Tag Archives: peace process

The Shalit Conundrum . . . Or Opportunity

By Leigh Nusbaum

When Gilad Shalit was kidnapped more than five years ago, I was almost 17 years old and en route to Israel for the first time. I still remember how the situation deteriorated even further that summer. Now he is free, at home in a country and a world far different than five years before.

Personally, I am thrilled that Shalit is coming home alive and at least somewhat well. I also realize that the cost at which he was freed presents both problems and opportunities for Israel and the Palestinians.

As for conundrums, Israel has come into conflict with some of its own core values with Shalit’s release. Israel, as well as the IDF, is known for two tenets. One, they never leave a soldier behind. In fact, soldiers in training have to perform the “stretcher march” in which they carry one of their heaviest comrades up hills and down valleys, just to drive home this point of never leaving a man behind. The second tenet is that Israel never negotiates with terrorists. Despite Avigdor Lieberman’s public threat to collaborate with the Kurdistan Workers Party, this too, is almost always upheld, but history has given us exceptions. The case of never leaving a fellow soldier behind, even if behind enemy lines, is one of them.

Israel has freed 13,509 people in exchange for 16 soldiers. That’s an average of 844.31 people per soldier. For Shalit alone, 1,027 prisoners were freed, some of them served life sentences for murder. This idea of never leaving a soldier behind, while noble, opens up a very dangerous situation for Israel. Now, every Israeli soldier is a target and can be used to generate ransom for any terrorist group. I don’t have an answer or suggestion as to whether or not Israel should change its policy, but it does merit some concern.

It is particularly fitting that this exchange happened near Simchat Torah, where we read the end of Deuteronomy and begin again with Genesis. Gilad Shalit’s freedom has the potential to become a symbolic “reset” button on the peace process and Israel’s image in the world. As of late, both the process and Israel’s image have been tarnished. Even if Israel has had successful military campaigns, it is losing the PR campaign in a huge, huge way. Israel’s current popularity or respect within the world today pales in comparison to 2006. For that matter, I don’t remember hearing about “Israel Apartheid Week” five years ago. Now, it’s commonplace.

With the release of the prisoners that can change Israel’s image, not to a state that acquiesces to terrorism, but one that is truly committed to peace. You see, as much as it may be clear to Jews who support Israel that peace is the route to long term stability and survival, many don’t see it that way. If Israel is continually forgiving, such as returning prisoners, even dangerous ones, it decreases global criticism of the Jewish state. Additionally, I would argue that Shalit’s return conjures up memories of the “1990s” Israel and of some one like Yitzhak Rabin, who was so committed to peace that he paid the ultimate sacrifice for it. That’s the Israel that showed through Shalit’s release, and if Israel wants to survive 30 to 40 years from now, that Israel needs to remain.

Time is running out. With the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the deterioration of ties with Turkey, Abbas’s submission to the U.N. for Palestinian Statehood, Israel’s window to achieve an end to this conflict, especially in the form of the two-state solution, is closing because fewer and fewer people are okay with what they perceive as stubbornness and belligerence on the side of Israel. Merely writing this off as delegitimization only closes the window faster. Celebrating a success like Gilad Shalit coming home is a perfect excuse to restart the talks between Palestinians, even if it means freezing the settlements. After all, as Hillel once said, “If not now, when?”

The Heart of the Jewish People

By Doni Kandel

Living in the Old City of Jerusalem for eighteen months was enough for me. While I’m eternally appreciative of Jerusalem, it is loud and overcrowded; the Old City is no exception. However, there is no more significant religious or cultural place for the Jewish people than the City of Gold. The Kotel, the wall that millions upon millions of people visit year round to celebrate, mourn, plead for answers and show gratitude, is the modern epicenter of Jerusalem’s Jewish importance. This is why the latest attack on Israel’s right to Jerusalem, that Israel has no claim to the Kotel, is not just a political chess move but an affront to the Jewish nation.  Those who decry Israel’s attempt to hold on to Jerusalem claim that Israeli refusal to cede ground in the city is an obstacle to peace. However it is the inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the inextricable link between the Jews and Jerusalem that is peace’s true impediment. The Kotel is the heart of Jerusalem, which is the heart of the Jewish people. Extricating one from the other is not an option.

Jews have laid claim to the Temple Mount, along with the rest of Jerusalem, since it was conquered by King David over 3,000 years ago. The Western Wall served as one of the outer walls of the Temple mount, built by King Solomon and rebuilt after the Persian Exile.  It’s no secret that Jerusalem plays an integral role in Jewish religious practice and culture–but its religious significance tells only part of the story of Jerusalem’s importance to Judaism.

Jerusalem’s legendary history serves as an ever-present metaphor for the trials and triumphs of the Jewish people. Jerusalem, the Old City in particular, has been besieged and sacked numerous times throughout the ages. Yet, somehow the City of Gold has always hung on, if only by a few threads, to rise from the ashes and rebuild. The recently rebuilt Hurva, a massive synagogue in the Jewish Quarter that was destroyed during the War of Independence, is a primary example of Jerusalem’s persistence.  Until it was restored to its original glory, those who wished to pray at the Hurva prayed at its ruins. The Jewish nation has similarly survived repeated persecution and attrition, if only by its bootstraps, to regroup, rebuild, and live on.

At the end of every Passover seder we exclaim, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” This is not an aspiration for a destination weekend, but an expression of the sheer longing for salvation.  And “Im Eshkacech” the hymn sung at every Jewish wedding and many other times proclaims, “If I forget Jerusalem, let me forget my right hand.”  This important hymn equates Jerusalem with the courage and force of the Jewish people, as represented by the powerful right hand.

Jerusalem also houses numerous paradoxes, which symbolize the conflict within every Jewish soul. The name “Yerushlayim” has within it the word shalom or “peace.” Yet, the Old City is surrounded by fortified walls that serve as a safeguard to its most precious landmark from war. Judaism is beholden to an undercurrent of tension between love of peace and a need for strength and self-preservation. The paradox of Jerusalem is in fact the paradox of the Jewish people.

Those who seek to remove the Jewish people from Jerusalem, especially the Kotel, either fail to recognize the indestructible bond between them or, worse, are acutely cognizant of it. Attempts to convince the world otherwise is a true affront to peace. Turning the Western Wall into a political talking point will not decrease its significance in the Jewish people.  The acceptance of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people is the only way the people of Israel will be able to fulfill the hopes described in its national anthem of living as a “free nation in our land.”  The anthem says as much, concluding “the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

The Narrow Line Between Expression and Insult

By Merav Levkowitz

A number of Israeli artists have signed a letter proposing to boycott a cultural center set to open shortly in Ariel, a Jewish settlement beyond the Green Line. The boycott has sparked much controversy among the artist community and in Knesset. Some Knesset members have expressed disappointment with these Israeli artists who have received government funding and have used their public platform to criticize and, in some cases, de-legitimize Israel. Members like Yariv Levin and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat have recommended that restrictions be extended to government-funded artists and cultural institutions.

This tense situation brings forth a variety of important issues. On one hand, the outrage of some Knesset members towards these government-funded artists makes perfect sense. A venture capitalist who supports a fledging start-up would not be pleased to find the start-up defaming him publicly. Likewise, Israeli taxpayers have a right to express concern about where their funding goes and to disapprove supporting bodies that criticize or even threaten them. Ironically, the residents of Ariel themselves pay the taxes that support many of the artists boycotting their cultural center and the settlement itself. As Knesset member Otniel Schneller stated, “The artists’ apartheid letter, which boycotts Israeli citizens, not only does not promote national willingness to achieve peace, but also pushes it away.  Ariel, as a settlement bloc, will be included in any peace agreement within the borders of the state. Every big party leader must stress to artists who receive the Israel Prize [a government-awarded prize for excellence in four different fields] where the peaceful borders of the State of Israel are to pass.”

On the other hand, the fact that government-funded artists are free to do as they please with their sponsorship is a sign that Israel remains a vibrant democracy. Diverse opinions among citizens and the freedom to express them distinguish Israel from many of her neighbors. Tighter restrictions on artists and cultural institutions could challenge some of this openness. Furthermore, such constraints risk narrowing Israel’s vibrant public art scene. While denying artists funding does not stop them from creating art in protest of the country—and may even encourage them to further do so—it can impede them.  In so doing, it limits the creative face Israel shows to the world, exposing only a small part of its diverse mosaic, its beliefs and expressions.

This controversy is not limited to the world of art, but rather can be extended to any government-sponsored public figures and images. It seems reasonable for sponsors to demand certain criteria of those they support, but it is difficult to know where to draw the line on such criteria.   Politically motivated restrictions risk stifling art and even the democratic freedom Israel prides itself on.