We are part of a group of Jews and Muslims who agreed weeks ago to talk about peace when events made our discussion all the more urgent.
The days before our meeting had brought three more suicide bombings in Israel - more deaths, more injuries, more grieving and the certainty of more retaliatory actions and collective punishment by the Israeli government. The escalation we all feared was unfolding by the hour.
The meeting was convened by Jews for Peace in the Middle East, a group of Hartford-area Jews who feel called by conscience to speak out, as Jews, against policies of the Israeli government that undermine the cause of peace and contradict Jewish principles of justice. Some Muslims joined our meetings. As Muslims and Jews, we were meeting together because we wanted to hear and learn from each other, and because we refuse to be enemies.
Every person in the room expressed sorrow for and condemnation of the violent acts that had killed innocent civilians on the streets of Jerusalem and Haifa. And every person in the room expressed sorrow for and condemnation of the months and years of occupation and the violent acts by the Israeli government that had led to the deaths of thousands of Palestinians. There was nothing to be gained in trying to keep score. On that night, the lesson could not have been clearer: Violence and retaliation lead to more violence and more retaliation.
We asked ourselves what role we could responsibly play, living in Connecticut so far from the danger and pain of the Middle East. But distance and relative safety cannot be justifications for inaction. In fact, as Jews and Muslims, we are keenly aware of the consequences of silence in the face of hatred and injustice. That is why we cannot be silent.
We believe that a peaceful, long-term and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires security for both Israelis and Palestinians. This should include the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state, the removal of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, a negotiated resolution of the status of Jerusalem in which all alternatives are open for discussion, and an equitable resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. We also believe that most people are yearning for such a peace and are ready to accept its terms.
Israel as a nation must be rooted in fundamental principles of justice and democracy. To continue its policies of occupation, retaliation and collective punishment will not only undermine the genuine security of Israel, but also poison it from within. Rather than inflame the war, now is the time to use every instrument of law, diplomacy and negotiation to find a way to peace. The Palestinian Authority must do its job to prevent violence. The United States should support negotiations, as an impartial party, and not encourage military escalation.
As Jews and Muslims living here, we have a responsibility to express our views and convey our hopes. We refuse to be enemies, and we refuse to be silent.
Fatma Antar is an economics professor at Manchester Community College. Leslie Brett lives in West Hartford. They are members of the ad hoc committee of Jews and Muslims for Peace.
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