A prayer for peace

As an American visiting Jerusalem for a month, the Tuesday night of the first air raid siren in the city was a new experience for me.
July 24, 2014

As an American visiting Jerusalem for a month, the Tuesday night of the first air raid siren in the city was a new experience for me. Rationality told me that I was safe. Under the protection of the Iron Dome, the probability of one of Hamas’ rockets reaching the ground was slim, and the likeliness of them causing serious damage was even slighter. Still, as I listened from the darkness of my apartment's safe room to the echoing sound of distant blasts, I couldn't help but endure a sensation of utter dread: a sudden awareness of my vulnerability to the rockets soaring overhead.

A few days later, I found myself in the basement of a community center in my neighborhood for Friday night Shabbat services. The service began with Shalom Aleichem. Time seemed to freeze as the union of voices sang, slowly and passionately, for peace. This was the most genuine experience of Shabbat I'd experienced in a long while, encountering a moment that stood independently of all else surrounding it: a sense of peace amongst chaos, hope amidst despair.

But this experience of Shabbat was a privilege. The serenity was a result of the protective measures taken to ensure my safety. I can only imagine that the fear I experienced in the bomb shelter–the defenselessness in the midst of explosives hurtling from the sky, collapsing buildings and pillars of smoke–was a mere fraction of what the Gazans were experiencing with no Iron Dome or bomb shelters to protect them. Do they, living just sixty miles away, have the same opportunity to gather, to pray for peace amidst the bloodshed?

What role do we play, as people who are able to secure ourselves from the violence? The reaction thus far has been uniform: offering statistics to argue which side has suffered more, disclosing details that preserve the image of one while attributing full blame to the other.

What do these responses achieve? If anything, they ensure the perpetuation of a conflict that thrives off of the absolute separation from the other–identifying the differences between a family in Gaza and a family in Sderot instead of drawing them closer, unifying them under a single category of human: people whose lives have been affected by this awful, relentless conflict. 

The struggle for ethical superiority distracts from the pursuit of a solution to the violence. The fight is not for the moral high ground. It’s for peace.

Unfortunately, no ceasefire on its own will produce a lasting peace; this round of violence is rooted in years of accumulated tension. Peace and security are only possible if we acknowledge the underlying context in this situation: the ongoing occupation. In Gaza, millions of people’s basic human needs are not met on a daily basis. In the West Bank, settlement construction continues. They inflict added tension to the region and fuel hatred on both sides, and we cannot hope to take any steps towards reconciliation while this continues. Each day these conditions persist is a day we move further from any prospect of peace. As American Jews, by failing to explicitly condemn the occupation, we share responsibility for undercutting the prospects of achieving a two-state solution. Jewish community leaders such as Adam Bronfman and Eric Yoffie have recently, even in the midst of the ongoing operation, called for an end to settlement construction. Will the rest of the community join them? 

The latest round of peace talks have collapsed. Currently, Hamas is the only Palestinian entity to which Israel seems to respond in a serious way. What if the Palestinian people witnessed an equally wholehearted reaction from Israeli leaders towards its more moderate authorities who pursue an end to the conflict through diplomatic means? Only through these nonviolent methods can we achieve a lasting end to this violence, and only after that can Israel celebrate true, sustainable security.

We, who are able to come together to pray for peace in this time of war, must ask ourselves: when we pray for peace, do we really mean it? Are we demanding unrealistic requirements to achieve it, focusing our attention on arguments that can only be held from the safety of the Iron Dome? Or are we willing to concede some dignity, and make the compromises necessary to attain a real, sustainable peace?

Nothing is going to end the ever-heightening escalation of violence other than a peace agreement; there is no other viable long-term solution. What are we going to do to make that a reality?

ARIEL ROSE BRENNER is a student at UC Berkeley studying architecture and involved in J Street

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