By Avi Benlolo
(May 5, 2017) – The Jewish people long for peace. Yet, it has been elusive since Israel’s independence in 1948, when the Arab nations rejected the UN partition plan and went to war against the newly established Jewish state. Still, the Jewish people longed for a peaceful resolution with its neighbours and then later with the Palestinian people. In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty which has endured to this day for the benefit of both peoples. This was followed by the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 and then a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994.
These peace agreements and talk of others to come heralded a new era of hope and prosperity for all people in the region. Israelis, supported by Jewish communities worldwide, have always been optimistic about establishing an enduring peace with the Palestinians and with Israel’s neighbours. Even while hope and optimism is a Jewish virtue, the campaign delegitimizes Israel and the Jewish right to the land makes our search for peace challenging, but never impossible.
As we concluded Yom Hazikaron and lifted our heads to proudly celebrate the modern State of Israel’s 69th anniversary with flag raising events across the country and independence day parties, we did so under a dark shadow. It could not have been coincidental that three developments this week impacted the celebrations, but certainly failed to dampen them.
The first was a UNESCO resolution sponsored by an Arab group of nations including none other than Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. Aimed at Israel, even while admitting the “importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” the resolution denies and nullifies legal, historical and political connection between the Jewish people and Israel with their holiest place.
Most disconcerting is the resolution’s assertion that Israel’s “basic law” which states that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” is deemed “null and void.” In other words, UNESCO claims that Israel and in effect, the Jewish people, have no claim to their holiest of holy place. To add insult to injury, the resolution throws in condemnation of Israel for its effort to protect itself against terrorism from Gaza and surrounding areas. Is this effort to delegitimize Israel and the Jewish faith productive for peace?
The second Palestinian inspired event this week on Israel’s 69th anniversary was the release of The Islamic Resistance Movement or Hamas’s new “Document of General Principles and Policies.” While the secular media claimed this to be a warmer, if not friendlier mandate from the internationally recognized terror organization, a light read of its principles profess otherwise. Hamas states, that the “resistance” shall continue “until the return is fulfilled and until a fully sovereign state is established with Jerusalem as its capital.” It further refers to Israel as a “racist, anti-human and colonial Zionist project” even while claiming that it would now agree to a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines – but “without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity.” Is this language and pledge to destroy Israel conducive to peace making?
And finally, the third development this week was a meeting at the White House between President Donald Trump and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. President Trump promised to try and facilitate a peace agreement but not impose one. He also implored on Abbas to stop paying blood money to Palestinian terrorists and their families who murder or injure Israelis. Speaking in Arabic at the press conference, for his part, Abbas called on Israel to “end the occupation” while failing to state that he turned down peace offers from consecutive Israeli prime ministers, including Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008. Is he ready to make peace with Israel? I hope so.
As Israel heads into its 70th year since its founding in 1948, it is stronger than ever. Israelis are resolute, patriotic and celebrate Zionism with great pride and achievement. The country is strong economically, culturally, scientifically and militaristically – in an effort to protect and defend when necessary. Still, we search for peace and a shared capacity to exist in friendship and harmony. Our spirit of hope cannot be diminished by these challenges – in an era when hate must be illuminated by hope.
Avi Benlolo is a prominent Canadian human rights activist and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies.