A Prayer for Peace in the Middle East
How is it that human beings can be so alike—sons and daughters of the same prophet Abraham—and yet, so filled with hate towards each other.
How is it that human beings can garner weapons, sway world opinion, and level cities with lightening speed?
Yet, when we witness poverty, disease, the plagues of illiteracy, intolerance, food insecurity—we wonder if it is within the grasp of human beings to face and obliterate such needless suffering?
In our reading this morning, the poet, Ada Aharoni expressed a great hope that we could overcome our reluctance to open our hearts to the sufferings of the other:
My Palestinian sister,
Daughter of Abraham, like me,
Let us build a sturdy bridge
From your olive world to mine,
From my orange world to yours,
When I traveled to Israel in 1977, the country was making great strides toward peace—after prosecuting two brutal wars to maintain its security. Both the 1967 war and the 1974 Yom Kippur War were waged under the leadership of a woman prime minister—Golda Meier—forever changing my feminist belief that if women ruled the world, that wars would cease and nations would devote themselves to domestic prosperity.
Indeed, today, another woman, Tzipi Livni is advocating for total war against Hamas Islamists—who claim to fight for the rights of Palestinians to their homeland. Livni presides as Israel’s foreign minister, and is campaigning to be the next prime minister of Israel—all while this nation is engaged in brutal aerial and ground battles in Gaza—the home of Palestinians who were displaced by immigrant Jews.
Our nation participated in the creation of the state of Israel. We have continued, and will continue to bolster Israel’s military capacity for “self-defense.”
But, as inheritors of the Judeo-Christian heritage, our policy too often reflects the blind belief that Israel’s right to exist is the same as Israel’s right to claim land and control the destiny not only of her own people, but of the Palestinian minority who have been crushed by Israel’s economic and security policies for decades.
Our nation—and too many of our religious leaders—act as if every military action by the state of Israel was divinely inspired. For too long, the United States of America has allowed religious zealotry to guide its posture towards the Middle East—while at the same time, ignoring the fundamental religious principles that would promote lasting peace in the Middle East if they were the basis of our policy and our financial support.
There was a time, in the seventies, when Menachim Begin—who earlier in his life was a leader of guerrilla terrorists to overthrow the British rulers of Palestine (prior to the creation of the state of Israel)—this same Menachim Begin opened the doors to peace by engaging in the Camp David peace process with Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat.
These two men, Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat—much like the women in our poem—decided to build a sturdy bridge to peace… A bridge that helped them to understand their differences. A bridge that helped them to bring together the world of olives and the world of oranges.
Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat were two old men who wanted their children to know what it was like to live in peace—up to the time of these accords, there was no peace in the region. Arab hatred of Israel was so great that no communication, no business transaction, no passport would be recognized in Arab countries if there was any mention of Israel. Menachim Begin’s desire for peace was so great that he agreed to the unthinkable: he returned the spoils of war—the Negev Desert region—to Egypt as part of the peace negotiations.
During that era, to help my husband at the time, I hosted parties and cultural exchanges for Israelis and Egyptians who had come to our city for airline training to automate their operations at home. Over the course of six weeks, we entertained three groups of men and women who were never allowed to be human with each other for as long as Israel and Egypt were at war.
The first group that came was very hesitant—its not that easy to be social if you have never been allowed to be friends, to acknowledge your common humanity. Over the course of six weeks, the groups became like family. Our first group went home with symbols, photos, memories. The second group, hearing of the friendly nature of our gatherings brought gifts and songs and stories to exchange with their new friends. And so it went until it was time for us to go to Israel and Egypt for the start of their new systems.
When I traveled to Israel and to Egypt, I visited with these lovely folks again. This was a period of hope, a time for people to believe that everyone could prosper, all could get along.
Perhaps Ada Aharoni, who was born in Cairo, tasted the sweetness of that time of reconciliation:
My Palestinian sister, daughter of Abraham,
I do not want to be your oppressor
You do not want to be my oppressor,
Or your jailer
Or my jailer,
We do not want to make each other afraid
Under our vines
Sadly, this movement toward reconciliation—toward a fair and just resolution of the questions surrounding the rights of the Palestinians to sovereignty—ground to a halt as governments around the world rigidly began to embrace war as the only valid response to terrorism.
But is war the only valid response to terrorism?
Listen to the words of Menachim Begin, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, as he spoke from the experience of being a zealous terrorist against the British—as well as from the experience of being a grandfather who wanted more than anything to create a lasting peace for his family:
"Free women and men everywhere must wage an incessant campaign so that these human values become a generally recognized and practised reality. We must regretfully admit that in various parts of the world this is not yet the case. Without those values and human rights the real peace of which we dream is jeopardized."
Omar Bradley was a great American WWII general who came to understand that perpetual war was not in our nation’s or our world’s best interest. We would do well to consider his words today:
“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”
Even Moshe Dayan, the great general who led Israelis in tanks and taxi cabs to rout the Egyptians out—he came to understand that other diplomacy and strategic partnerships s might be needed to create lasting peace: “If you want to
make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”—Moshe Dayan
I do not pretend to have the credentials to lead the U.S. diplomatic mission to restore peace between Israel and the homeless Palestinians.
But, I do know that all of the great religious leaders—from Pope John Paul the Sixth to the Dalai Lama—all of these leaders have recognized that lasting peace will be but a dream—unless we work for justice.
As we pray for peace in the Middle East—peace for our world, I pray that leaders around the world and in our own country will return to powerful acts of diplomacy to help the Israelis and the Palestinians to build a sturdy bridge that leads away from death and destruction and toward peace and prosperity. I pray that Palestinians and Israelis everywhere will heed Ada Aharoni’s call:
So, my Palestinian sister,
Let us build a bridge of
Where each shall sit with her baby
Under her vine and under her fig tree—
And none shall make them afraid
AND NONE SHALL MAKE THEM AFRAID.
So may it be.
Based on the reading, My Palestinian Sister by Ada Aharoni
Ada Aharoni is an Israeli poet, writer and professor. Ada was born in Cairo, lives in Haifa, and is President of IFLAC: PAVE PEACE, the International Forum for Literature and Culture of Peace. She writes in Hebrew and English, and her works have been translated into Arabic.