A few days ago, a human peace chain was formed around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews and Arabs, men and women, old and young dressed in white and joined Women Wage Peace, Tag Meir and other ALLMEP member organizations in a silent statement supporting peace. Similarly, Standing Together organized rallies in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel demanding peace and equality for all.
And yet, after the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza took place, expressions of the continued conflict did not disappear. At Al Aqsa on Friday, Israeli police clashed with Palestinian demonstrators, leaving 20 Palestinians wounded. That same day, Muslim worshipers expelled the Mufti from Friday prayers at Al Aksa denouncing his affiliation with the Palestinian Authority and condemning him for not supporting Hamas. Three days later, an Israeli policeman and a civilian were stabbed near police headquarters in Jerusalem. Anger and frustration at the situation remains.
Calls for coexistence are important, but they are not enough. This past week’s protests demonstrate desire for what actually needs to happen: change. And the post-ceasefire incidents cement what we all know; the need for change isn’t going away. The status quo is untenable. It is also not fair.
This does not mean to dismiss the importance of peace rallies. As I pointed out last week in my well-received blog, it is better to pick a cause than to pick a side, “Every person touched by a coexistence activity shares that story with others. Don’t discount the trickle effect.” These activities matter and more should join in; I believe the push for peace can gain momentum. Who among us remembers Four Mothers, a group with small seeds that spurred demonstrations and petitions, sprouting into a large enough movement to influence the Israel government to pull out of Lebanon? Their ultimate argument was that Israeli’s presence in Lebanon did not benefit Israel. By the same token, an argument can be made that the continued control by Israel over the daily lives of generations of Palestinians does not benefit Israel.
While the absence of a singular peace-oriented voice to represent Palestinians is an issue, I would posit that it is on Israel nonetheless to elevate the priority of resolving the current situation. Not only does the world, let alone the Palestinians, need to see this, but Israelis, and Jews everywhere, need to know that the country’s hand in the deprivation embedded in this decades old status quo weighs heavy on its soul, as Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman has also pointed out.
But if political resolution is not on the horizon, then what exactly can be done now to demonstrate resolution is a priority? Here are a few suggestions of what Israel can do without hesitation:
- Political parties must put the conflict on their platforms. They need to include ways they would demonstrate to the Palestinians that their desire for peace is real and truthful. Good faith efforts to prove trustworthiness and intent.
- Israel’s settlement building has to stop. Every new building sends a message to their negotiating partners that there are no plans to discuss how to divide up the land. That it is all for show.
- As Yossi Klein Halevi pointed out, “Restitution claims on both sides will need to be resolved in a peace agreement. Until then, Israel must freeze not only Palestinian but also Jewish claims resulting from its founding.”
- The Knesset must begin addressing inequitable laws that treat pre-48 Arab and Jewish property claims differently; there are about 64 additional discriminatory laws, per Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, that need to be rectified.
- Israeli police should be trained in de-escalation techniques. Properly trained personnel can work to diffuse situations instead of contributing to their volatility.
- The IDF can be better prepared too. I am reminded of one of Roots-Shorashim-Judur’s initiatives, Pre-Army Academies, where they work with students in “pre-army academies, exposing them to both the Palestinian and settlers narratives in order to build up their understanding of the people they interact with during their service.” Then expand this to everyone in all branches of the military and the police. Humanize rather than dehumanize. Treating people with respect goes a long way in reducing resentment and promoting dialogue.
- National conversations everywhere need to take place. Whether it is spurred by the rap video “Let’s Talk Straight,” the Clubhouse room where Israelis and Palestinians are sharing their pain, or Facebook groups dedicated to fostering discussion, what is clear is that creating understanding is vital..
We cannot move forward as long as we stand still. It is as simple as that. It is just as plain to me that independent of what Palestinians do or don’t do, it is important for Israel to engage in steps that show that progress, fairness and human dignity truly matter – not just for the external world to see, but for the country itself to know deep in its gut.
As for the rest of the world – it is past time to follow the leads of these groups in Israel demonstrating for coexistence and peace. Similar voices must be heard globally – in demonstrations and rallies and online. For only together will we stop the hate and resolve this conflict.