Melchior but for you or him to suggest that there's only "pro-war or pro-peace" is rather unfair seeing that in essence all Jews simply want peace and quiet.
In addition, a defeatist and apologetic policy towards Iran will do very little. We are not talking about making peace with Canada or our little sisters. Many Moslems and the Iranian President (for sure!) want Israel "off the map" - making peace with Palestinians has been tried and we should continue trying but neither the Palestinians nor Iran have shown any inkling that Israel's attempts at peace-making change their ultimate destructive aims.

Michael at www.kicisrael.blogspot.com

Ittay said...

Michael, I agree with you that some “Moslems and the Iranian President (for sure!) want Israel "off the map." In his address, Melchior did not deny this. In fact, for this exact reason, he said we must build bridges with moderate Muslims through dialogue and compromise. This is the only way to isolate the extremists like Hezbollah and Ahmadnijad.

Also, This is from Tuesdays Age:
Speaking at the Abraham Intercultural conference last Sunday in Melbourne, Rabbi Melchior said that secular politicians could not solve the conflict "because there is a dimension to the conflict which they don't understand, and which the process has lacked".

And while Israeli politicians claim there are no Palestinian partners for peace, Rabbi Melchior said there were excellent partners on the Muslim side.

"We have in all the Abrahamic faiths the key to saving the world. It's the belief there's one God alone, and every human being is created in the image of the one God, and therefore has the same rights and respect you demand for yourself," he said.
"Crushing a fellow human being is also crushing the image of God himself."


Liss said...

Shkoyakh Ittay!
It sounds like it was a fantastic talk, and I'm really sorry I wasn't there to hear it. I enjoyed reading your summary - sometimes I almost buy into the rhetoric that I'm a bad Jew because I'm opposed to this war. But only almost.
Gut Shabbos!

YMedad said...

I sort of "fell" into your blog looking for material on Rav Melchior after being phoned from London by the BBC which is doing a story on him. I am of the oppositie political line to him.

I read this in your blogging:-

"They say that the Geula (redemption) depends on how much land can be accumulated. He asks them to show where this is written in the shulchan aruch. They can’t. I think that the ideology of those religiously opposed to ceding land is much more potent than Torah."

Well, I wouldn't say that that is what Geula depends on. I would say that it is a Jewish yearning, on par with social justice, personal behavior, communal responsibility and the like that as much of Eretz Yisrael as possible be controlled by the Jewish People. The Land is sacred and special mitzvot apply that obviously grant it that status. I would say that nobody can tell me that I do not belong in Shiloh (where I live). Under what flag may be a problem for me but to deny me the right to reside there?

And of course it isn't in the Shulchan Arukh. It's in Tananach and Talmud. But if you are looking davka for the Shulchan Arukh, try this:

"I am completely and unequivocally opposed to the surrender of any of the liberated areas currently under negotiation, such as Yehudah and Shomron, the Golan, etc., for the simple reason, and only reason, that surrendering any part of them would contravene a clear ruling found in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, Ch. 329, par. 6,7). I have repeatedly emphasized that this Psak-Din has nothing to do with the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, or with “days of Moshiach,” the geulah, and similar considerations, but solely with the rule of pikuach-nefesh. This is further emphasized by the fact that this psak-din has its source in the Talmud (Eruvin 45a), where the Gemara cites as an illustration of a “border-town” under the terms of this psak-din — the city of Neharde’a in Babylon (present-day Iraq) — clearly not in Eretz Yisrael. I have emphasized time and again that it is a question of, and should be judged purely on the basis of, pikuach-nefesh, not geography."

This is from the correspondence between the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and Chief Rabbi Jacobovits found here:

and another treatment is here:

Ittay said...

Shalom Yisrael,

Just to clarify Melchior’s comment in light of your response, it seems that you both agree with each other on the halachic issue. Melchior also said that whether or not we return land to the Palestinians depends on Pikuach nefesh. He thinks, as do I, that reaching a negotiated settlement with our neighbours will save lives, you think that holding on to the land will save more lives. Both of these position a perfectly valid. But they are political positions, not halachic positions. Just as a doctor is the one a rabbi would turn to in the case of a medical question, an army general or prime minister is the person we should be asking whether it’s ok to return land. They are the only ones who “know” all the intelligence information and what we will be best for Israel.

When you meet Michael Melchior next week, ask him to explain what he meant by his statement about the shulchan aruch. I’d be interested to hear his response.

All the best for the bbc iconoclasts programme. It looks fascinating

B’virkat Shalom