Jewish tradition teaches that peace is more than just a dream. Psalm 34 tells us to seek peace and pursue it. The verse tells us that peace does not spring up like flowers; it is something that we need to engage in and invest in and actively work for.
The latest flare-up of the Middle East conflict only accentuates the challenges facing all people of good will. One cannot be but moved by the hardships and loss of life that this conflict engenders on both sides. It can seem at times that peace will never come; but we believe that it can and will. The current crisis, with its very real human suffering, makes the work of seeking peace all the more urgent.
Our generation has seen two other seemingly intractable conflicts reach resolution when the right conditions finally fell into place, in Northern Ireland and in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. We believe that the right conditions have begun to come into place in recent years in the Middle East as well, as witnessed by the historic peace treaties signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and between Israel and Jordan in 1994.
Negotiations have been under way for years between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and it is not impossible to imagine that when the present short-term hostilities cease, and the residents of Gaza either demand from Hamas that it, too, enter into negotiations for peace with Israel or reinstate the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians can quickly follow. Most Israelis recognize the need for a two-state solution, and we believe that most Palestinians also do.
Pursuing peace does not mean leaving more than 1 million people vulnerable to incessant rocket fire from terrorists. It is both necessary and moral for Israel to protect its citizens, and there is a limit to how many attacks a country can tolerate before going to war. In the case of rockets from Gaza, there were more than 6,000 fired over the course of the past three years on definitively nonmilitary targets, including old-age homes, kindergartens, schools and houses. With Iranian backing, Hamas has smuggled sophisticated missiles into Gaza for launching at Israeli towns and villages, places where people live and work, instead of building infrastructure for peace.
Jewish tradition also teaches in Deuteronomy that we must pursue justice as well as peace. The Hebrew text repeats the word for justice: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” This repetition means that justice must be comprehensive. And it means that justice must be pursued for both sides in order for peace to come. When the Palestinians in Gaza are able to turn from fear and hostility to nation-building and regional development, and when Israel can turn from having to defend its people to cooperating with the Palestinians for mutual economic, educational, technological, agricultural and other growth, then both peace and justice can be pursued — and attained.
We pray that all people of good will will continue to help plant the seeds of peace and nurture them through working toward a just solution, and that this turning toward peace will come speedily in our days.
Darah R. Lerner is the rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Bangor, a reform congregation. Steven Schwarzman is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, a conservative congregation.