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The struggle over Palestine

By its deliberate brutality toward noncombatants – men, women, children, even infants – Hamas made clear that it’s not a worthy avenger of legitimate Muslim or Palestinian grievances, but are immoral by Muslim as well as Christian and Jewish teachings and principles. But condemning Hamas won’t stop such massacres, mayhem and murder. How do we stop this and make a better, more peaceful world?

Israel has been divided between people who want to be thought of as ultra-religious and want to reclaim for Jews the land they call Judea and Samaria, what most of us call the West Bank, west of the Jordan river, and those who either want to preserve that land for a two-state solution or otherwise provide fairness and justice for the Palestinians, people who were born and raised in that area.

That argument led to Netanyahu’s effort to hobble the Israeli Supreme Court which had found it illegal to take Palestinian land for resettlement. The official American position opposed forcible taking of Palestinian land to make it available for Jewish settlements.

Gaza has been virtually walled off as a Palestinian area, segregation that clearly didn’t prevent Hamas from atrocities or war. Would integration have been more effective? From our own experience and past events in Israel, integration of the Palestinians might have meant that the violence wouldn’t have come from the Palestinians but from the Israelis opposing integration. That’s a lesson of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 over signing the Oslo Accords. That’s also a lesson of white nationalism in the U.S. whose violence comes from opposing integration or sharing our country with dark-skinned people.

I could argue about which solution is more likely to produce peace, in the short or long run, but I want to make a different point. American Jews cannot be neutral about that argument. Our existence in America and much of the world depends on universal human rights and religious freedom. The principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence – that all human beings “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness …” – are fundamental for us. America and what it stands for are fundamental for us. They aren’t options. We’re not just Americans by choice – we’re Americans to the core of our bones. For us, it was a great achievement when the late great First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, led the UN Commission on Human Rights to develop, and the UN to approve, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are bound by principle, by our own survival, and by the command of the Torah, what Christians call Old Testiment scripture, to pursue “liberty and justice for all” – for Jews, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, old stock Dutch, British and Spanish-Americans, of all genders and orientations.

The lesson of the Holocaust must be universal or it protects no one, not Jews or anyone else. In the Bible, God asks Jews to promote worship of the Almighty. Now, Jews must advance the cause of mutual concern and respect, of the values written into the Declaration, no matter how imperfect the people who wrote it, and of America as their advocate and leader. We have no other choice.

That said, we can only hope that cooler heads will use this war to craft a lasting peace the way French and German statesmen began to create the architecture of a peaceful Europe after World War II.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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