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Rabbi's Blog: Without a Vision,the People Perish, November 2023

Updated: Jan 31

Since the attacks on October 7th when Hamas killed 1,400 Israelis, took 200 hostages, and injured many more, Israel and Gaza have been in a state of turmoil.

One of the early casualties of the war was a belief that the status quo up until then could be maintained. That status quo included many things. One was the belief that Israel could be reasonably secure with Hamas on its border. The Israeli government now pledges an end to Hamas rule. I believe they have every right to pursue that goal according to not just international law, but Israel’s own laws of warfare and traditional Jewish ethics. No country can tolerate a group like Hamas on its border.

Another feature of the old status quo was the belief that Israel did not need to focus on Palestinian national aspirations. In fact, in the last five elections in Israel, Palestinian national aspirations did not feature as a major issue for Israeli voters. Israel was content to let Hamas stay in power, believing them not to be a serious threat. Israel at the same time has been constructing new settlements in the West Bank, complicating any future peace agreement.

While Hamas is one hundred percent to blame for this war and every death that comes from it, it is in Israel’s own interest for there to be a peaceful State of Palestine. I don’t believe Israel is to blame for there not being a State of Palestine. Israel has accepted multiple international proposals for two states, going all the way back to the UN Partition Plan of 1947. However, Israel should continue doing all it can to make that a reality. That means no new settlements in the West Bank. That means not undermining the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which still, in principle anyways, agrees to a two-state solution. Israel has undermined the Palestinian Authority in numerous ways, such as announcing new settlements in the West Bank immediately after bilateral meetings, or freezing tax revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas’ attacks. Israel needs a strong, peaceful Palestinian Authority to be a counter in influence and power to Hamas.

Our Hebrew Bible says, “Without a vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). Even now – especially now – we need a vision of peace. That doesn’t mean an immediate cease-fire – Israel has a right and obligation to eliminate whatever terrorist capabilities exist that threaten it. But Israel needs to keep alive the hope – the vision for an eventual peace between a State of Israel and a State of Palestine. Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, said, “Im tirtzu ein zo Aggadah, lihiyot am chofshi b’artzeinu. B’eretz Tzion v’yerushalayim. – If you will it, it is no dream, to be a free people in our land. In the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” Israel is now an independent country, but still yearns for the sort of freedom that can only come with peace. We need to be as strong in our resolve to pursue peace as we are in pursuing the defeat of Hamas. May that day soon come. Oseh Shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom. Aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, v’imru, Amen. May the One who makes peace on high make peace for us and for all Israel. Amen.

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