On Thursday afternoon we had the honor to host – together with CJP & the Israeli Consulate – His Excellency, Michael Herzog, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, on his first visit to a U.S. city outside of Washington since assuming office this past November. Barely an hour before some fifty diverse community leaders gathered at our office for a candid discussion about the relationship between American Jews and Israel, the news broke out of Tel Aviv about the latest in a string of horrific terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians; The fourth such attack in two weeks (you can read our message to the community last night here).
In addition, present in our discussion was the awareness that, this week, Israel found itself with a government crisis when one of its senior lawmakers decided to leave the coalition. The fragile change and the tentative optimism of last Spring are being challenged. What happens next? Here’s a great piece from Michael Koplow about what to watch for in the weeks ahead.
This is a time of profound anxiety and concern about the weeks ahead. Is the violence in Israel different this time? There’s an excellent discussion of that question on this week’s Shalom Hartman Institute podcast as Yossi Klein Halevi, Donniel Hartman, and Elana Stein Hain consider the dilemmas of living with terrorism, fear, and suspicion (recorded prior to Thursday’s attack).
As we head into Shabbat I’m striving to hold hope, and I’m leaning into a conversation we had earlier this week with two incredible and courageous women that I’ve come to respect and admire.
On Tuesday I sat down with Vivian Silver, a Jewish Israeli, and Layla Alsheikh, a Muslim Palestinian. Vivian is active with Women Wage Peace, a movement that has been focused on advocating to change the paradigm in Israel and move from the current status quo to active negotiation toward a political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Layla, who we’ve come to know through her involvement in the Parents Circle (like Women Wage Peace, an organization we connect with through our Boston Partners for Peace network) is part of a group of West Bank Palestinian women who recently formed a parallel organization to WWP called Women of the Sun, focused on changing the paradigm in Palestinian society.
These two organizations came together last week in a massive women’s gathering at the Dead Sea to issue a ‘Mothers’ Call’ upon the leaderships of both sides to return to the negotiating table and to make peace. You can learn more about this event and their work together by watching the conversation here).
What struck me most of all was the sense of hope and optimism they carry. Vivian noted Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s famous speech to the Knesset upon the visit of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977. Begin said that:
“War is avoidable. It is peace that is inevitable.”
Inevitable peace is a nice thought, but how do these women carry so much hope even amidst personal loss (Layla lost a child to the conflict), political turmoil, and continued threats and violence?
A while back the former first minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, sat down with Women Wage Peace. He told them that “if anyone had asked him, the week that the Good Friday agreement was signed (in 1998), that it was possible that in the near future there would be a signed agreement” that “he would have scoffed and laughed people out of his room.” Within five days, that agreement was signed.
Conflicts end. People, notably women, play a central role in ending conflicts and are very active in reconciliation movements. “I am” Vivian tells us, “hopeful that we will be just as surprised.”
It’s a good thought to end on, along with Layla’s call to us to do our part here in Boston: To support people like them, on the ground, doing the work of peacebuilding through collaboration, to talk about them. To not give up on them.
I’m proud that we get to do the work of building hope and supporting the peacebuilders here at JCRC. I thank you for being part of this work with us.
JCRC Executive Director