“The state will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter.”
So went the famous statement attributed to Chaim Weizmann in 1947, not long after the UN’s decision to partition Palestine. While historians debate as to whether this quote was actual or merely apocryphal, it attests to the profound sense of foreboding in the days leading up to the 1948 War – and to the realization that Jewish independence would almost certainly entail grave sacrifice.
No silver platter, indeed. Now, after 60 years of sacrifice more painful than we ever could have ever imagined, we find ourselves back where we began: witnessing an international effort to partition the land into Jewish and Palestinian states. We might well ask ourselves, what was it all for? As Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day – approaches, we would do well to ask ourselves: were the deaths of the fallen in vain? And if not, then how might we honor their terrible sacrifice?
There can be no doubt that the stakes of the current “partition effort” are unbearably high. If Israel does not find the wherewithal to forge a two-state solution with the Palestinians, the tragic sacrifices of the past 60 years can only give way to one of two scenarios: the end of Israel as a Jewish state or a Jewish apartheid state living in perpetual conflict with a majority Palestinian population. Do any of us really believe that either scenario would honor the sacrifice of those who died defending the dream of Jewish independence?
No, the state was not given to Israel on a silver platter. But on this Yom Hazikaron, it is time to ask, how much sacrifice will be enough? How much tragedy must the peoples of Israel and Palestine endure before they realize that their mutual futures depend on their living together and not dying together?
This point was never made more eloquently than by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a 1993 speech that now resonates with tragic poignancy:
Let me say to you, the Palestinians: we are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians.
We say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you: Enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say: Farewell to the arms.
In the end, there is only one way we can honor the memory of the fallen: by redoubling our resolve to pursue peace.
(This piece is part of the new collection “Pointing the Way to Peace and Security: A Resource for Rabbis and Cantors on Israel’s 60th Birthday,” published the Rabbinic Cabinet of Brit Tzedek V’shalom). Click on the link for the entire pdf).