Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Awaiting peace 30 years while serving community

This op-ed by Neil Berro was published in The New Haven Register, November 15, 2011.

Was it 30 years ago that I began my Jewish community service career, the week in March that President Ronald Reagan was shot?

When in college on my first trip to Israel in 1975, I barely knew there was such a thing as Jewish community service in which people worked full time. My mom always had done event fliers at the temple and my dad had volunteered in the early years to do the synagogue's financial books, while leaving the prayer books to higher authorities.

I always wanted to give back, believing it would never be possible to pay back the kindness and opportunities I was blessed to receive. Something in me said: Strive for social justice.

While American Jews still enjoy bountiful opportunities, there continues an unabated hate and terrorism campaign against Israel.

It is as if the enemies of Israel are unwilling to reflect upon needed reforms in their societies without being prodded by protests and revolutions. Even then, Israel remains the whipping boy and scapegoat for Arab and Muslim nations The Arab Spring has revealed how much work needs to be done to advance liberal democracy.

Israel in the last 30 years has built a largely modern society. Its scientists win Nobel Prizes. Along the way, Israel makes sacrifices of land for peace with uncertain commitments in return. Egypt, since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, has seen a breakdown in order in the sensitive Sinai Peninsula, where critical gas flows to Israel under the peace accord. On several occasions, sabotage has shut delivery while the Egyptians have been slow to restore contracted service, in an apparent attempt to raise prices.

Egypt's emerging electoral process includes many calling for the abrogation of the long-standing peace treaty with Israel.

With Iran making existential threats against Israel, with 100,000 Hamas and Hezbollah rockets ready and with nervous Arab regimes, such as Syria, threatening to deflect domestic attention by attacking Israel, Few can argue that Israel their has achieved a sense of permanence and peace with law-abiding neighbors. While Iranians speed to nuclear bombs, Israel must endure the bombast with the knowledge of history that those who threaten to kill Jews en masse mean what they say.

While 1,000 murderers and assorted serious felons are returned unharmed, Israel places an equivalent value on the life of one young soldier. Sadly, many a Jewish family will be saying Kaddish for the dead because of such a painful choice to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit, who became every Israelis' child. The 1,000 freed Palestinians are the equivalent of 1,000 freed Cheshire home-invasion killers - not exactly an axiom for reassurance or for the prospects for peace.

For me and many Americans of all backgrounds, there remains the hope and expression that Israel will soon enjoy a full and meaningful peace with her neighbors grown tired of excuses instead of internal progress.

It is a small hope at best. Yet, in the region there are growing numbers of Arabs and Muslims who realize the future is hopeless without change that begins at home.

I have worked and waited for this to happen for 30 years. I have raised money to post flabby, middle-aged guards outside kindergartens in Israel. No people anywhere should ever have to do that. Sadly, kindergarten children are a favorite target of Palestinian killers.

Peace is possible, but only if and when the hatred and fascist ideology that drove the Nazis and continues to drive some in the Islamic world is finally retired forever.

Neil Berro of New Haven has worked for Jewish and Israeli causes since 1981. Write to him at the Register, 40 Sargent Drive, New Haven 06511.

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