Three sacred seasons are overlapping – Passover, Ramadan, and Easter – days of holiness that celebrate liberation, humility, compassion, and rebirth. We dearly wish that we could be marking this confluence of holy days with celebrations of steady and courageous steps forward towards peace, justice, and co-existence in Israel and Palestine. And while it is true that many brave and creative NGOs and civic movements continue to organize, teach, and grow their impacts in Israeli and Palestinian society, nevertheless the headlines of this season tell a painful story we have come to know all too well.
It is a story of terrorist attacks against Israelis in pubs and residential neighborhoods, and of unchecked settler violence against Palestinians in their orchards and villages. It is a story of Israeli military raids that kill non-combatants caught in the crossfire or exercising their right to demonstrate, and a story of Hamas and Islamic Jihad publicly praising terrorist attacks. It is a story of Israeli evictions of longtime Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, and of demolitions of Palestinian homes when impossible-to-obtain building permits are found lacking by Israeli officials. It is a story of Hezbollah building up rocket arsenals and fanning flames of hatred of Israel in religious terms. And it is a story of a 54-year-long Occupation at the heart of an asymmetrical power dynamic that maintains an unjust and unsustainable order in which Israeli authorities rule over and control the daily lives and physical movements of millions of Palestinians.
In the last few days, the downward spiral has accelerated dangerously. Israeli extremists have staged provocative marches in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Palestinians have thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at Western Wall visitors. Israeli police have raided the Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, injuring hundreds of worshippers. Once again, Israel and Palestine are on the brink of the kind of war that took place last spring – a war of rockets fired on Israeli civilians and Israeli aerial bombardments of crowded Gazan neighborhoods, accompanied by street violence between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
What can we do, as members of a small, creative movement of Judaism centered in the Diaspora? Facing these times is not easy. We have deep bonds of love, family, and tradition with the Israeli-Jewish community. We fear for their survival. We know the lessons of the long course of Jewish history, of what Jewish powerlessness has led to repeatedly.
At the same time, we also reckon with the reality that Israel has far more military, economic, and political power than does Palestine. Our tradition teaches that those with greater power have greater responsibility for taking action to prevent violence, safeguard innocent life, and guarantee justice for all. It also teaches that everyone, whether powerful or not, has some moral agency – everyone has a responsibility to do what they can to act with restraint and move back from the brink.
Knowing all of that, there are some things we can do. We can reach out to our family and friends in Israel and Palestine and ask how they are doing, and listen to them with open hearts and minds. We can call on our own political leaders to do all they can to help defuse the situation and strengthen Israeli and Palestinian groups who continue to work tirelessly for tzedek (justice) and shalom (peace), in keeping with the highest teachings of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. We can model civil discourse in our conversations and social media posts. And we can pray for peace and support the organizations we believe are working for a better future.