Parshat Ekev Saturday Morning 2011
- Shabbat Shalom
- In this week’s Parsha, Moses reminds the people of Israel that, no matter what they may think about their enemies and the military that is arrayed against them, no matter how many people the Canaanites may put in the field to oppose them, even if their opponents are the eight foot tall giant Anakites, no matter what the Israelites might see in battle, they should never forget that God fights with them and that, as long as they are faithful to God, God will be faithful to them and they will achieve victory.
- This is the core promise behind the idea of a “promised land”. It is the promise on which the modern state of Israel was founded. Israel was the land and the Jews were returning home. As the theme song from the movie “Exodus” reminded Americans, “This land is mine; God gave this land to me.” For two thousand years the few Jews who remained in the Promised Land were despised and persecuted. They suffered bigotry and attack as well as famine and disease. No matter who conquered that land, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Arabs, Turks or the British, the land promised to the Jews remained a difficult place to live, and to earn a living. Over the centuries the other nations used up the soil and denuded the mountains of their trees. They took all the resources and left precious little for anyone who remained behind to use to earn a living.
- But from the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Jews began to return to the land, suddenly it was possible to drain swamps and plant forests. Suddenly new cities could be founded and farms could produce food not only for the country but to export to Europe. The Jews who returned to their Promised Land found that the land was not a desert and a swamp; it was fertile land waiting for those with vision to restore her to her beauty and glory. When the State of Israel was founded, the land was already well on its way to be the miracle that it is today.
- But in 1948, and even as early as 1929, there were those who wished to derail the miracle. There were people in Europe and in the Middle East who wanted to see the Jews fail. They attacked Jewish settlements forcing the Jews to fight back. There were civilians killed, doctors and nurses ambushed and a university under siege. But the Jews in Israel understood that if they failed in their determination to settle the land, there was no place else for them to go. World War II made it very clear that Jews were not welcome anymore in Europe. Israel was the nation that just had to be a success, where every other nation who tried to settle there, was not.
- In 1947, the British were in charge of the “holy land”. But the fighting between Jews and Arabs continued to get worse. The British took the side of the Arabs so the Jews began to fight against the British. Many soldiers and even civilian administrators died in that conflict. Great Britain finally had enough of the fighting and told the United Nations to sort out what they should do with this land of conflict. The UN came and held public meetings. They interviewed British, Jewish and Arab leadership. They created a partition plan; they would divide the land between the Arabs and the Jews who wanted to live there; a two state solution that was adopted on November 29, 1947 and was set to take effect on May 15, 1948. The Arabs and the British tried many tactics to undermine the Jewish side of the state. Both of them were resentful of the Jewish success in the land and their inability to push them out like others had been pushed out before.
- In 1948 the Jewish part of the state came into existence. The Arab state never came to be. The Arabs were so intent on stopping a Jewish state that they never prepared at all to create the Arab state mandated by the UN declaration. Arab refugees found themselves in refugee camps unable to win control of the land from the Jews and no other nation would take these Arabs in. Many of these refugee camps from 1948 are still in operation today. In 1946 and 1947, it was the Jews who were in refugee camps in Europe. None of the nations there wanted them so they founded their own state and left Europe behind. Could you imagine what Europe would look like today if there were still Jewish refugee camps from World War II?
- I remind everyone of this history because in the next few weeks, sometime in mid September, the refugees from the war of 1948 who have lived in refugee camps these past 63 years finally will go back to the United Nations and ask for a state of their own. Why the long delay? Why did they wait so long to take their case to the United Nations? Why ask for a new nation, why now demand what they once refused? The answer to that question is very important.
- To this day, the Arab refugees, who have become known as Palestinians, have never accepted the State of Israel. They have worked for over 50 years to destroy Israel by war, by terror and by increasingly audacious demands. Israel has survived every attempt to undermine the country and undermine the government. In spite of all of this, of all the nations in the Middle East, Israel is clearly the most prosperous and democratic. Through it all, Israel has demanded that if there is to be a two state solution, it has to be a Palestinian state that is not a threat to Israel and the Palestinian leadership have to negotiate the details of the peace with the Israeli government. Other countries can help, support and push along the process, but in the end, the issues are between Israel and the Palestinians and these two parties must resolve their differences in order that the two states will be able to live together in peace.
- This is why the unilateral declaration of independence is opposed by almost every western government, including the United States. In order for there to be a credible country, it has to be born of credible negotiations, not unilateral declarations. The Palestinian leadership, unable to bring themselves to accept the State of Israel wants the world to recognize their own state while they still refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exist. The declaration is a ploy to further evade meaningful negotiations. The fear in Israel and the United States is that this declaration will become like many of the other resolutions of the United Nations, another one sided document that will have to be pushed aside when the two parties finally gather to negotiate. It is an artificial negotiation strategy that takes fictions and makes them into facts that will make future negotiations more complicated. It does not resolve any of the important issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and settlements. In fact, this UN resolution may actually undermine previous peace agreements between the Palestinian leadership and Israel.
- For this reason there is a petition going around that asks Americans to oppose this unilateral declaration of the Palestinians and to support the position of Israel and the position of the United States (affirmed unanimously in both houses of Congress and by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton) that the UN is not the place anymore for the Palestinians to demand a state. The petition affirms that the Palestinians should sit down to negotiate a peace plan with Israel in good faith. We do not seek to deny the Palestinians their right to their own state, only that the path to that state begins in the Middle East and not in New York. The petition has been created by the Jewish Community Relations Council in New York and is being presented to all the counsel generals who have embassies in this country, asking them to affirm that the Palestinian dream of homeland depends on their willingness to open meaningful negotiations with Israel.
- Please go to the petition online, either at home or at the public library, or come into our office this week and put your name on the petition. It is not often we are called upon to do something this easy and this important to help our Jewish state. Since 1948 everyone has known that there will eventually be a Palestinian state in the Middle East. But it will be born of direct negotiations and not through unilateral declarations. Our goal is peace in the Middle East and this declaration will take us further from that goal. Sign the petition and put your name on the line demanding not a unilateral declaration but meaningful negotiations in order to bring peace and prosperity to all. Arab and Jews living in peace; that is a dream worth becoming a reality. This declaration, coming to the United Nations in September, will not bring us closer to realizing our dream.
- May God help us make peace with our neighbors the old fashioned way, through building trust, negotiating the issues and making the difficult decisions with our enemies. The blessings come from conversations and compromise. May these be the blessings that bring us to peace as we say…. Amen and Shabbat Shalom