Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Peace House and Peace

Update and Disclaimer: I wrote the following essay before learning that there are a number of youth in Chevron who are instigating violence. I want to be clear: I do not condone violence against innocents. I do not condone spray-painting cemeteries. If the media is being honest (which is quite a דן לכף זכות), then I reject the actions of the few who purposely attack to satisfy their own desire for "action". Of course, the media has a track record of mis-reporting to make it look as though settlers attack innocent Arabs, when in reality the Arabs attack first, and the Jewish response is taken out of its proper context. Again, if the media is honest, then I reject the attacks on innocents.

However, I have been assured by many who are in the know that these youth are in the small minority. Most Jews who made their way to Chevron are using their time there learning Torah, and trying to use their bodies as tools to prevent the gross injustice of evacuating a legally owned home. It is in their support that I wrote the following lines. I support the non-violent resistance to injustice that was so successful in the United States civil rights movement, and hope that this model carries the day. Ultimately, I am not sure we should be willing to pay the price of civil war, even if it is instigated by the other side.

I have been reflecting upon the drama in Chevron that, as I write these lines, unfolds under a blanket conspiracy of silence from the traditional media in Israel and abroad. Young and old, loyal Jews have packed into the house that was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, purchased by a Jew from an Arab. For obviously political and ideological reasons, the Supreme Court of Israel willfully ignored video footage recording the sale, and ordered the residents of the building out.

While rockets smash into fields, streets and homes of southern and not-so-southern Israel (testimony to the wisdom and foresight of previous governmental withdrawls), those in power are intent to show a band of "settlers" that they have been singled out for abuse and injustice, in a way that would raise the ire of the EU and UN, if only applied to the Arabs. A blinder, more obtuse heavy-handedness and simple hatred is hard to imagine.

I was in a cab in Jerusalem recently, and the driver stated passionately that, "the Supreme Court has ruled, and this is a country of laws. They must obey the law..."

How short-sighted an opinion. How dangerous to justice, morality and the fiber of our national position. For it is a moral duty to oppose injustice, and justice requires the opposition of immoral laws. At times, obedience is a vice. It becomes so when, in its service, we abdicate our moral responsibility to oppose evil and injustice. In the words of Albert Einstein, we must "never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it."

It is a moral duty to oppose the law of the land when that law attempts to remove a rightful owner from his property. However, many argue that there is danger in tipping the status quo in Chevron. The situation there is volatile, and peace must be preserved at all costs.

In response to this are three points. First, the court's decision in no way made the argument that civil unrest was being fomented by Jews residing in the Peace House. Their argument was that, blind to all evidence to the contrary, the building's ownership was questionable, and as such, must be evacuated until the legal owner is ascertained.

However, on a practical level, the interest of civil peace is ill served by this eviction notice. Over the past few days, Arab rioters have continually rained cinderblocks upon Jewish passers-by, with the army and police force arresting not one of these attempted murderers. In fact, a Jewish teen-ager is presently in the hospital with his head smashed in by a cinderblock, fighting desperately for his life. The Arab violence is the practical and immediate result of Jewish demonstrations of weakness. Furthermore, the damage done to the fabric of Israeli society, when the police and army are used for political purposes against citizenry can be seen in the damage from the infamous Amona pogrom. The peace of Israel is seriously damaged by these shows of executive and judicial force.

Finally, a philosophical study of the nature of peace demonstrates that opposing this immoral law is anything but a danger to peace. In Bamidbar, when Pinchas kills the prince of Shimon and the Midianite woman he sins with, he is given "בריתי שלום", the covanent of peace, by God. How can his actions vest him with the blessings of peace, when he fomented infighting and anger amongst the people? The answer given by our sages is that, "true peace is the following of justice, the setting right of wrongs in this world, as God's law desires it. Peace is not the absence of violence, but the reign of morality and of truth." And so, fighting for truth and justice is a search for peace, not a step away from it.

The American consciousness, suffused with the lofty oratory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement's call to fight injustice, will understand implicitly the importance of fighting unjust laws. To the policemen and soldiers of Israel, I quote Thoreau, who bade: "If... the machine of government... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law." The Rambam states it centuries earlier: "If a king decrees against the moral word of the Torah, he is not to be obeyed." Stand up for what is right, and you will have a clean conscience. Stand up for right, and you will have peace of mind.

Sometimes, the path to peace is broken and unpaved. Those who choose to reach that goal may have hard times ahead, but they can take comfort in the fact that they have not sold their consciences. To our brave brothers and sisters in Chevron today, I send my sincere thanks and prayers. May God grant you success.