If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
-Rabbi Hillel, of the first century BCE
Pursuing peace means that I must incorporate self-criticism into my own identity, yet remain proud to defend who I am. Pursuing peace means that I expect the same from others. This semester, I have seen the Middle East change in ways that is has never before. I have seen the Palestinian Authority building itself up, and building towards the inspiring international recognition of a sovereign state in September. In spite of stunning Hamas-Fateh reconciliation, I have seen Hamas hold on to their deeply misguided hope that future generations of Palestinians could occupy all of Israel. I have seen the Israeli government yearning to defend its people in a dangerous and unstable region. I have seen the Israeli government become too nervous, and violate human rights at checkpoints and borders.
Pursuing peace means that I follow the advice of Rabbi Hillel. If I am for myself, I have to stand behind Israel's right to defend herself, in the face of terrorists who wish for us to disappear. If I am not for myself alone, I have to stand behind Salam Fayyad in his efforts to build a Palestinian state alongside our own. If not now, I fear that this hope drifts only farther away, squeezed to a pulp amidst polarizing societies.
The national memorial days have been a time for reflection and for hope. On the morning of Yom HaZikaron, I stood in silence in a frozen Jerusalem as the capital city remembered the state's fallen soldiers and victims of terror. On Yom Ha'Atzmaut, I celebrated Israel's 63 birthday on one of the youngest Kibbutzim in the country, reflecting on the idealism that built the state. And I asked myself: how can I pursue a peace for a middle east where Israelis are less often - if ever - asked to give their lives in defense of an enduring independence?
The past few weeks have been, as I know they are each year, an emotional roller coaster; Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut, and Nakba memorial day (remembering Palestinian refugees of 1948). I think that everyone else in the region has already turned these days into a defense of their own politics. Rather than explaining my own political platform for a practical peace, I am compelled to share the questions I am asking. I do have my own carefully thought-through, well supported and pragmatic thoughts on the particularities of peace. However, I seek to share where I start the process, not where I end:
How wrong have we been, and how can we make it right? How wrong have our neighbors been, and how can they make it right? How do we weave together our narratives?