Wildpeace — A Message from Rabbi Davidson

May 19, 2021

Dear Friends,

Last week, as the latest conflagration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict burst into flame, I shared with you one poem by Yehuda Amichai. Here is another, entitled “Wildpeace”:

Not the peace of a cease-fire
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds –
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)
Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.

Were there simple answers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict diplomats of good conscience would have solved it long ago. The current violence resulting in so much destruction leaves many of us despairing it might never end. As Amichai suggests, what exhausted populations may need now more than the long-term peace of the “heavy rubber stamp” is just “a little rest for the wounds.”

We lament the losses, the terrible anguish on both sides. Sadly, I have heard from some Jews that the deaths of so many more Palestinians than Israelis have caused them to question whether it is time to “abandon their Zionism.” That would be tragic. Zionism, as Israel’s national anthem Hatikvah describes it, is the Jewish people’s two-thousand-year-old hope “to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” Zionism does not foreclose the national aspirations of the Palestinian people to live side by side with Israel in peace. Rather the actions of Israeli and Palestinian leaders have begun to foreclose that hope.

As I wrote recently in the Times of Israel, the Netanyahu government, which thrives in symbiosis with ethnonationalists, has never fully embraced the vision of a viable Palestinian state nor invested itself in the process of compromise necessary to bring one about. And Hamas, which jumped at the threatened eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and clashes between Israelis and Palestinians on the Temple Mount as an opportunity to advance its standing among Palestinians and seek freedom-fighter status in the eyes of the world, wants first and foremost to further its terrorist agenda, as menacing to the prospects of a Palestinian state as it is to the safety of the Jewish one.

Perhaps most upsetting to behold, has been the violence erupting between Israeli citizens of Palestinian and Jewish descent in cities and towns where they have lived peacefully for generations. In many instances, that violence has been incited by extremists on both sides, and now is being exported to communities around the world where synagogues and Jews have been attacked.

The common inclination to blame Israel for the conflict because it is the more powerful combatant, and the misperception that it can therefore end it on its own, continues to fuel global anti-Semitism. And as I wrote in that same article, it is powering an effort by some in Congress to punish Israel with the threat of withheld American aid — aid essential to building the Iron Dome that has shielded Israel from more than three thousand rockets in the last ten days.

Long ago I asked a friend of mine, an Israeli Reform rabbi wounded fighting in the 1982 war with Lebanon, how to describe the conflict to American Jews. “Tell them it’s complicated,” he answered.  Neither side is wholly responsible; neither is wholly innocent. But if Israel today is not the romantic ideal its founders envisioned, neither is America. And in America we regard our failings as challenges to overcome not as excuses to walk away. Judaism would be impoverished, if not eviscerated, without Israel. Our sacred narratives grew in its soil.  The largest Jewish community in the world lives there.

And we pray one day that they may live there in peace — a peace true and lasting — with their neighbors on all sides. But for today, for Israelis and Palestinians alike, I pray only for “a little rest for the wounds…because the field must have it:  wildpeace.”

— Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson