Israel Day Parade 2010 – Standing in the Middle

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Growing up in Maryland, I didn’t know what the Salute to Israel Parade was all about. I had NY friends who would rave about how big a deal it was, but it wasn’t until I came to New York for college that I marched for the first time with Bnei Akiva. And it is truly remarkable to see hundreds of thousands of people coming together in Manhattan to celebrate and support the State of Israel.

Ask anyone what part of the parade route stands out the most, and they’ll likely mention the corner of 59th and 5th where two large groups of people are gathered with signs on opposite sides of the street. Palestinian and Neturei Karta protesters are on the West side of the street, and (mostly Right-Wing) Pro-Israel protesters are on the East Side. People are yelling and screaming, and the emotions are running high. It is an ugly scar on this day of celebration, and a stark reminder of how far we still have to go as a community.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I am in favor of a two-state solution, and would not oppose a Palestinian Capitol in Eastern Jerusalem. I think this is the right thing to do for moral, legal, pragmatic, and religious reasons. I know these views do not make me very popular, and I am often in the minority among my fellow Zionists and Orthodox Jews.

It’s not easy to think about asking (forcing) people to leave their homes. It was a horrible process for the 8,000 Israelis who left Gaza in 2005, and it will be a horrible and painful process for those living in areas of the West Bank which will hopefully be part of a future Palestinian state.

We have been jaded by the years of violence to believe that Palestinians are the enemy that has no desire for peace, and that the Israeli government/military is the infallible  and sole agent of good in the Middle East. We need to break ourselves from these false conceptions, and realize that this is a complicated situation that requires a nuanced and difficult response.

A recent article in the New York Book Review by Peter Beinart highlighted the problem that many young American Jews don’t feel connected to Israel or Zionism because of the attitude that Israel must be never be criticized, and that Palestinians are “violent and hateful.” As long as our community promotes these ideas, we will never have peace, and we will collectively lose our connected to the State of Israel.

There are Palestinians who will be partners in peace, and there is hope for a better future. We need to have faith that a better collective experience is out there if we are willing to find it. The process will not be simple, and a fledgling Palestinian State will not be without its shortcomings. We will need patience and resilience, but that is the only real option we have.

So when I arrive at the corner of 5th and 59th this afternoon, I will truly feel as if I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I can’t relate to the Neturei Karta who deny the validity of Israel, and I can’t relate to the Right-Wing Zionists who refuse to trade land for peace – they are simply opposite sides of the same extremist coin. I am a Religious Zionist who believes in both the importance of a Jewish State in the land of Israel, and the need for a sovereign Palestinian nation in the West Bank and Gaza.

As the rain falls during today’s Salute to Israel Parade, we should realize that the more ominous clouds are those that blind our judgment and perpetuate strife and discord in the Middle East.

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