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Can you handle complexity?

Here's how Israel, with its divergent views, might live up to the wisdom that its 70 years represent
Illustrative. (iStock)
Illustrative. (iStock)

Last week, we marked the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan, which paved the way for Israel’s declaration of statehood six months later.

We are going to be seeing the number 70 a lot between now and Yom HaAtzmaut next spring.

There will be no shortage of words written and spoken about Israel as we approach this milestone birthday. Loving words, hateful words, supportive words, critical words. Words expressing wonder, words expressing disappointment.

Can the number 70 help us navigate this avalanche of words with wisdom? I think so.

In the Bible, 70 represents both unity and disunity.

Jacob and his family traveling to Egypt are described as “Jacob and his offspring, 70 soul,” so great was the unity among them.

But earlier in the Bible, God punished the builders of the Tower of Babel. From one shared tongue they split into some 70 languages, and could no longer understand each other.

It’s not hard to see echoes of Babel in our own Israel conversations.

So as we enter this milestone 70th birthday, I have a suggestion. Let’s give a fair and thoughtful read to something that falls well outside our own idealogical bubbles. Not to marshal talking points. Not to argue. But to stretch our own ability to deal with complexity.

Because here is another thing about the number 70, when we apply it to people.

By the time you reach the age of 70, you’ve lived long enough to have smug certitude knocked out of you. The accumulation of birthdays does not automatically confer wisdom, but years of lived experience sure make it possible. A long life affords chances to grapple with complexity and it is many shades of gray.

So, if we pride ourselves on being open-minded, we should be able to withstand challenging our own assumptions. To aim for a 70-year-old’s potential for wisdom, no matter our age.

Within the framework of people who seek a better life for everyone in the region, there is a huge diversity of thought — and we should be reading it. Here are three suggestions, all surrounding the Israeli- Palestinian issue.

If your overriding feeling about Israel is anger and disillusionment over 50 years of occupation, then I recommend this piece by Daniel Pipes, or a shorter version by Jonathan Tobin.

You may be quite startled, even disturbed, by the paradigm shift in the peace process they suggest.

Writes Tobin: “Once the Palestinians concede the war is lost rather than being paused, and put aside their dreams of a world without a Jewish state, compromise would be possible.”

Pipes is candid about the difficulty of reaching this point, but he sees it as the surest path to a better future. “Palestinians can become a normal people and develop its polity, economy, society, and culture.”

Read it to understand the thinking of two analysts with considerable expertise — who also seek a better future for everyone in the region.

Other experts come at the same issue from a different angle.  Commanders for Israel’s Security is a non-partisan movement of over 100 former senior security officials (in the IDF, Mossad, Israel Security Agency and police). They want to break out of the diplomatic stalemate, asserting that Israel is strong enough to determine its own destiny.

“Until conditions ripen for a final status agreement, Israel must take independent action to restore security to its citizens, improve its standing regionally and internationally and preserve conditions for a future agreement.”

Read their detailed plans, such as “Enhancing West Bank Stability and Security — Reducing Friction between Israelis and Palestinans, Improving Palestinian Authority Governance.”

If you’ve always assumed that Israel is doing all it can in this regard, then reading these detailed proposals may startle you, disturb you. Even without a permanent status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, much can still be done.

Read it to understand the thinking of Israeli security experts — who also seek a better future for everyone in the region.

Last, stretching our ability to deal with complexity requires listening to Palestinian voices. Ali Abu Awad is founder of Taghyeer (Change) Palestinian National Nonviolence Movement. I attended his overflowing breakout session at AIPAC’s 2017 Policy Conference.

You can hear him yourself delivering a TED talk in Jerusalem. You may be startled, even disturbed, as he recounts his personal story, which includes years served in Israeli prison.

Says Awad, “I am the slave of my dream. A dream where both sides would reach the conclusion that whatever the price of peace will be, it’s much cheaper than the price of war.”

He continues, “We are creating a Palestinian non-violent national movement to build an identity for ourselves, because non-violence for me is the art of being human.”

Watch the talk to understand the thinking of a Palestinian peace activist — who also seeks a better future for everyone in the region.

Let’s make the most of these months that lead to Israel’s 70th. Let’s approach it with love and celebration- it’s a miracle and the fulfillment of a 2,000-year-old dream.

Let’s also use this time to honor Israel and elevate ourselves by taking a deep dive into the gray zone and coming out a little bit wiser.

About the Author
Sally Abrams co-directs the Speakers Bureau of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. She has presented the program “Israel and the Middle East: the Challenge of Peace” at hundreds of churches, schools and civic groups throughout the Twin Cities and beyond. A resident of suburban Minneapolis, Sally speaks fluent Hebrew, is wild about the recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi, the music of Idan Raichel, and is always planning her next trip to Israel. Visit: sallygabrams.com
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