Passover Words by Iris Keltz

Next Year in the Oasis of Peace
by Iris Keltz 4/1/07

The cornerstone of Jewish tradition is the dialectic, the art of arriving at the truth through conversation involving question and answer. The rocky road to peace and reconciliation is paved through dialogue. At the Passover seder this year we will ask the four questions, (or maybe more.) In accordance with tradition we will retell the story of Exodus, from slavery to freedom. The precious gift of freedom has to be guarded by each generation but not at the expense of another people’s suffering.

During the seder, we say, “Next year in Jerusalem” a statement that raises many questions. For some, orthodox Jews, Jerusalem is a spiritual state not to be confused with a nation state. But Jerusalem on earth began over four thousand years ago as a Canaanite city and has known a succession of occupiers and conquerors—Romans, Byzantine, Persians, Umayyads, Abbbasids, Crusaders, Mameluks, Ottoman Turks, the British, the Jordanians and currently the Israelis. This year when we say, “next year in Jerusalem” can we imagine the possibility of sharing this war ravaged city, sacred to Jews, Moslems and Christians the world over?

Currently, hostile environment exists when progressive Jews and Jewish organizations dare to speak out. Let it be known, that Jews do not march in lock step and that AIPAC does not speak for all of us. To marginalize our voices diminishes all of us. When Dr. Norman Finkelstein expresses a profound disturbance that holocaust memory is invoked to silence criticism of Israeli government policies, know that he is committed to the survival of that country and he is a child of holocaust survivors. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian, focuses on the effects of a forty year occupation and the hideous separation wall that afflict the Palestinians. Both men believe that adherence to UN resolutions and International Law is the only way to resolve the sixty year old conflict that threatens to spread to the entire world. Instead of attacking these voices as anti-semitic or self hating, consider the wisdom they bring to the table.

Jewish Law explicitly guides us to ethical behavior. “What is hateful to you, do not do to others.” In 1998, I traveled on ‘Jewish Only Roads’ in a rental car with yellow license plates that identified me as a Jew which allowed me to zoom past checkpoints almost missing the turn off for Jericho, which was not honored with a road sign. Leaving the superhighway, I found myself driving on an old pothole-riddled road fit for donkeys. Palestinian towns do not get equal government funding for schools, roads and infrastructure, even when they pay taxes.

In the halls of Congress, I heard testimony from Israeli soldiers. One told a story of entering a quiet Palestinian village in the middle of the night with his platoon to arrest a young man. When an old woman stepped forward to protect her grandson, the soldier suddenly envisioned the face of his grandmother and knew that she would have stood up for him in the same way. The difference between ‘them and us’ dissolved and he left the army to become a Refusnik.

Some would have us believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too complex for the human mind to comprehend. Throw religion, politics, government, nationalism into the same pot of stew and the result is indigestible. Remove the ism’s, the ideologies and the fear and we are left with this thought: Thousands of Palestinians are suffering human rights abuses as a result of a forty year occupation. The world needs open honest discussion within and without the Jewish community. The final solution will either create a true sanctuary for Jews and Palestinians—there’s land and resources for everyone to share—or it will condemn generations to ongoing racism, violence and war.

On my last trip to Israel/Palestine, I stayed at the Oasis of Peace, Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salaam. This utopian village was abnormally normal—Arabs and Jews lived as neighbors, sent their children to the same schools, sat in each other’s yards and shared the abundance. They prayed in silence in the white domed structure near the village cemetery. A rabbi once said, “The world rests on three things: On Justice, Truth and Peace.” Said another rabbi, “But these three things are one and the same: For if there is Justice, there is truth, and if there is Truth, there is Peace.” Next year may we all be living in an Oasis of Peace, where ever that may be.