Achieving Mideast Peace
by Cindy Levitt

Published in Voice of the People, Chicago Tribune as well as in the November 13, 2020 edition of Chicago's Streetwise newspaper.

As a Jewish woman I have been struggling with how to respond to the recent events in the Middle East.  I read the Tribune's news and editorial coverage, watch television news, look for Internet sites to garner additional viewpoints and I search my own conscience as tragedies unfold for both Palestinians and Israelis.  I am not an expert on the history of the Middle East, or a religious scholar.  I do not profess to have an answer to the complexities of the current escalation of violence.  But I do feel, in my heart, that in order to achieve peace in Israel there must be justice for Palestinians.  Israeli Arabs must be granted equal rights.  Economic disparities, and the ability to buy land need to be addressed for Palestinians living within Israel's current borders.  People living in the occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza strip, must be able to live without fear, must be able to get to their jobs in order to provide for their families and feed their children.  They must be freed from the fears that armed settlers will shoot at them.  Illegal settlements must be disbanded immediately.

There is a huge power differential in this conflict.  The Israeli military is one of the strongest in the world.  They have access to, and use, tanks, and sophisticated weaponry including helicopter gunships.  Although the Palestinians do have access to some arms they do not have the military capability of Israel, thus are primarily armed with stones, rocks and sling shots.

There must be an acknowledgment of the inherent humanity of Palestinian men, women and children.  There must also be an end to the demonization of an entire people, and an end to the mistaken notion that Palestinians care less about their children than the rest of us do.

I found an example of that disturbing dynamic played out in Michael Kotzin's piece on November 3, 2000.  (Orwellian reading of the Middle East conflict).  Kotzin said that "the regrettable Palestinian casualties, often suffered by youths who are cynically sacrificed on the alter of the Palestinian cause, are used to gain sympathy from the West and to further incite Palestinians."  We don't question that Israeli youth are sacrificed by serving in the Israeli army; we don't remind Israel of its own use of children during it's "War of Independence" when groups like Irgun and Haganah routinely used 14 and 15 year old boys in their attacks on Arabs.  Are we really to believe that any family would choose to put their children in danger to gain sympathy?  Or that Palestinian fathers and mothers love their children differently that our fathers and mothers love us?

Uri Avnery, an Israeli journalist writes that "When a people fights for its very existence and freedom, its youth cannot but take part."  He goes on to say that he "joined the Irgun, defined by the British as a terrorist organization, at the age of 14 and a half.  By the age of 15 I carried guns."

Within Israel many Jews call for peace and justice; there are vigorous debates as to how peace might someday be achieved.  In the United States, however, the Jewish community has, for the most part, uncritically supported Israel, including their military and intelligence gathering methods.  I call on the Jewish community to question the current assault on, and killing of Palestinians.  I don't believe we can stand silently by when we see injustice.  During the Holocaust we know that silent acceptance and fear fueled Hitler's "final solution."  We celebrated and honored those "righteous Gentiles" who stood up, tried to hide and save Jews and spoke out, often risking their own lives.  That is why I can no longer remain silent.  I cringe when I hear about Palestinian homes being bombed, see shootings and killings of young people.  They live with the constant humiliation of roadblocks and checkpoints and anti Arab slurs made by settlers, their so-called "neighbors" living within armed fortresses.

Until recently I was unaware of how media coverage painted a picture of Palestinian and Arabs as less than human.  Nameless people die.  Words used one way or another create emotions in us that color our reactions.  It is time for us to start talking with each other within the Jewish community and for us to begin dialogues with Palestinians and Arab Americans here in Chicago.  Maybe together we can pressure the Israeli government to change the course they are on.  Without justice there will be no lasting peace.  Dignity, respect and self-determination is something we all crave.  I hope and pray for a time when Jews, Muslims, Christians and all others can live together equally and in peace.