The American Jewish relationship with Israel has always been close. Israel is our spiritual homeland, and most of us feel a strong tie to both the place and the people. We worry when Israel is under attack, and we pray for an end to war.
Unfortunately, for some this has meant an unquestioning acceptance of whatever the Israeli government does. For a growing number, however, it means standing up for peace.
The current situation in Gaza and southern Israel is a time to stand up. Who in the American Jewish community hasn’t watched in anguish as the crisis has unfolded? The death toll increases, the wounded cry out, and the shelling and invasion continue.
Israel has the right and obligation to defend its people — but the Gaza invasion hasn’t given Israel respite from violence, nor will it serve to protect Israel in the future. The familiar sequence of escalating hostility, invasion, and withdrawal without security arrangements has never worked — not in Lebanon, the West Bank, or previously in Gaza. This pattern only exacerbates the conflict, as well as other conflicts and tensions throughout the Middle East.
A clear majority of American Jews have said that they support a two-state solution to the conflict, and many of those are actively involved in the peace camp. Organizations such as J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) all work to give voice to the increasing number of us who know that to be pro-Israel, we must be pro-peace.
We are members of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, which has a network of 40,000 supporters. We also serve as co-chairpersons of the organization’s Eastern Maine Chapter. Working on a grassroots level, Brit Tzedek has been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza since the fighting began, urging the United States and world community to me-diate and to facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza. Brit Tzedek has also called on President-elect Obama to assert U.S. leadership to achieve a permanent diplomatic solution.
We believe that the peace and security of one country depends on the peace and security of its neighbors. We believe Israel’s only hope for true security lies in a diplomatic — rather than military — solution and in a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians. This means promoting a U.S. foreign policy that supports Is-rael, the Palestinians, and the Arab states in making the difficult compromises that are needed for a negotiated solution. None of these changes will take place if the new administration doesn’t feel it has the American people behind it; that’s why grassroots mobilization is so important.
Today, black smoke spirals over Gaza and hospitals are filled beyond capacity. Israeli soldiers are on the ground, while Israeli families stay close to bomb shelters. The international community must act now to swiftly establish a durable peace.
Far from the hot sun and dry land of the Middle East, we, in Maine, are part of that international community. We can help bring about that peace by calling on our members of Congress and the president-elect to actively support a ceasefire on both sides, and commit to a primary role in supporting Israelis and Palestinians in finding a durable peace.
Barbara Kates and Todd Miller of Bangor are co-chairpersons of the Eastern Maine Chapter of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace).