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Days of Reflection on Israel

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For many of us, these are days for deep reflection and soul-searching on the past year. How, we ask, as individuals and as a community can we better ourselves and the world?

Naturally, our focus turns in part to Israel and how events there impact us as a people.

My heart, along with many of yours no doubt, swelled with pride on hearing that among the Nobel Prize winners this year is an Israeli physicist, Daniel Shechtman -- another amazing accomplishment for a small country that has done so much to advance global learning.

My heart filled as well this past week -- but with concern -- over other, more deeply troubling news from Israel.

This past Sunday, a mosque in the Bedouin community of Tuba Zanghariya was damaged by arsonists believed to be settler extremists. It appears to have been another in a growing and frightening line of attacks that settlers have called their "price tag" campaign.

And last Friday, a group of Sheikh Jarrah activists -- including one of the "heroes" honored at J Street's National Conference last February, Sara Benninga -- was violently attacked by residents of the West Bank settlement of Anatot as she and other activists sought to protect the right of a Palestinian farmer to access land he owns within the settlement gates.

Twenty-six people were injured; several were taken to the hospital. The chilling violence -- verbal and physical -- of the settler mob against these nonviolent activists is captured on video here.

The level of thuggish violence originating on the West Bank continues to grow, in an atmosphere in which parliamentary actions and rabbinic statements are clouding the country's and our people's commitment to Jewish and democratic values.

As I contemplate the behavior of my people on the West Bank, I watch American politicians introduce Congressional resolutions calling for annexing "Judea and Samaria" and Presidential candidates standing proudly not with two-state activists fighting for justice and peace, but with settler leaders.

Where, I wonder, is the voice of our communal leadership here in the United States to set this right? Where are those who stand at the forefront of the fight for social justice, human rights and democracy on every other issue in this country and around the world?

Will rabbis across the United States this weekend raise these incidents with their congregations as they remind us to live up to the highest values of our people?

Or will the outrage in these sermons be reserved for the Palestinians who have approached the United Nations seeking their freedom and self-determination?

True, in our opinion, U.N. membership won't advance an actual two-state resolution to the conflict, but, let's be clear, applying for U.N. membership is not an act that delegitimizes the State of Israel.

In fact, the Palestinian application for membership based on the pre-1967 armistice lines implies acceptance of the state of Israel on the other side of that line.

As we reach the end of the days of fear and awe, I feel both those emotions deeply.

I fear for my community because of the barriers we have thrown up to open and honest discussion about what is happening in Israel and the occupied territory.

I fear for the United States, where our elected officials feel compelled by political pressure from my community to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority, when even Israel's security establishment and American neoconservatives warn that such a move serves the interests of Hamas and other extremists.

And, sadly, I most fear for Israel. I fear the failure to press unreservedly for a two-state solution. I fear for Israel's democratic values, and I fear for those bravely standing up there for basic human and civil rights.

I worry that in our silence, we are failing to help our Israeli brothers and sisters to see the looming disaster ahead.

The Jewish people wept for centuries over the loss of our land. We dreamt of the chance to redeem it. We risk again a future of tears and regret if we do not confront and challenge what is happening on the ground in Israel and on the West Bank.

The words of the prophet Isaiah will be read throughout our community on the coming days, his reflection on the meaning of fasting and atonement:

Is such the fast I desire

A day for men to starve their bodies?

Is it bowing the head like a bulrush

And lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Do you call that a fast,

A day when the Lord is favorable?

No, this is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of the yoke

To let the oppressed go free;

To break off every yoke.

Is that message to be heard from our pulpits? Will it be welcome in the "Talk Israel" tents on our campuses? Will I be welcome to say these words in your local Jewish Community Center?

What better time to consider all this than these days of reflection?

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