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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Davis Residents Gather For Peace in the Middle East

On New Year's Eve in a very foggy Central Park in Davis, nearly 100 residents gathered for a peace vigil. The precipitating event was the recent bombing and killing of civilians in Gaza but members of the community deplored the violence and killing of innocent life on both sides of the tragic Middle East struggle.

As we once again begin a new year, it is helpful to use this moment to reflect on the struggle for peace across the world. Once again, I am reminded of the U2 song, "New Year's Day."
"All is quiet on New Year's Day... A world in white gets underway... I want to be with you, be with you night and day... Nothing changes on New Year's Day... Under a blood-red sky... A crowd has gathered in black and white... Arms entwined, the chosen few... The newspaper says, says... Say it's true, it's true..."
The war continues on New Year's Day, and the dawning of the new day and the new year does not change the reality.

It has been over 18 years since I visited Israel as a high school student. One of the events I remember most clearly was several of my friends and classmates who had gone to a beach in Tel Aviv and a pipe bomb had gone off and killed a high school student from Canada that some of them had actually gone to meet. I remember the devastating look on the faces of my classmates, but what I remember most was reading the description of it in the newspaper the next day. When the bomb went off all of the Arabs on the beach grabbed their children and ran for their own safety. Several Jewish youths took off after them, caught up with some of them, and beat them. These were innocent people, the perpetrators were long since gone, but it mattered none. These people were just as much victims as the Israeli targets.

In the ensuing years we have had false promises of peace followed by false promises of peace, but nothing has really changed over that time. The Israelis have superior weaponry and have used that weaponry to rain down on the people of Gaza, many of them just as innocent as the people on the beach that day. They just happen to be there.

The result of these events is inevitably to slow the violence for a brief time as the inhabitants of Gaza lick their wounds. But it also helps to breed the next generation of hate and the next generation of terrorists who remember the bombs raining down on their cities and refugee camps, but do not remember or even care about the precipitating events. The cycle repeats. Violence begets violence. It is a never ending cycle unless we choose to break out of it.

Last night people made references to politics. I want to make a few political comments as well. The Clinton administration took a very hands on approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The result was that the peace process was pushed forward probably past the point where the two sides actually were. The result were treaties that lacked popular support.

The Bush Administration came in and like they with many Clinton policies, they tried to gain separation and over-corrected what they saw as a failed policy. They have taken a completely hands off approach. The result is that we have seen several major escalations in the conflict. Israel a few summers ago embarked on a very damaging but ultimately unsuccessful war against Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. And now this. The Bush administration has continued with tacit approval for Israeli conduct, but has rarely tried to involve itself.

The last eight years we have not seen progress toward a real solution. Obama needs to take a much more proactive role than Bush did. But he needs to do it in real ways that do not push the diplomatic process ahead of where the populace of both nations are.

It is a tricky issue and one that will likely not be resolved anytime soon.

As a Jew, I am a strong supporter of the State of Israel as the reclaimed homeland of the Jewish people where we can be safe and always have a place to go. In so doing, we must recognize however, that a nation of people inhabited that land for generations following Jewish flight out of the region during the Roman Empire. They have just as legitimate a claim to the land of the Jewish people and they have been prisoners and refugees for decades since the State of Israel was founded.

I deplore violence particularly that against civilians. Both sides have been guilty of that. And both sides must work together in the coming year toward a realistic and lasting peaceful reconciliation.

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said during the peace process in 1978 with Anwar Sadat of Egypt: "We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours."

Both sides must come together in forgiveness this New Year and recognize that the killing by both sides must stop.

---David M. Greenwald reporting