In honor of the High Holidays beginning in less than two weeks, and in light of the upcoming vote in the United Nations on Palestinian statehood, I would like to dedicate this Message from Jerusalem to Israel’s ongoing efforts to reach peace, and the price paid by its citizens for that goal.
The Jewish world in general and Israelis in particular disagree on the best path to peace. We differ about the price we think we should pay, we differ in the confidence we have in our neighbors, but we all stand united in our ultimate goal: We want peace.
Israel has understood for decades that we can’t have it all. Yamit was an Israeli settlement in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula with a population of about 2,500 people. Like other Jewish communities in Sinai, Yamit was built to act as a security buffer between Egypt and Israel. In 1982, Yamit, along with the other 18 Sinai settlements, was evacuated and then demolished by the Israeli army as part of the terms of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. The evacuation of Yamit was carried out in the face of powerful domestic opposition. The army had to deal with extremists from all over the country who arrived in Yamit to oppose the evacuation.
All the residents in Sinai had been placed there by the Israeli government, and were eventually evacuated by the Israeli government, all as part of Israel’s attempt to reach peace. The Sinai desert wasn’t just home for many Israeli families. It was also the security boundary of the state. By giving up this piece of land, we minimized the size of the country by three quarters (the Sinai Peninsula is three times bigger than the State of Israel) and exposed ourselves to infiltrators reaching our towns.
For many, history repeated itself. Many of Yamit’s evacuated families rebuilt their dreams and homes in the young towns of the Gaza Strip, once more encouraged by the Israeli government to populate these territories by Jews. In the summer of 2005, Israel took the very painful step of evacuating 10,000 of its citizens from 21 communities in the Gaza region. Families were uprooted, synagogues were abandoned, schools and businesses were closed forever–all in the hope of a peaceful future. In summer of 2005, I had the privilege of working for the Jewish community of Pittsburgh as their shlicha. I was asked again and again how I felt about the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. I cried with the 10.000 Israelis who were forced to leave their homes, but supported my government for what I believed was the correct, brave decision.
Once more, the price wasn’t just destroying homes and moving families. The price paid was enabling the Palestinians to move closer to Israeli towns, and once more, exposing ourselves to greater risks.
Personally, I believe that Israel paid a very high price of the divisive and emotional debates between supporters of these withdrawals and those who opposed them, between those who believe in the dream of a Greater Israel and those who think it is a delusion. Even before Gaza, that division became greater and greater, and eventually led to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin paid the ultimate price for peace. He fought for peace as a soldier and then as a general and prime minister, and he died in the attempt to reach peace.
Certainly, our hope remains hard to reach. Yes, we can’t achieve agreement on the way we should bravely walk. True, there is much to do in order to enable a more profound sense of equality for our Arab citizens. But we should all acknowledge the fact that we pray for peace three times a day, every day. We must never lose hope.
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May he who makes peace in high places,
make peace for us and for all Israel,
and let us say, amen.
Shanah Tova, may we all have a wonderful year!
Leah Garber, JCC Association Israel office director