From this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Beshallach:
And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon dry ground, and the waters formed a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:22)
I’ve always been struck by the dramatic, almost fearful description of the parting of the waters. It’s often seemed to me that the Israelites’ song is as much a song of terror as much as it is a song of joy and liberation. It’s an apt image, I think: the Israelites head toward their liberation with two fragile walls of water on their left and their right, threatening to obliterate them at any moment as they pass between.
Finding your way to liberation and peace is indeed a terrifying business. It means wading into powerful waters that rise before you while simultaneously threatening to submerge you on either side. I’m sure there are many who would simply prefer to stay turn back at various points along the way – or not to wade in at all. In so many ways, this story is about facing the terror of the narrow path through the waters, but finding the wherewithal to move forward nevertheless because the alternative (i.e., remaining in place or turning back) is even more terrifying to contemplate.
This past week, as my Meretz-Brit Tzedek V’Shalom Symposium visited with Israeli and Palestinian activists, leaders, politicians, and ordinary citizens, so devoted the cause of peace, I have been mindful of how fragile and discouraging this work so often feels. Indeed, I know how tempting it can be to surrender to this discouragement, to give in to the the fatigue: “We’ve tried and failed” “It’s too late.” “Peace between Jews and Palestinians can never truly happen.”
It is clear to me that for most Israelis and Palestinians, this fearful voice comes from a collective sense of ongoing trauma. During the week of our visit, hundreds of Kassam rockets rained down daily on and around the Israeli town Sderot -and Israel responded with deadly military incursions in Gaza. I spoke with Israeli friends who told me with great emotion that life in Sderot and the surrounding area is absolutely unbearable. As I traveled through Ramallah, I saw Palestinian flags flying at half mast for the Gaza dead.
As the cycle of violence continued however, we met and spoke with inspired individuals who worked tirelessly for peace for their respective peoples. Yes. we were told repeatedly by many experts that moderates on both sides are simply growing tired and less sure that peace will ever be possible. But we know first-hand that there are also many who defy the fear and press on for peace in Israel/Palestine, knowing that discouragement is simply a luxury they cannot afford.
Of course I realize that walking the path of peace will require complex and often painful decisions, but after my experiences of this week, I am even more convinced of this: two states for two peoples is simply the only way out, and we must support the efforts of those working toward this end with everything we have. Accepting an untenable status quo, or going back the way we came are simply not options. The way through the waters is not easy or comfortable, but as ever, there is still only one way forward.
Shalom/Salaam from Jerusalem…