Why did the Jews wander in the desert for 40 years before reaching their homeland? The Talmud teaches, “There is a long way which is short and a short way which is long.” What does that mean? Sometimes one sees what seems to be a better way — “the short way” — but it turns out to that, in reality, the way which seems easier is wrong. The shortcut taken ends up forcing one to go back and do what seemed at the outset to be harder, but was, in truth, the only legitimate way. It was from that seemingly tortuous, lengthy, journey that the Israelites learned to leave behind their slave mentality and do what was right, rather than what was easy or tempting. The Israelites’ journey turned out to be one in which there were important lessons to be learned.
If 40 years in the desert was to teach us a lesson, what are the lessons we’re to learn from 50 years of occupation (10 years longer than the Jews wandered in the desert!)?
The lesson certainly can’t be that occupation brings security for Israel. Israel’s security establishment overwhelmingly believes that without bold political leadership, the occupation will lead to Israel’s destruction. Those tasked with Israel’s security — Mossad, Shin Bet, and officers in the IDF — overwhelmingly believe that occupation does not bring security, but does just the opposite.
The lesson can’t be that responsibility rests with the Palestinians, or that they cannot be a peace partner. Indeed, the security establishment has said that they believe this Palestinian government can be a partner. We should ask, though: Is there an Israeli peace partner? Not the Netanyahu government which pays lip-service to a two-state solution while advancing a not-so-hidden agenda of rampant settlement expansion — including in and around East Jerusalem — that is clearly geared to preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state within viable borders. Whether or not the current Palestinian leadership will be a viable peace partner is yet to be seen, but in order for the two-state solution to prevail, both sides must be committed to the process.
The lesson can’t be that one should support or be ambivalent towards a one-state solution. No well-informed person who understands the stakes would profess to be pro-Israel while contemplating “one-state” as a feasible solution to solving this conflict. A one-state scenario means that Israel would cease to be a democracy and become an apartheid state. Israel, as we know it, would cease.
Yes, Israel has real enemies, but the lesson we should learn is that the occupation has been worsened and perpetuated by Israel’s own policies — namely, its settlement policy. In simple and real terms, it is a land-grab. That's the sad lesson learned from the occupation.
For the first time in its history, the Knesset has imposed Israeli civil law on the West Bank. This new law retroactively legalizes the expropriation of private Palestinian land, thus making a dozen or so illegal settlements legal. This is truly a land-grab. This law pushes Israel towards apartheid and undermines its democracy. Shalom Achshav (Peace Now in Israel), along with other NGOs, has filed a petition with Israel’s Supreme Court to get this law — a law that Israel’s own Attorney General won’t defend — overturned. We may know the outcome by the time you are reading this letter.
Shalom Achshav remains Israel’s grassroots movement for peace. While pro-peace politicians advocate for two states, it is Shalom Achshav’s research and actions that give authenticity to their case. When tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrate for peace at rallies, it is Shalom Achshav that largely brings them out. When you see hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of volunteers standing on street corners with signs, and standing as moral witnesses across the dusty road where a new settlement is being built, you are looking at Shalom Achshav.
From these dusty roads to foreign capitals, it is Shalom Achshav’s Settlement Watch that alerts the world to the continued expansion of settlements. In order to mobilize, you have to know the facts. Shalom Achshav sheds light on those facts, and APN brings those facts to you.
Americans for Peace Now (APN) has for many years provided the financial assistance Shalom Achshav needs to continue its work and expand its activities. Notwithstanding all the dispiriting news, notwithstanding all the setbacks, peace and two states will ultimately win out, and it is we who will win the battle for peace.
The terms of the debate have changed. Just as the Israelites marching through the desert felt, we too feel that the process moves more slowly than we’d hoped. But we will get there. The road to peace, the just road, is a more difficult journey than the one that seems easy. But we will get there because today Peace Now activists remain the conscience of Israel.
APN is molding public opinion here in the United States. Whether it be grassroots participation or educating members of Congress, APN has shown an indefatigable determination to make the two-state solution an “above-the-fold” proposition. We do this by producing the most comprehensive educational materials, which are widely distributed at conferences, on campuses, through social media, and through the mail. From the United Nations to small parlor parties, we bring the message that it is the absence of a Palestinian state that threatens Israel, not the creation of one.
APN and Shalom Achshav are two complementary halves of a unique Israeli- American Jewish dynamic.
As Passover approaches, Jews all around the world will gather for their seders and the retelling of the Exodus story. Through the reading of this story, we travel back in time and see ourselves as slaves in Egypt. We transport ourselves from the freedoms we have today to the slavery of our ancestors. We experience human degradation, humiliation and, finally, redemption. What do we learn from it?
We learn to reject the example of those ancient Israelites who thought that everything would be easy for them and that you could avoid the “harder way.”
The real lesson is that it matters how we treat one another. There is no shortcut to peace.
Thank you for all of the work you do. We wish you and your family a joyous and rewarding holiday,
P.S. We find ourselves in a tragic situation, where the vision supported by zealots — what they call “peace” — has become the main threat to pragmatic and rational agreements. Fighting this zealotry requires all of us working together. Let APN and Shalom Achshav be your voice — a voice of moderation, of rationality, of sanity. Please act by making a generous tax-deductible gift to support the work of APN and Shalom Achshav.
An experienced pulpit rabbi, writer, and teacher, Rabbi Alana Suskin has spent many years teaching and writing on classical Jewish texts and their potential for peacemaking. Rabbi Suskin served on the board of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She is a Managing Editor of Jewschool.com, a leading Jewish faith blog, and is a founding fellow of CLAL’s project, Rabbis Without Borders and a fellow of Selah, a project of Bend the Arc. She is a contributor to several other blogs including Jewish Values Online and MyJewishLearning, and has worked with and served on the boards of a variety of social justice organizations. Rabbi Suskin has published articles in a variety of magazines, journals and anthologies, including The Daily Beast, The Jerusalem Post, and Lilith. She is APN’s Director of Strategic Communications.