With every terrorist attack in Israel, our response, both as Jews and Israelis, has been one of grief, outrage, and righteosness. Incidents have been seized upon as justification for the continued rejection of Palestinian statehood. But now, having repeatedly focused world attention on Palestinian atrocities and Israel's defense concerns, we must honestly address the background against which incidents of violence have occurred.
If we are to honestly address the problem of injustice pertinent to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, only two questions need be asked:
Has there been suffering among the Palestinians? There has.
Are we, as Jews, responsible for and to their plight? Here the question is not are we to blame; rather, are we involved in the phenomena of the Palestinian condition? We are. The fact that many Jews do not fully acknowledge this only begins to shed light on our moral and intellectual dishonesty.
Indeed, we share a tradition of moral irresponsibility with the nations of the world. The inability of man to overcome irresponsibility, both within himself and his institutions, is one explanation of a world which allows recurring famines or a Nazi Germany.
But, laying these greater failing aside, we have one of our own -- the attitude which justifies Palestinian subjugation as the unfortunate side-effect of Israel's freedom. As a further extention of this logic, we have written our own version of history with an emphasis on the culpability of the Palestinians in creating their present plight.
We next demand that they respond to their perceived mistreatment other than as they do. When they breka the rules, for example, as in the killing of innocent civilians, we are so consumed with rage that again and again we miss an important lesson. Injustice is not reasonable! Its counterparts -- suffering, grief, and revenge -- are also, by nature, not subject to reason and thus reappear and spread according to their own logic.
Recognizing the predictable unreasonableness of terrorism is not to condone it but rather to take the first step toward overcoming it. To interrupt the vicious cycle of injustice, we must, in memory of recent casualties, examine our own role in perpetuating such a cycle.
With all respect for the Jewish heritage and history, we must once and for all abandon the balance sheet of grievances that leads unfailingly to our self-image as victims and scapegoats. A few painful questions illustrate the self-imposed isolation such images promote: How, for example, is it possible that the importance of speaking Arabic in Israel is so poorly appreciated today that many students taking a third language choose French over Arabic? And how is it that most Jews have little analytical understanding or sympathy with Arab and Islamic history?
If communication is vital to understanding, are not the results of such lack of interest demonstrably tragic? Is it only coincidence that the Zionist ideal of "Jewish ingathering" is increasingly losing its appeal, or that Judaism is struggling to hold onto the hearts and imagination of its younger generation? Has the Jewish vision, as a motivating force, ceased to exist?
Just as the original Jewish vision of monotheism was born into a climate of adversity, counter to conventions of the day, so was the Jewish state born amidst equally improbable circumstances. And, just as Jews have transformed history with a unique concept of God, they are now in the position to devise an equally radical response to man's inhumanity to man. Our historic experience with the phenomena of injustice enables us to meet this challenge, if we so will.
The ironic fact that Jews now find that their survival depends upon the subjugation of another people -- even taking into account extenuating circumstances -- is great cause for cynicism among those so inclined. Indeed it is especially painful for the Jewish youths, whose idealism is flattened by the realities of our modern warrior state.
For those still inclined to idealism, perhaps we do have a unique role in history, and for that reason other nations sometimes criticize our failings more than they do their own.Will that that role soon end in total surrender to "eye-for-an-eye" survival tactics?
Survival tactics alone are not the key to Jewish longevity; if they were, our ancestors would have converted long ago. Adherence to human principles and fundamental truths has also served us well!
It will require a great venture of faith to put into practice the message of our own and all other religious: to love our brothers. Yet, if we could exemplify and build into our political and social institutions this radical and timeless idea, we might well guide the family of nations from their obsolescent and dangerous political practices.
The first step is to fashion a new approach, one that is both safe and principled, however contradictory these values may now appear. But not until we acknowledge that injustice exists, exclusive to none, unreasonable everywhere, and empowered by all, can we responsibly ask the questions the answers to which shall set us free.