These are not easy or happy times in the Middle East. If the past year is anything to go by, things are only getting harder for Israelis and Palestinians. We are collectively sliding slowly down a slippery slope toward some sort of ugly, violent, and tribal one-state reality. Just look at the recent Pew Survey’s finding that roughly half of Israeli Jews look approvingly on the notion of expelling Arabs from the country. Look at the extensive incitement on Palestinian Authority media, the wave of knife attacks and the dismal socio-economic state of the Gaza Strip. How are we—Israelis and American Jews—going to deal with this reality in the years to come? Where do Shalom Achshav (Peace Now in Israel) and Americans for Peace Now fit in? —Yossi Alpher
Purim is upon us. Most Jews who celebrate Purim remember it as the story of the evil Haman who bribed the buffoonish King Ahaseurus to kill all the Jews in the Persian kingdom as a result of his rivalry with the Jewish courtier Mordecai. The Jews managed to depose Haman, and convinced Ahaseurus to let them fight back and slaughter those who would have stood against them.
The key to understanding the story is a statement by a fourth century Babylonian rabbi who lived centuries after the story might have happened, in the place that it was supposed to have happened—Persia. That rabbi, Rava, added one observance to those listed in the Esther scroll itself (feasting, exchanging gifts, supporting the poor and reading the story): “A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between ‘blessed is Mordecai’ and ‘cursed is Haman’.” This is a very specific obligation. There is a specific goal here.
I came from a long line of worriers — we’re Jews after all! My parents worried that I’d never make a living as a songwriter and urged me to become a shoe salesman! I didn’t become a shoe salesman but I remain a worrier.
I worry about Israel today, after nearly 50 years as an occupier of another people. The Occupied Territories hardly figure in the public discourse in Israel these days, and yet the occupation won’t go away simply as a result of inattention.
The attitude of right-wing extremist supporters of Israel also worries me greatly. When you tell them that constructing peace is a complex undertaking, that it requires both imagination and pragmatism, they’ll dismiss you by dumbing down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They say things like, "The Muslims want to destroy Israel" or "The Arabs refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state" or "If the Arabs had accepted Israel in 1948, the Palestinians wouldn’t be where they are today."
They say things like, "Israel has no partner for peace," ignoring the Palestinian government's renouncement of violence against Israel. They even have problems with the Palestinians using a non-violent diplomatic path towards peace by turning to the international community for support of their national aspirations.
Extremists here and in Israel will never find a situation in which Israelis and Palestinians can reach an accord and a Palestinian state can peacefully come into existence.
That’s why I’m so worried — and infuriated.
On Monday, most Israelis will celebrate Tu Bishvat by cherishing the fruit of the land and planting plant trees.
But in the West Bank, extremist settlers routinely destroy trees belonging to Palestinian farmers - not to mention other forms of vandalism and assault.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 11,254 trees have been vandalized in the West Bank in 2015, a 20% increase over the previous year. It is bitterly ironic that many of the trees these cowards choose to uproot or vandalize are olive trees - the very symbol of peace.
The Israeli government’s gift to Washington this holiday season was the gift of occupation. Literally so. You may have missed the story because of the holiday, but shortly before Christmas, Benjamin Netanyahu’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, proudly announced that this year, instead of sending products made in Israel to American friends, he is breaking with tradition and sending gift boxes containing products made exclusively in settlements in the occupied territories.
Allegedly, this was intended as a message to those who call for punitive economic measures against Israel (ironically, it plays into their hands), but it clearly was aimed at the Obama administration’s rejection of Netanyahu’s settlement policies. Another Netanyahu finger in the eye of an American administration that had the audacity to attempt to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Please read these important messages from Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann and filmmaker Dror Moreh. We hope you find them compelling, and support our efforts to bring lasting peace for Israel and Palestine. May 2016 bring us closer to this goal.
Americans for Peace Now
Why is Jerusalem burning?
I'm usually the opposite of a prophet of doom. Many journalists see peddling the apocalypse of Jerusalem as a fast track to a Pulitzer Prize, so there's a tendency to overstate the city's volatility. But Jerusalem is usually a far more stable city than its reputation. At the beginning of the recent uptick in violence, people were saying, "Ah, this happens every year around the Jewish High Holidays. This is just another perennial round of skirmishing. We see this all the time."
My name is Jim Klutznick, I'm the Chair of the Board of Americans for Peace Now (APN), and I'll get right to the point - I could not be prouder of the staff of this organization, led by CEO Debra DeLee (pictured). The quality and quantity of their work astounds me - work that never lets up, in spite of the enormous challenges of working for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the current environment.
It's easy for some people to say "It will never happen" and just quit. That's not part of the DNA of APN's staff. This staff includes Lara Friedman, who formulates and writes APN's policies and works with Congress and the Administration; Ori Nir, who through his own writing and contacts with journalists keeps APN's views in the public eye; Mark Bilsky, who educates the public through creative development materials; David Pine, who ably represents APN on the West Coast; and Alana Suskin, our in-house Rabbi, who takes on those who use religion to justify continued colonization of the West Bank. Our Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) colleagues in Israel are likewise inspiring - they don't give up, so how can we? I thank them all and I hope you will do so as well.
One of the many things that Israelis and Palestinians have in common is the role that poetry plays in their popular culture. For both Israelis and Palestinians, poetry is a bridge that connects their personal experience to the national, collective narrative of their people.
Yehuda Amichai is Israel’s most prominent modern poet, widely considered the country’s poetic voice of peace. When Yitzhak Rabin was invited to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, he asked Amichai to join him and read a couple of poems. One of his selections was his piercing anti-war poem, God has Pity on Kindergarten Children.
Recently, amidst the recent outbreak of violence in Israel, a restauranteur offered a 50 percent discount on each plate of hummus ordered by Jewish and Arab patrons who dined together. This story went viral. It reminds us that food can bring people together.
Food brought Yotam Ottolengi and Sami Tamimi together. They are the chefs behind the runaway bestseller Jerusalem: A Cookbook. It highlights an odd mix of flavors drawing upon recipes indigenous to Jerusalem. But the truly pleasing odd mix is that Yotam is from West Jerusalem—an Israeli, and Sami is from East Jerusalem—a Palestinian. They are the best of friends and food is their common bond.