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The Message of the Peace Camp
Last uploaded : Wednesday 8th May 2002 at 23:17
Contributed by : Rabbi Dr John D Rayner CBE


Rabbi John Rayner was suggested as a possible speaker at the Israel Solidarity Rally. He wrote to us:
Dear Carol,

I appreciate your approval and have no objection to the paper being posted on your website. I did not go to the rally because BFPN [British Friends of Peace Now] decided not to go......

Best wishes,


The Message of the Peace Camp
John D. Rayner

Ladies and Gentlemen: I have come here to express a minority view. But minorities are sometimes right. In relation to humanity, we Jews have been a minority all through history. Besides, it is not the view of a small minority. It is shared by many tens of thousands of Jewish people both in Israel and the Diaspora. It is, broadly, the view of the Israeli Peace Camp, which comprises many organisations, including Shalom Achshav, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, and many more. I am especially proud that in Rabbis for Human Rights over a hundred rabbis - Orthodox, Conservative and Progressive - work together.

It is not, Heaven forbid, an anti-Zionist or an anti-Israel view. On the contrary, some of us think that it is the most Zionist and the most pro-Israel of all views. But there have always been two kinds of Zionism. One is what used to be called Revisionism. It is the ideology of Vladimir Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin. It is a dogmatic ideology, which puts nationalism above morality and considers all means, especially military means, justified to achieve its ends. It wants Eretz Yisrael Sh?lemah, ŒGreater Israel?, and is opposed to territorial compromise. I have never been drawn to that kind of Zionism; indeed, I have always found it repugnant.

But there is another Zionism: what used to be, and will perhaps again become, mainstream Zionism. It is the Zionism of Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann. It too would like the modern Jewish State to extend over as much as possible of ancient Israel. But it is pragmatic and therefore prepared, if necessary, to settle for less than the whole of the land.

And why should that be necessary? For reasons both moral and political. For two peoples, not one, have a rightful claim to the land. Therefore justice requires that they should share it. That is the bottom line of the conflict. It was recognised by the United Nations when it passed the Partition Resolution in November 1947. I was an undergraduate in Cambridge at the time, and remember how we rejoiced when the news was announced. On the basis of that principle the State of Israel was established. It has been periodically reaffirmed by the UN, and endorsed by the State of Israel. It remains the only basis for a just solution of the conflict. And it is also the only realistic solution. To deny it, and to try to prevent it, is a recipe for disaster.

It was of course the basis of the Oslo peace process, nobly promoted by Yitzhak Rabin, for which he was assassinated. The process was carried on by Shim?on Peres, all but destroyed by Binyamin Netanyahu, and bravely resumed by Ehud Barak. Then, two years ago, it broke down. Ever since, the Israeli Government and its supporters have put all the blame for the failure on Yasser Arafat. According to them, it proved that he had never been serious about the peace process in the first place, and everything that has happened since, it is alleged, proves that the Palestinians only want to destroy the State of Israel. Not only that, but in this they are supported by the entire Arab and Muslim world, as well as by all the latent anti-Semitic forces in the rest of the world, now crawling out of the woodwork, as evidenced by the bias of the media, the political lurch to the right in France, and the increase in attacks on synagogues, even here in Britain.

In short, Israel is surrounded by enemies on all sides. Its very existence is under threat, and it is fighting for its survival. That, in a nutshell, is what I will call the Conspiracy Theory, and it is widely believed by the Jewish people.

But remember what God said to the prophet Isaiah: "Do not call conspiracy whatever this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, or be intimidated" (8:12). In that spirit, I have come here to tell you that the Conspiracy Theory is false! Not 100% false, for there is cause for anxiety and certainly for heightened vigilance, but 90% false.

Take, first, the assertion that the world as a whole is against Israel. To say that is to fly in the face of the fact that the United Nations and its Member States have affirmed again and again that Israel has a right to exist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. That represents the considered opinion of the overwhelming majority of civilised humanity, and to deny it is to behave like those who, in Abba Eban?s phrase, refuse to take yes for an answer.

But what about the Arab nations? Surely they are bent on Israel?s destruction! Indeed, there are such tendencies among them, and they are a cause for grave concern. Nevertheless, it was only a few weeks ago that the leaders of all the 19 Arab nations, assembled in Beirut, unanimously endorsed a peace plan proposed by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, under which Israel would withdraw to its 1967 borders, a Palestinian State would be created alongside it, and the Arab nations would establish normal relations with Israel.

Whatever adjustments the plan may require, the mere fact that it has been endorsed by the entire Arab world is a major breakthrough. Precisely at this juncture to assert that the Arab world is solidly against Israel is perverse.

But what about the Palestinians? Surely they are solidly against Israel, as proved by Arafat?s rejection of Barak?s allegedly generous peace offer, by the terrorist activities of extremist Palestinian groups, and by the widespread support there seems to be for these groups among the Palestinian people as a whole. Wait a minute, though, and listen to three contrary considerations.

In the first place, the most important point about the Oslo process is not that it failed but that it nearly succeeded. It was, after all, the first time in the entire history of the conflict that Œfinal status? talks had been held at all, and it was perhaps too much to expect that it would succeed at the first attempt. And yet at Taba, less than two years ago, the two sides were very close to a final agreement. What then went wrong is still being debated, but whatever the truth about that may be, to conclude only two years after such a near-success that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is impossible, is, once again, perverse..

Secondly, the Palestinian terrorism of recent times has not been without cause. Of course the methods it has employed, especially the suicide attacks on innocent civilians, are horrific beyond words and totally to be condemned, and we in the Peace Camp are no less appalled by them and no less sorry for their victims than anybody else. Therefore, in so far as the purpose of this Rally is to send a message of sympathy to the families of the victims, we endorse it 100%.

Nevertheless the terrorism has not been uncaused. Terrorism never is. It is caused by anger. And the Palestinians? anger, in turn, has been caused in large part by the policies of successive Israeli governments and in particular by their relentless building of more and more settlements in the occupied territories. Even under Barak, that process went full-steam ahead, in defiance of world opinion and in flagrant violation of the Oslo spirit. And it has continued under Sharon. 34 new settlements have been established since he came to power. More land has been seized, more houses have been bulldozed, more olive groves have been destroyed, more bypass roads driven through the territories, more travel restrictions placed on Palestinians, and their economy ruined. Of course all that has caused bitter anger. How could it not? And would the Israelis have been any less angry if the roles had been reversed? Of course not!

I wish indeed that the Palestinians? understandable anger had expressed itself in non-violent ways, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, as has often been urged by the Peace Camp. But unfortunately frustrated nationalism does tend to express itself in terrorism, as those of us who remember the activities of the Irgun Tzva?i Le?umi and the Stern Gang in the 1940s know all too well.

Although it is due to an understandable anger, Palestinian terrorism is nevertheless to be deplored and condemned, and any Israeli government, of whatever party, is bound to take all necessary action to protect its citizens against it. But there are two important qualifications to be made. First, it is not to be inferred from the terrorism, or even from the popular support it enjoys, that therefore the Palestinian people as a whole are out to destroy the State of Israel. Of course many of the extremists would like nothing better than to see the State of Israel disappear from the map, just as many Israelis are determined to prevent a Palestinian State from ever appearing on the map. Nevertheless the Intifada is directed primarily against the Israeli occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land, not against the existence of Israel as such.

There is ample evidence that the Palestinian people as a whole are willing, given the right circumstances, to make peace with Israel on the basis of the two-state solution. As recently as February this year a Palestinian opinion poll showed that 73% of Palestinians still favoured a return to peace negotiations. And Israeli opinion polls have produced similar results. In short, the majority of both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, want peace and are prepared to make concessions for it.

Therefore peace is not impossible. But of course it can only be achieved by political, not by military means. And the trouble with Sharon?s Government is that it is relying on military means alone. It seems to have no political plan. Furthermore, there is reason to fear that the purpose of the present military operation is not only to put a stop to the terrorism. If that had been Sharon?s intention, he would have given the Palestinian masses hope of achieving their national freedom in the near future, and he would have strengthened, not humiliated and all but destroyed, the Palestinian Authority and its security forces, which alone could have contained the terrorism.

The fear is that, even while waging a war against terrorism - which we all endorse ? Mr Sharon is at the same time pursuing his ŒGreater Israel? ambition. Just as in 1982 he tried to destroy the PLO in Lebanon, in order not to make peace with it, because that would have involved territorial compromise, so now he is trying to destroy the Palestinian Authority for the same reason. If that is the plan, it must not be allowed to succeed, for it can only lead to total disaster.

Peace is still possible, but only if both sides return from their present hatred, anger, fanaticism, confrontation and violence, to the path of reason, moderation, compromise and reconciliation. That is the view of the Peace Camp. It is a Jewish view. It is a Zionist view. It is a realistic view. And it is the only view that holds out any hope for the future. Long ago Moses said to our ancestors in God?s name: "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live" (Deut. 30:19). A similar choice faces our people today. The choice is between two scenarios: either Fortress Israel defying the whole world until Doomsday, or a predominantly Jewish but democratic Middle Eastern state living within internationally recognised borders and accepted by its neighbours.

I hope and pray that, among all the strident noises made by this rally, this sane, sensible, realistic and hopeful message of the Peace Camp will also be conveyed to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael.

Speech drafted for:
Anglo-Jewish Solidarity Rally, Trafalgar Square, 6 May 2002

Jewish Comment is grateful to British Friends of Peace Now for bringing this article to our attention.


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