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    Monday, July 22, 2024

    We cannot give up on peace

    I recently returned from a 10-day visit to Israel, to be with my family for Memorial Day at the grave of Aviv Atzili, my cousin’s husband, who died on Oct. 7 defending his kibbutz, Nir Oz. My cousin, Liat Beinin Atzili, was taken hostage and was released through the efforts of Congressman Joe Courtney, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden. President Biden called my cousin Yehuda Beinin on Nov. 29 to tell him his daughter had been returned to Israel.

    Israeli soldiers look at chairs for hostages held in Gaza at a Passover seder table on Thursday, April 11, at the communal dining hall at Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel, where a quarter of all residents were killed or captured by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

    Accompanying me to Nir Oz were two former students of mine from the New London Solomon Schecter Academy at Congregation Beth El, Marcie Yoselevsky and Erica Weiner, and a longtime high school friend, Dvora Burstyn, who worked on my documentary film about Henny Simon. They all now live in Israel. Our drive from Tel Aviv to Nir Oz took an hour and 20 minutes. On Oct. 7, after almost 11 hours since the start of the attack, Israel Defense Forces troops arrived and cleared the kibbutz. By the time they got there the marauding terrorists had left the kibbutz after raping and murdering women, killing babies, burning homes, shooting men, and taking hostages, alive and dead. That horrific attack and the lengthy time it took for the IDF response to defend the communities is one reason why so many Israelis have lost faith not just in their government but in the army.

    In America we have seen reactions ranging from strong solidarity with Israel to virulent anti-Israel and antisemitic demonstrations on college campuses. Jewish students had to barricade themselves in classrooms to avoid physical attacks. At Leary Park in Waterford swastikas were painted on playground equipment.

    It is understandable, and to be appreciated, that so many students expressed concern for the high casualties and deep suffering of so many people in Gaza, but it is certainly a question as to why those protesting about Gaza have been utterly indifferent to the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Syria, Yemen and Sudan, as well as the plight of the Uigurs, Rohynga and other Muslims. Could it be because Jews could not be blamed for those immense tragedies?

    Throughout the country, and right here in Waterford, those incidents, and my personal loss prompted calls of support from officials and touching gestures of support. The infection of antisemitism was dealt with directly at Waterford High School.

    There is considerable suffering in Gaza, and in Israel. The revelations of the extent of the atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 are unfathomable. President Biden expressed it succinctly when he said, “This is worse than ISIS.” When a phone call is captured with a young man among the Hamas attackers calling his parents and telling them, “I killed 10 Jews. You can be proud of me,” it is difficult to find a path towards peace.

    The administration has demonstrated a staunch commitment to Israel as well as its determination to get the requisite humanitarian aid into Gaza, return the hostages and end the war. The two aircraft carrier groups sent to the eastern Mediterranean, President Biden’s visit to Israel during the war, the coordination of the defense against Iran’s massive attack and the administration’s ongoing efforts to achieve a permanent resolution to this 100-year old conflict is proof of that commitment.

    What is not well understood by many in America is that the conflict is more complex than Israel and the Palestinians. The age-old conflict within Islam between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and recently the development of a Russia-Iran-China axis that directly confronts American interests in the Middle East and South Asia have cost millions of lives. It is a primary American interest to counter the Russia-China initiative with an alternative Israel-Saudi-UAE-India alliance together with additional Sunni majority states including Jordan and Egypt. As Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Sunni world, came close to formally recognizing Israel, the Iranian proxies, including Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis, conspired to disrupt American foreign policy goals together with a historic resolution of the Israel-Arab conflict.

    Islamists, and particularly Hamas leader Yahyaa Sinwar, emphasize the implementation of Sharia, pan-Islamic political unity, the creation of Islamic states (eventually unified) and rejection of non-Muslim influences. At the same time it is true that radical Jewish nationalists, some of whom are sitting in the current Israeli government, seek to implement a Jewish state based on pre-Talmudic Torah Judaism and to build a Third Temple. We must repudiate each of these groups.

    What is quite clear, and what the world must uphold, is that, per the original United Nations decision that created Israel and Palestine, the two-state solution must be achieved. A state of Palestine that recognizes Israel and respects the international order that governs the member nations of the UN, and a state of Israel that recognizes Palestine along the same principles. Together with this we must recognize the important role that existing non-governmental organizations in Israel and Palestine which foster mutual respect play in promoting sharing the land and in seeing the humanity in the other.

    Many of you know that I have led many groups to Israel; Jews, Christians, Muslims, Rabbis and Ministers have come with me to see and be inspired by the Holy Land and by the miracles that the modern state of Israel has realized. On every trip we meet with all cohorts of Israeli society: Jews, Christians, Muslims. I always focus on organizations that promote a shared equal society. We have visited Ramallah, and often go to Beit Sahour and Bethlehem to meet with current and former Palestinian officials.

    I have not visited settlements that I personally consider illegal and an obstacle to a just peace.

    Prime Minister Menachem Begin realized the value of peace over settlements when he evacuated the settlements in Sinai in 1982. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin intended to deal with the settlements in the West Bank but was assassinated by a Jewish religious zealot on Nov. 4, 1995. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon realized that when he evacuated the settlements in Gaza in 2005.

    The establishment of a state of Palestine would be a final defeat for Hamas and the end to their delusional dream, expressed in part by their horrific attack, that Israel can be eliminated. The Palestinians in Gaza knew it was a delusional dream. The Palestinians on the West Bank accused Hamas of bringing a second Nakhba, or catastrophe, on the Palestinian people.

    Both Israel and the Palestinians are at a loss as to how to proceed. It is incumbent on the Americans, and particularly on the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians to reassure both the Israelis and the Palestinians that terror and religious fanaticism can be overcome and that a nation of Palestine can be created that will live in peace with Israel.

    Israelis and the Palestinians cannot give up on peace, and I cannot give up on my dream to continue to bring groups to visit, be inspired by the land and to meet the people of Israel and Palestine who are striving to live in peace.

    Editor’s note: This version corrects the year of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and the spelling of Jerry Fischer’s name in a reference.

    Jerry Fischer is the former executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.

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