A Palestinian state will give us peace of mind

A two-state solution is a spiritual as well as political necessity.


By Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, September 8, 2011
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A  Palestinian woman gestures for victory at a demonstration in Jerusalem in support of United Nations’ recognition of Palestinian statehood. The UN General Assembly is due to vote on the issue later this month in a move opposed by Israel

A Palestinian woman gestures for victory at a demonstration in Jerusalem in support of United Nations’ recognition of Palestinian statehood. The UN General Assembly is due to vote on the issue later this month in a move opposed by Israel

In recent years it seems that there has been a growing division within the diaspora Jewish community between the supporters of a "secure" Israel, on the one hand, and the promoters of a "just" Israel, on the other. But the landscape of Jewish attitudes has been changing. According to the initial findings from the Israel survey conducted last year by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 78 per cent of the 4,000 respondents supported a two-state solution - and 72 per cent described themselves as Zionists.

In his book, Future Tense, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations, Lord Sacks, an ardent Zionist, writes: "The broad shape of a solution to the problem of Israel and the Palestinians has never been in doubt. It was implicit in the Balfour declaration in 1917, explicit in 1947 United Nations resolution on partition, and set out in detail in all peace proposals since: two states for two peoples, a political solution to a political problem."

So it seems that perhaps we can talk of "new" Zionists and a "new Zionism" that embraces recognition of the need of the Palestinians for statehood. But what is the substance of this new Zionism? Is the two-state solution simply, "a political solution to a political problem"? Or, is the new Zionism inspired by Jewish values? On February 24 1939, Martin Buber, wrote a letter to Mahatma Gandhi, who had taken the position that "Palestine belongs to the Arabs".

Buber wrote: "I belong to a group of people who from the time Britain conquered Palestine have not ceased to strive for the concluding of a genuine peace between Jew and Arab… We could not and cannot renounce the Jewish claim; something even higher than the life of our people is bound up with this land, namely its work, its divine mission. But we have been and still are convinced that it must be possible to find some compromise between this claim and the other, for we love this land and we believe in its future."

Buber's attitude to the other inhabitants of the land reflected his philosophy of 'I and Thou'. But Buber's approach was also rooted in the Torah's insistence on justice and acknowledgement of the needs and the rights of others (see Leviticus 19). At the time that he was writing, before the Shoah and the establishment of the state of Israel, Buber was part of a group of Zionists called Brit Shalom ("Covenant of Peace"), who hoped that Jews and Palestinians would be able to live together.

If he were alive today, after everything that has happened, I have no doubt that the "compromise" Buber would be advocating would be a two-state solution.

The Jewish community is united in its longing for peace. On the ground, peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot be achieved in the absence of justice because the Palestinians will not give up their struggle until they have secured a state. But the longing for peace on the part of diaspora Jews is also about something else: peace of mind. New Zionism creates the possibility of congruence in the hearts and minds of those who love Israel, and want the Jewish state to thrive and survive - and who love justice, too.

Diaspora Jewry needs a new Zionism - and so does Israel. According to the rabbis, the root cause of the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE was sinat chinam, "senseless hatred" between the warring factions of Jewish society at that time (Talmud, Yoma 9b). It is unthinkable that the state of Israel, like its previous incarnations, might be consigned to history, but it is possible. What would be the cause this time?

The haftarah, on the Shabbat prior to Tishah b'Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples - the third of three "haftarot of affliction" - is taken from the first chapter of the book of Isaiah. There, berating the "sinful nation", the prophet proclaims: "Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice; relieve the oppressed."

Isaiah preached during the second half of the eighth century BCE, during the years before and after the northern Kingdom of Israel was wiped out by the Assyrians, and more than a century before the Babylonians destroyed King Solomon's Temple in 586 BCE and devastated Judah.

In recent months, a new Jewish grassroots movement called Yachad has been launched, determined to raise awareness of the "growing numbers within Israel, including former army generals, heads of intelligence and leading academic and cultural figures, who believe that a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps, is urgent for Israel's long term survival and security".

In a few days, the United Nations will vote on the establishment of an independent State of Palestine. The time is now. The haftarah prior to Tishah b'Av, concludes: "Zion shall be redeemed by justice (b'mishpat), and its repentant people by righteousness (bitzdakah)" (1:27).

Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah is rabbi of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue.

    Last updated: 11:14am, September 8 2011