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A Tilted Tree of Life

By Alan H. Stein
President, PRIMER-Connecticut
Published in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger December 2, 2005

First Congregational Church of Old Lyme
About two hundred people came to the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme November 13 for "Tree of Life: A Conference on Israel and Palestine."

The stated aim was to "listen to both Israelis and Palestinians who have exemplified themselves as Voices of Conscience, and in doing so we hope to provide an introduction on the issues pertaining to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, identify the impediments to peace, and at the same time amplify the voices of those individuals and organizations that are working toward a just resolution."

A stated hope was to clarify the potential role of religious communities and how they "might more effectively work together toward a just and peaceful resolution."

The ultimate value of the conference was perhaps best described by Professor Mark Rosenblum, Founder of Peace Now and a frequent critic of the government of Israel, when he noted that if Israel and Palestinians came together and agreed it's all Israel's fault, that's not "conflict resolution."

Except for the refreshing dose of reality brought to the program by Rosenblum and Dr. Daniel Bendor, a member of the Interfaith Peace Community of the First Congressional Church and past president of Congregation Beth El in New London, who each offered balanced criticisms of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, the conference did consist of bringing together Palestinian Arabs and Israelis, along with American Christians and Muslims, unanimously agreeing it's all Israel's fault.

One of the presenters, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, was so outlandish in her one-sided criticisms of Israel she felt compelled to state, contrary to all empirical evidence, she wasn't an Israel-basher. She went so far as to repeatedly insist the security fence, which she insisted on incorrectly referring to as a "wall," was political rather than security related, as allegedly proven by her insistence, contrary to all the facts, that it hadn't saved any lives. Between 2003 and 2004, the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists declined by roughly half. This decline did not come from lack of effort. There were actually more attempted attacks in 2004 than in 2003. The decline came because the fence made it more difficult for terrorists to succeed.

Mazin Qumsiyeh selling some of his anti-Israel literature in the Fellowship Room.
One could easily have left the conference falsely believing the core of the problem was the so-called "occupation," despite the fact that it was the Arabs who brought about nearly six decades (so far) of conflict by rejecting the generous United Nations Partition Plan that would have given them more than they claim to want now, that the Arabs could have unilaterally set up a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza during the nineteen years they controlled those areas, that the Palestinian Liberation Organization was set up in 1964, years before there was any "occupation" and that there is a moral equivalence between Arab terrorists killing innocent Israeli civilians and purely defensive albeit not always successful actions of the Israeli government to combat that terrorism.

One refrain heard repeatedly was the need for justice. Imam Mahmoud Mansour went so far as to insist that no agreement that was not based on justice would last. Justice, however, seemed to be code for a peace based not on good faith negotiations and compromise, but on Israeli capitulation to all Arab demands, including the so-called "right-of-return" calling for the massive immigration into Israel of millions of hostile Palestinian Arabs.

Mansour also referred to "the so-called state of Israel," giving some indication of his perspective.

There are some aspects of true justice that clearly never crossed the minds of Monsour and the other "voices of conscience."

For example, when the United Nations proposes a re-division of the remainder of Palestine, of the portion left over after approximately 78 percent was severed, renamed Transjordan and given to the Arabs, but one side rejects the proposal and initiates hostilities that have thus far led to nearly six decades of war and tens of thousands of deaths, simple justice demands that side not be rewarded.

When the Israeli offer to withdraw from the territories captured in 1967 in exchange for peace is met with the infamous three no's by the Arab League in Khartoum, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiation with Israel, simple justice demands that rejectionism not be rewarded.

When the Palestinian Arabs are offered almost all of the disputed territories in 2000, but respond by not only rejecting the offer without even making a counteroffer but launching a brutal terrorist war costing thousands of additional lives, simple justice demands that they pay a price.

Rami Elhanan, a member of the Parent's Circle of bereaved families (his daughter was murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists in a bus bombing), was highly critical of his own country but pointed out that sometimes one could have justice but it would be stupid.

In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the disagreements regarding what constitutes justice are unbridgeable, making calls for justice simply another way of prolonging the conflict and creating even more injustice.

While Elhanan said that we need peace now and "justice will come later," we really need peace now with the more modest but attainable goal of minimizing injustice.
Elias Chacour delivering the keynote speech at the Tree of Life Conference.

Dr. Rosenblum cautioned that ending the conflict was "not as simple as building a civil society." It's certainly not as simple as blaming Israel for everything; indeed, blaming Israel may be emotionally satisfying to some but is counterproductive to any real peace efforts.

Ending the conflict will require compromises by all sides (remember, the "Israeli-Palestinian" conflict is just part of the broader Arab-Muslim-Israeli conflict), not just by Israel. It will require good will by all parties. Most of all, it will involve reconciliation of the Arab nations of the Middle East with the existence of democratic, pluralistic Israel.

Prior to the conference, David Good, senior minister at the First Congregational Church, rejected requests that the conference be more balanced, saying the attempt was "to amplify the voices of conscience." While the conference was not totally devoid of "voices of conscience," the loudest voices seemed to be those of hatred and rejection.

The conference was billed "Tree of Life." Next time, I hope it lives up to its billing. A little balance might even help.

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