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Helping “our fellow Jews and our fellow humans, the Palestinians”

The daughter of some friends wrote the following on her Bat Mitzvah program. It has the ring of something a very smart, self-aware 13-year-old would write, rather than a presentation that has been sanitized and edited by grown-ups. That is why I find it moving:

I am going to donate 10% of the money I receive as gifts to the Two Trees Initiative, a project of the Rabbis for Human Rights that plants olive trees around Israel. These trees are replacing those that have been illegally uprooted by the Israeli government and by settlers. The project also plants new trees in poor Jewish neighborhoods. In Deuteronomy, it says “Even if you are at war with a city…you must not destroy its trees.” Planting trees is one of the most environmental things you can do. Not only can they look nice, but trees release oxygen and clean the air. Also olive trees can help support families. Planting trees is, in a way, commanded by God. It is also the right thing to do. This initiative promotes peaceful coexistence between the two states. I picked this charity because it benefits our fellow Jews and our fellow humans, the Palestinians.

Some left-leaning adults tell us that it is impossible to reconcile a passion for social justice with an emotional or spiritual commitment to Israel and a desire to be part of the Jewish people. They are deeply suspicious of any form of Jewish particularism, any sense of fellow feeling and shared community with Israeli Jews. Her answer to them is straighforward, and wise.

The New Israel Fund is also wrestling with these questions in a program that appears to be targeted to young Jewish professionals: “Love, Hate and the Jewish State –A Conversation On Israel and Social Justice.” Their web site asks: “Why is it so hard to talk about Jewish social justice and Israel? Are the two issues incompatible? Does separating them from each other impact our communities and our own identities?”

They are having an open discussion about these matters on Thursday, June 18, 7 pm at The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. Check out the promo video here. (Hat tip: Ben Murane) I hope they do a better job of figuring all of this out than my generation of Jewish lefties.

16 thoughts on “Helping “our fellow Jews and our fellow humans, the Palestinians”

  1. The 2 trees initiative sounds wonderful.

    I know this is going off topic in a sense–although in a way it’s not.

    It’s seemed to me for awhile now that Israel has allowed itself to be defined internationally by the I/P conflict. Not to sweep that under the rug…but it presents a skewed reality to anyone who is not there.

    Not a heck of a lot of news about culture, scientific research etc–which all define Israel as much as the I/P conflict does.

    I noticed a few months ago, PBS had a program featuring an Israeli singer–Dudi Levy–who raised the same point: The only news to come out of Israel is about war and violence and unfair occupation.

    It sounds like the government finally started to understand the need improve its PR. To change the perception that it’s always on the defensive. I hope they continue.

  2. Two questions:

    (1) What exactly are “trees illegally uprooted by the Israeli government”?

    (2) Palestinians steal and vandalize Jewish property all the time, both inside pre-67 Israel and from Jews residing in Judea/Samaria. Is this little girl going to try to compensate these victims as well?

  3. Yeah I’m very sorry to all those Dudi Levys out there who opine so much about the dreaded reality of being an Israeli culturist who faces so much disparity about how their “art” is suppressed. Silly. “[T]he government finally started to understand the need [to] improve its PR.” Israel is perhaps the state that attempts to spin everything about their illegitimacy, whether its through the myths of the independence of the state to the continued dispossession and house demolitions and etc. (Gaza) that we have people out there pushing the agenda that we have to be thankful for Israelis for inventing text messaging instead of being critical when they bomb the living hell out of a living prison. Prettifying apartheid is harder than they think.

    Y-Ben David: Here we have a settler questioning what is illegal. (1) It’s pretty simple. Settlers continually destroy Palestinian farmland and olive trees. How much more documentation of this practice can people report for it to count? (But we know you don’t consider it “illegal” at all.) (2) While I would love to try to figure out the circle you have spun here (Palestinians stealing from Jews “residing” [clever, VERY clever] in Judea/Samaria]), are they actions by individuals or state-sanctioned (wait, Palestine doesn’t have a state, duh) to make way for Palestinians to settle there in the future?

    I really have missed you.

  4. Joshua-
    Just a little history refesher for you: Jews have been resident in Judea/Samaria pretty much continuously for the last 4000 years, so I don’t know why you have a problem with that. If you want me to call them “settlers”, then you have to apply the word to the Arabs who are “settlers”, too. For example, one of the big clans in Hevron is name “Al-Masri” which means “the Egyptian”, so you see they are not native to the area, thus making them “settlers” as well. The Arabs invaded the country 1300 years ago and forced their religion on everyone and also forced many Jews out by ethnic cleansing, so that makes all of them “settlers”, too.

  5. Anyone who comes from the standpoint that Israel is an illegitimate state is not worth wasting debate energy on.

    It’s a non-issue. You might as well debate the legality of the United States.

  6. Yaakov

    That article was interesting. There was one point left out of it that I think perhaps a lot of people struggle with.

    It’s this…

    I understand there’s always been a Jewish presence in the area…but imo, that’s not enough to justify bringing in millions of Jews from around the globe (my apologies, I don’t know exact figures).

    It’s more that there was ROOM for both Arab and Jews in that neighborhood. Yes, Arabs were uprooted from specific locales–and it certainly wasn’t peaceful.

    But the larger point was that this was not a region brimming over with massive humanity…the land was able to sustain the arrival of newcomers. In other words, there wasn’t a large population to begin with.

    Which again, is not to say that Arabs weren’t uprooted, in some instances, from long-settled villages.

    There’s been arguments back and forth about how settled the land was. But the real question, imo, is whether there was room for a large Jewish presence without ethnic cleansing of Arabs…and my understanding is that there was.

    That seems to be a sticking point people are not clear about. Which only adds to the confusion.

    Clarification on this would be appreciated.

  7. I think the past is already gone.

    The present and the future is what’s important. And, that should be discussed honestly, what one intends, what one is striving for.

    This week is Shavuos. Two critical things are articulated in the current Torah text. One is the purpose of the Jewish people, to be a nation of priests (lots of ambiguity as to what that means).

    The second is the articulation of the two primary commandments described as told directly by God (“I am the Lord thy God”, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”.), and the elaboration of those two into the ten.

    Of the ten is “Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s” meaning to scheme to take something that is within another’s legally consented control or possession.

    Finally, the Torah section includes the phrase “IF you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time” (last week), and “IF you keep my commandments”, I will reward my people and honor the covenant.

    And, if you don’t, the covenant is either void or delayed 1000 generations.

  8. Its a high bar. Its a false rationalization, a self-fulfilling sin likely, to consider that Palestinians only relationship with Israel is “enemy”, and treated accordingly.

    Rather, common humanity suggests Live and Let Live, both.

  9. Suzanne and Richard-
    For the Arabs, its ALL about the past. In almost every debate between “progressive” Israelis (and I include Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesmen) and Palestinians, the Palestinian opens by saying “You Stole My Land” and the Israel reply’s “let’s not talk about the past, let’s talk about the future” (Tzippi Livni said this in an interview in the New York Times when she became Foreign Minister). The Arab says he is fighting for justice. The Israeli says “let’s be pragmatic”. Suzanne, while you are correct that the land was big enough to accomodate both the Arab population plus Jewish immigration, and in fact the Arab economic base profited from this immigration, it made no difference to them. The land may have been a desert but it was THEIR desert, and it is now the JEW’S garden.
    Add to this the Muslim belief that Islam is destined to one day dominate the world and that no dhimmi (Jew or Christian or Hindu) has any right to any self-determination within the Dar al-Islam (the realm of Islam) which stretches from the Maghreb at the Atlantic to Indonesia (and yes, the Muslims claim they have the right to rule ALL of India because the Muslim Moghuls did in the past-I can give you a quote from an Muslim scholar in Pakistan saying this in Time Magazine last year, but I don’t have the copy with me at the moment). For a dhimmi to have a state within the Dar Al-Islam is a violation of the cosmic order. They take these things very seriously and are repeated in their internal propaganda. Palestine Media Watch has a film of a HAMAS speaker saying the liberation of Palestine (all of it) is a religious duty of every Muslim and is the first step in spreading Islamic domination around the world. Do all Palestinians believe this? I don’t know, but many do and this is what their official propaganda is telling them. Arafat told Clinton to his face that it is lie that there was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The protests at the archaeological garden project in the City of David near the Old City of Jerusalem have the Muslims telling New York Times reporter that there never was a Jewish kingdom there and there are no Jewish artifacts there, it is all “Zionist lies”.
    “Live and let Live” is not part of such an ideology.
    Only by Israel standing FAST on Jewish rights in Eretz Israel will eventually, after a long time, convince the Palestinians that they have adopted an ideology that is destroying them and they will turn to a better way, just as Nasserite Pan-Arabism collapsed when it was shown to be an economic and political failure.
    Not “live and let live”, but Jewish “tsumud”-steadfastness, will eventually bring a modus vivendi.

  10. Maybe I’ve only met the very few Palestinians that are willing to live and let live.

    But, I’ve met enough to fulfill the Abrahamic test.

    The settlement project is the oppossite of Live and Let Live.

  11. Richard-
    Are you referring to the Zionist settlement enterprise that started in 1881? Or the settlement movement started by the disciples of the Vilna Gaon who came around 1800? Or the Second Aliyah in which David Ben-Gurion and other founders of Labor Zionism which came around 1906? The Arabs view ALL of them as agression and the arrival of alien invaders coming to steal their land. Are these the ones you calle “the opposite of live and let live?”

  12. Good switch Yakov. You sound like some Palestinian solidarity that I know, focusing on the past RATHER than the present and the future.

    Whether you shut down paths for reconciliation or Palestinians do, its still the same shut down of human decency.

    What window do you want to look at this through? Religious, lets. Civil, sure. Legal. Sentimental. National even.

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