I had had a glass of wine on an empty stomach so perhaps I was a little tipsy.
“We haven’t had anyone in government really interested in peace for a long time,” I brazenly announced.
“Since 1967,” I responded, almost without missing a beat. “In 1967, we thought that we had done it — that peace was the inevitable outcome of our victory. We stopped dreaming of peace and just expected it.”
“What about Shimon Peres?” asked my host, unconvinced.
“Not even him.” Then the conversation moved on.
Once I was home and the wine had worn off, I realized that I needed to explain. On Tisha B’Av, while fasting and reflecting on the awful schisms in our society, I finally have put my thoughts into words. Peace seems further away than ever — and our enemies are not the only ones to blame.
It wasn’t that Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin didn’t work for peace, as they understood it, and went about pursuing it in the way they thought was right. They used all the tools of international diplomacy available to them and really thought that they had made great strides forward. But they were pursuing something different from what I mean by “peace.”
Peace is not just the absence of war or military aggression or the threat of terrorism. Peace is not just a promise of respect for borders. Peace is not just about economic cooperation and agreements on the use of resources. All of those things are important. It would be nice to have them.
But peace is something more. It is about a common vision, respect not just of borders but of the people inside those borders, economic cooperation not to enrich those in power but to benefit all of humanity, engaging the population in the discourse, so that everyone feels included.
Peace is a religious ideal, an overarching value, an all-encompassing vision.
The so-called “peace-process” of the past was men in the world of politics and economics talking to other men who had chosen those worlds. It involved almost no women. It excluded religious leaders. In a patronizing way, a secular elite tried to impose its limited vision on us.
When the State of Israel was proclaimed, its founders said Israel “will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
The prophets were the nemesis of the temporal leaders. They constantly warned those in power that failing to live and rule within a strict moral code would not only lead to their downfall but could bring the entire nation to its knees. The prophets’ vision of freedom, justice and peace had nothing to do with internationally recognized borders and everything to do with a society wanting to perfect itself and the world.
The prophets were religious personalities but they were not part of a religious establishment. They were unpopular. They were impelled to speak the truth, criticizing and warning all equally, including those who held the reins of power and who threatened them. They could also inspire hope by describing what was possible, if we listened. Rarely did we listen.
The early Zionists were inspired by a prophetic vision; the signatories on the Declaration of Independence were inspired by a prophetic vision. I think that their dream persisted until 1967 and many thought that the victory in that war was proof that we were on the way to its fulfilment.
A generation later, after two or three decades of rejection and terrorism, we had already forgotten what the vision was and saw ourselves as another nation in the world trying to accommodate ourselves – or have others accommodate us – in the family of nation-states. Two generations later, we don’t even hold much hope for that.
We have stopped reflecting on what we ought to be and imagining what we could be. We have lost sight of the values of justice and freedom that the prophets linked to peace.
The peace-making we once tried – and it has been quite some time since we have tried – was destined for failure. It did not reflect the prophetic voice. It intentionally excluded religious language, even though that is the language of our unique vision. Religious leaders were not included in the negotiations nor even consulted, even though their leadership is more important for many Israelis than any political personalities.
And we made another mistake. After women made great strides in representation in all sorts of arenas at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries, we failed to include their voices in peace-making, despite the fact that numerous studies show that when women are involved in peace-making, the result is more likely to persist over time.
The Declaration went on to say: “We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”
I humbly suggest that Israel will not be able to do its share until we re-focus and return to our original vision of a state dedicated to living out values proclaimed by our prophets and exemplifying the equality of genders also explicitly promised. Then, we will really pursue peace and not just some approximation of it.