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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Middle East Mess

Dennis Fox

September 25, 2003

In Brookline, Jewish and non-Jewish community leaders alike routinely support Israeli policy and denigrate or ignore Palestinian concerns. Residents whose knowledge of the Middle East comes primarily from mainstream or Jewish news outlets don't find this surprising, especially since -- here in the center of the Boston region's Jewish community -- most neighbors critical of Israel generally remain quiet in public.

Fortunately, not everyone remains silent. Brookline is also a center for those who depart from a single-minded only-Israel-matters agenda. For example:

  • On October 8 Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) will sponsor a panel on the topic "The Current Situation in the Middle East: What Can U.S. Jews Be Doing?" (7:30 pm at Temple Beth Zion, 1566 Beacon Street).
  • A week later, the New England Tikkun Community brings an Israeli human rights and environmental justice activist to talk about "Peacebuilding in Israel through Eco-Architecture" (October 15, 7:30 pm at Temple Sinai, 50 Sewall Avenue).
  • Visions of Peace with Justice in Israel/Palestine meets monthly in Brookline. It is now recruiting participants for its Jewish American Medical Project, which will send a second delegation to the Middle East in January.

More-general groups also address this issue. Brookline Peaceworks is perhaps best-known for its weekly Coolidge Corner vigils against Bush Administration war policy. Despite the sensitivity of the Israel-Palestine issue, though, the organization struggles to reconcile differing internal viewpoints, which parallel differences and ambivalences within the Jewish peace groups.

The difficulty of generating consensus reflects on-the-ground reality between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Here at home, different perspectives foster everything from endless fine-tuning of public statements to movement from group to group in search of the perfect approach. In the bloodier Middle East, where higher stakes are more immediate, every compromise betrays something crucial, yet refusing to compromise ensures escalation.

From past experience I know that talking compromise draws criticism from both sides. Palestinian supporters think it ludicrous to suggest there's anything more they can reasonably give away. I think they're right in terms of outcomes, but still they must rein in those who attack civilians and stand up to those who seek an Islamic state.

At the same time, hard-core supporters of Israel claim no alternative to fulfilling plans mandated either by security need or divine word. Security is crucial, though, precisely because Israeli policy provokes murderous response. Abominations like the so-called Security Wall -- slicing the West Bank into unsustainable bits to protect settlers who shouldn't be there -- aim to establish a de facto border. As for divine intention, if either side alone determines God's will, all is lost.

The conflicting organizational approaches mirror my own evolving views. Family allegiances and wistful memories of life in the Jewish State fit uncomfortably today with my growing historical understanding and general sense of justice. Still, I'm fed up with those on both sides who, preferring principle to people, demand all at the risk of everything.

Jewish colonists arriving a century ago could have adapted to the existing culture rather than try to supplant it, but their goal was national existence, not cultural co-existence. A serious search for imperfect but reasonable justice could have led elsewhere -- the binational state some advocated before Israel's creation, the two-state solution both sides still officially seek, the single secular state sought by some on both sides. Other potential outcomes bandied about today -- maintaining the intolerable status quo, or expelling either Palestinians or Jews from the region -- would institutionalize injustice.

A single state from Sea to River is unacceptable not only to Israelis and Palestinians who demand cultural homogeneity or national supremacy but also to many members of local Jewish peace groups. However, a current Internet letter by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions parallels my suspicion that Israeli policies and the responses they engender have rendered two truly equal states impossible.

By accident or design, Zionism got it wrong; those who inherit the consequences still mimic the methods. Avraham Burg, former speaker of Israel's Knesset, recently said "There may yet be a Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly." I can't root for that.

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Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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