The one thing that virtually everyone who attended last night’s forum, Understanding the Israel/Gaza Crisis, is that the subject is extremely difficult to talk about without extreme emotions hijacking the discourse. Many of us, said moderator Reverend Donald Anderson, executive minister for the RI Council of Churches, have family or friends living in harms way in Israel or Palestine, so this is a hard topic to not take personally.
These concerns did not stop Rabbi Jim Rosenberg, retired spiritual leader of Temple Habonim in Barrington, or Martha Yager, of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), from wading into such treacherous waters as they engaged in an open dialog exploring many sides of the complex issue. Sponsored by the East Bay Citizens for peace, over eighty people attended the event and many posed challenging and interesting questions.
Rabbi Rosenberg began the forum by reading from a piece he had written for the Jewish Voice entitled, “What happens to a dream deferred?” written when the present conflict was just getting under way and the death toll was not quite so high. Rosenberg finds hope in “human solidarity” expressed in small actions of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. “…most Palestinian Arabs and most Israeli Jews contain overflowing reservoirs of human compassion,” he said. “The current nightmare has been brought about by the failure of decent citizens and their governments to condemn and to curb the actions of the lunatic fringe of both societies.”
Martha Yager, who recently visited Gaza as part of an AFSC staff visit sees the issue through a pacifist lens. She decried the militarization of the Israeli economy and pointed out that Palestine is not technically a nation. It is difficult for what passes as government in Palestine to provide national leadership. The occupation of Palestine by Israel is pervasive, and any move towards peace, according to Yager, must begin with an understanding that the occupation is itself a form of violence. “People have a right to resistance,” she declared.
The questions from the audience were pointed. A lawyer specializing in human rights work asked Rosenberg if he believed that Israel, with its greater military and political power had an obligation to use its power to end the occupation. Rosenberg did not hold out hope for an end to this conflict in his lifetime, or in the lifetime of his children. Another audience member took issue with Yager because she had not, in the audience member’s opinion, pointedly condemned the actions of Hamas. Yager assured the audience that she is no friend to Hamas, describing the political party’s rise to power as a protest vote on the part of the Palestinian people.
What might be most surprising to those who follow the terrible and seemingly perpetual tragedy in the Middle East is how much common ground actually exists. Both sides in the conflict and everybody present at the forum last night want peace. Only the most extreme elements on both sides deny that the two state solution provides the best hope for peace.
You can watch the entire forum here: