Imagining Something Different
I explained to the teenagers in front of me: “My husband served in the air-force during the Six-Day War; my son was in a combat unit – tanks – and saw things no mother wants their child to see. I don’t want my grandchildren to have to fight any wars; I don’t want them to serve as combat soldiers.”
“So if your grandchildren don’t do it, who will protect us?” asked the beautiful young woman, accusingly.
She had not understood at all. I don’t want ANYONE’S children or grandchildren to have to fight wars. But she was unable to imagine that.
Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to young people in the pre-army program called “Mechinat Erez Lod” at Kibbutz Migdal Oz within the framework of their week of learning about Yehuda and Shomron, the areas also known as “the Territories.” They were hearing diverse opinions on how Israel should manage the relationship with these lands and a range of viewpoints about their future, from annexation to complete withdrawal.
I was there representing Women Wage Peace, which does not offer a specific plan for the territories but does believe that we urgently need to reach a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians – for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Our mission is to promote a diplomatic solution to the conflict and to insist that women are engaged in the peace-making process, in accordance with UN Resolution 1325. We are a grass-roots Israeli organisation of some 50,000, comprising women (and men) from all sectors of Israel society, including the Arab sector, and we work with Palestinian women in their parallel movement, “Women of the Sun.”
My colleague, Nomi Reggev, introduced the ideology and activities of Women Wage Peace to the group of young people, who themselves were almost as diverse in backgrounds and views as is Israeli society. In response to the questions they posed, Nomi reminded the group that the peace-treaties with Egypt and with Jordan may not have brought deep affection but they have meant an end to military confrontation. Since those treaties were signed, the respective countries have not joined in wars against us. They provide us with hope.
Then, each of us explained why we had joined the movement.
I began with explaining that my son had been a lone soldier, while my husband and I were still in Australia, and that every moment that he was serving was terrifying for us. He was in real danger so often and as parents who wanted to protect their children, there was nothing we could do. I do not know what a peace agreement will look like – there have been many proposals which have been rejected, others that have not even been seriously considered and others that have yet to be articulated and proposed – but I know that every parent would like to see peace and to see their children serve their country in a way that does not require combat or put them in danger, which will only be possible after we find our way to peace.
I told the Israeli youth in front of me that I am a religious person who prays every day, finishing my prayers with the plea to the Almighty for peace. I quoted a colleague who taught me the powerful phrase: “If it worth praying for, it’s worth working for.” This is my motto.
Our prayers also include the prayer for the return to Zion, which is the basis of religious Zionism. Religious Zionism was revolutionary. It transformed prayer into a plan or action. For nearly 2000 years, we had recited our prayers and thought that we had to wait for G-d to release us from exile and return us to our Land. Then, we realised that G-d wanted us to begin the process. We were not supposed to wait for the eagle to spread its wings and fly us home to Jerusalem; we were supposed to begin the process and then receive Divine assistance in restoring our people to its homeland.
The same is true for peace.
When we pray for the Almighty to spread the tabernacle of peace, we are supposed to begin the process. It is our obligation to take steps towards peace and then we can expect Divine assistance.
When many of the youth expressed scepticism about the possibilities of peace, Nomi said to them that they should make an effort to find out about all the initiatives towards peace and coexistence that exist already. If they could see the progress that has already been made, the partnerships that flourish and the evidence of the success of local peace initiatives, they would not be so cynical. Perhaps they would be able to imagine these small community-to-community successes on a large-scale, nation-to-nation.
I concluded my remarks with quoting with the late Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, himself a peace activist, who told a conference in Jerusalem that the greatest mitzvah of all was to turn our enemies into friends. We don’t have to make peace with our friends; we need to make peace with our enemies. That requires new thinking. It requires us imagining something different. It requires us having hope.