Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Days of Awe, the Hope for Peace

This was written for Creedible, a web site created "so that the people of Connecticut could still have a way to learn about spiritual happenings here." The commentary may be viewed on the Creedible web site by clicking here.

I write this during the Days of Awe, the period between Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

These are the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar.

בראש השנה יכתבון וביום צום כפור יחתמון

"On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall leave this world and how many shall be born into it, who shall live and who shall die, who shall live out the limit of his days and who shall not, ... , who shall be at peace and who shall be tormented, who shall be poor and who shall be rich, who shall be humbled and who shall be exalted."

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the "High Holidays." These services, like the weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) service, generally include "A Prayer for Peace." This prayer begins "May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease, when a great peace will embrace the whole world" and ends "Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream, let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea."

These prayers for peace have had extra meaning during the 62 years since the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty to portions of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, after two millennia. Unfortunately, Israelis haven't yet enjoyed a moment of peace. Six Arab armies invaded on the day Ben Gurion issued Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948 and there have been countless wars and acts of terrorism since. Israelis are grateful for the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, even though both those countries continue to refuse to enter into normal relations, yet Israel is still threatened by dozens of Arab and Muslim states populated by hundreds of millions of hostile people.

This year the High Holidays come as the Palestinian Arabs have again agreed to enter into peace negotiations. This brings decidedly mixed emotions.

On the one hand, Jews in Israel and the Diaspora desperately hope these talks succeed in bringing about peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs and hope such a peace leads to a more general peace between Israel and all its neighbors. One should not forget that the conflict between the Palestinian Arabs and Israel is just one aspect of the overall conflict between the Arab and Muslim world and Israel; indeed, it is a consequence of that more general conflict.

On the other hand, there have been countless rounds of negotiations which, rather than bringing peace, have often brought more conflict and more terror directed against Israeli civilians.

To add to the concerns, Jewish holidays have often been chosen by Israel's enemies for both military and terrorist attacks.

The 1973 War was started by Egypt and Syria with a brutal, coordinated surprise attack on Yom Kippur.

There were also significant purely terrorist attacks during the High Holiday season in 2002 and 2003. That terrorist offensive was launched in 2000 by the Palestinian Arabs after they rejected a peace offer which included the establishment of their own state in an area comprising virtually all the disputed territory. Indeed, that terrorist offensive was launched during the High Holiday season, using the rationale that a pre-Yom Kippur visit by Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the Holiest site for Jews, was a "provocation." This was somewhat analogous to Israel launching a war on Saudi Arabia because one of the thousands of members of the Saudi royal family paid a visit to Mecca during Ramadan.

I was reminded of the propensity for Arab terrorism during major Jewish holidays several times last winter, when I walked past the Park Hotel in Netanya several times every day. On March 27, 2002, Palestinian Arab suicide bombers murdered 22 people celebrating Passover with a seder at the Park Hotel, injuring another 140 people.

The propensity for launching terrorist attacks during Jewish holidays and during peace talks came together two weeks ago, with Hamas claiming credit for murdering Yitzhak and Taliyah Immas, Avishai Shindler and Kochava Even Haim in a surprise attack in which they sprayed their victims' car with bullets and then, after pulling their victims from their automobile, pumped more bullets into them even though they were probably already dead. Taliya Immas was nine month pregnant.

Meanwhile, even before the current round of peace talks got started, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, effectively insisted he would pull out - again - in less than a month unless Israel extends a building moratorium which is already strangling normal life for Jews. He insists on Israel preventing Jews from building homes in any parts of the disputed territories, including even the areas everyone knows will be incorporated into Israel under any conceivable peace accord.

Abbas has also repeatedly insisted that he will never compromise at all on any of what are called the "core issues." These core issues include refugees (Abbas insists on an Arab "right of return," demanding Israel accept the unrestricted immigration of millions of hostile Palestinian Arabs), Jerusalem (Abbas insists that Israel's capital be redivided and Israel cede sovereignty over Judaism's holiest site) and that the settlement be recognized as a permanent agreement providing for two states for two peoples (Abbas insists he will never recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people).

Abbas' intransigence is not surprising, given that the Palestinian Arabs have yet to make a single significant concession since the start of the failed Oslo Process back in 1993, but it certainly doesn't augur well for a peace that will require compromise by all parties.

It's thus with good reason that, during these Days of Awe, Jews around the world hope for and pray for peace but realize it will probably be many more years before those prayers are answered.

Shalom. Salam. Peace.

Alan Stein is president of PRIMER-Connecticut (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting), vice chair of the Waterbury Coalition for Better Government, secretary of JFACT (Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut) and is on the steering committee for the Connecticut Coalition to Save Darfur. Dr. Stein is Professor Emeritus at the University of Connecticut, where he taught mathematics, and formerly served as president of the Jewish Federation of Waterbury and vice president of Beth El Synagogue. He spent two months in Israel last year on Hadassah's Winter in Netanya program, walking past the Park Hotel every time he walked to his volunteer job at the Meir Panim Soup Kitchen.

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