Israel is a flower


Dear Friend,

Israel is a flower -- perhaps the greatest -- of the Jewish imagination. Over the course of two millennia of exile, a vision of Israel endured. It has taken on forms that were fantastic and humble, dreamlike as prophecy and prosaic as a hammer and nails. The capacity for bringing forth a world from the imagination -- a better world, a land of peace and plenty and freedom from the terrors and indignities of exile -- is part of our heritage as Jewish writers, and in our work we draw strength from that heritage every time we sit down at the computer to write. But as anyone might attest whose Bubbe ever warned him or her, as ours did us, to avoid walking over manhole covers, playing with sticks, or swimming after eating, the Jewish imagination is also a powerful tool for the envisioning of future disaster. In this darker guise, the Jewish imagination has fueled the vivid nightmares of our people from the ghettoes of Europe to the far-fetched claims of today's email fear-mongerers; and of course many of those dark imaginings of the Jewish future have also, tragically, been realized over the years.

In imagining a vibrant but endangered Yiddish-speaking homeland for the Jews in an alternate-history Alaska, Michael's novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union draws freely on both of these Jewish imaginative traditions, these differing modes, making a kind of funhouse-mirror prediction about a Jewish future. But there is another powerful strand in the Jewish way of thinking about the world and our place in it, a kind of imagination that focuses neither on the past with its glories and disasters nor on the future, whether shining or dark. It is the tradition embodied in the final word of the organization on whose behalf we are writing you today: it is the tradition that embraces, and devotes itself, to the imperatives of the now.

Now is the time to imagine the fate of a country that has wasted much of its finite resources by pouring them into endless settlement building, whose army is obliged to protect Palestinian farmers as they harvest their olive crop, because farmers and trees alike are threatened by Israeli settlers. Now is the moment to see that the hope of a two-state solution -- of a democratic Jewish Israel and a viable Palestinian state, side by side, with security for Israel -- is quickly eroding. The mission of Peace Now, and of its partner in the United States, Americans for Peace Now, is to guarantee that Israel's story remains one of hope, of freedom and dignity, of serving as a light to other nations -- now -- and to work to ensure that it never becomes the grim dystopia of our worst imaginings.

Now is the time to grasp the truth that demographics present Israel with an untenable choice: If it retains permanent control of the Palestinians and their lands, Jews will become a minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The result of this one-state "solution" is that Israel will no longer be a functional democracy, nor will it long remain a Jewish state.

Now is the time to understand that Israel already has a negotiating partner in the imperative struggle to establish that two-state solution: Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, with his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. The time is now because, in the Wall Street Journal, Abbas has warned us that time grows short:

"But if we do not succeed, and succeed soon, the parameters of the debate are apt to shift dramatically. Israel's continued settlement expansion and land confiscation in the West Bank makes physical separation of our two peoples increasingly impossible. The number of Israeli settlers in the Palestinian West Bank grew by approximately 85% after the Oslo accords were signed [in 1993]."

The Palestinian Authority, with support from the U.S., Israel, Jordan, Great Britain and Canada, has made encouraging progress recently in curbing lawlessness and terror in several Palestinian communities. "The Jenin Pilot," as it is known, includes a crackdown on armed gangs and an amnesty program. "There is no mistaking the fact that this is a different kind of Jenin," Amos Harel and Avi Issacharov wrote in Haaretz. Instead of armed gangs that once controlled the streets, "one could sense the overwhelming presence of the Palestinian security force." This is the kind of positive outcome that can raise the reputation of the Palestinian Authority among Palestinians, and aid negotiations between the Authority and Israel's next prime minister.

As American Jews, we like to take comfort in the prospect of this anticipated orderly change in Israeli political leadership. We are proud of the fact that Israel is, as the truism has it, "the only democracy in the Middle East." But on the ground -- now -- a significant number of Israelis are not pursuing their political vision simply by means of the democratic ballot. Now, in the West Bank, a rougher and more brutal law prevails. On the night of Sept. 15, a Palestinian entered the settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus, and stabbed a 9-year-old Israeli boy multiple times. About 100 settlers gathered to exact vengeance. They went on a rampage in a nearby Palestinian village, shooting in the streets, stoning cars and homes. The rabbi of Yitzhar went as far as to suggest the settlers might reject their allegiance to Israel and, instead, proclaim a State of Judea that would more closely match their political vision, their dark imagining of a hopeless Jewish future of violence and destruction. This is the imagination of the settlement movement, aided and abetted by Israeli and American governments over the past decades.

Thanks to the work of Peace Now, we understand the dynamics and the details of the settlement movement, a movement which in some ways, now, is stronger than it has ever been before. As the Baltimore Sun summarized:

"The Israeli group Peace Now, which monitors settlement activity, issued a report last week that showed settlement construction had nearly doubled in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2007. It also described an attempt to extend the Jerusalem-area settlement complexes farther into the West Bank and a flurry of activity in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government continues to insist that new settlements aren't being built, old ones are expanding. It's a persistent fiction that reflects the political power of the Jewish settlement movement hampers efforts to reach consensus on a peace agreement and undermines Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas."

Now is the time to bring about a two-state solution by ending, at long last, the settlement movement. Now is the time to dispense with and finally discredit right-wing canards. Negotiating with an imperfect partner is not a form of appeasement. Now is the time to make a strong Israel stronger by pursuing a two-state solution while such a solution is still possible, and to engage in peace talks with Syria, as odious as the Damascus regime may be. Because of its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon and of Hamas in Gaza, because of its alliance with Iran -- the one country that poses an existential threat to Israel -- an understanding with Syria, now, would improve Israel's strategic position immensely.

These are not dreams, hopes or visions. These are simply the things we all need -- American Jews and our government alike -- to understand. Now. And so here we are, an American-born writer who imagined a bleak Jewish counter-history and an Israeli-born writer whose father fought in the Palmach in the Israeli War of Independence, and whose older brother is a highly decorated Israeli war hero who was injured in the Yom Kippur War. We are the grandchildren and great-grand-children of Jews who loved America with all their hearts but also burned with the desire to see Jews living in freedom and security in Israel, at peace with their neighbors. And we are asking you, in our own names and theirs, to join Americans for Peace Now. To help bring to bear on Congress and the next presidential administration the strength that comes from understanding "the fierce urgency of now." Concerted, consistent and unstinting American participation is critical to reaching an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Only the U.S. can hold both sides together in a tight clasp, and provide the political cover leaders of both sides need to make the hard decisions they know must be made.

It is in the spirit of that urgent vision of the present that we urge you to join APN, knowing as we do that

APN makes its tough, rational message heard, not only in Congress and the White House, but on college campuses, and in the American Jewish community. APN provides the best resources for the pro-peace community -- through its website, blog, newsletters, opinion articles and newspaper ads. In Israel, Peace Now is the one organization that brings Israelis out to the streets to fight the status quo.

The staff of Peace Now's Settlement Watch monitors the construction of settlements and outposts, providing vital information to the media, diplomats, Israeli officials, and the general public.

Peace Now hosts seminars where young Israelis and Palestinians talk to one another and plan joint political action. And Peace Now's attorneys, again and again, have forced and will continue to force the Israeli government to address the theft of Palestinian-owned land by settlers. When necessary, Peace Now's petitions have gone all the way to Israel's High Court of Justice. As the U.S. sister organization of Peace Now, APN provides 60-to-90 percent of the funds that Peace Now uses for its activities. APN is the gathering place for Americans who believe there is a better way than petty reprisals, turning a blind eye to the reality in the West Bank, and the fatalism of simply waiting for the next war. We need your voice, so that the Israeli government and the settlement movement will understand: violence -- like the pipe bomb attack on Sept. 25 on veteran Peace Now supporter Professor Zeev Sternhell -- will be punished. And incitement to violence -- like the fliers being distributed among the rightist population, promising a 1 million shekel reward to anyone who murders a Peace Now member -- will be rooted out.

As Jews and as Jewish novelists, we devote our lives to envisioning and imagining the world as we have inherited it and as we wish it might be. But all of that history and all those imaginings are endangered, now, by those who are committed to ensuring future bloodshed, violence and fear. Please join us at Americans for Peace Now today by making a tax-deductible contribution.