In June 2014, three Israeli teenagers were abducted by Palestinian terrorists, who picked them up at a bus-stop and shot them dead almost instantly. An improvised synagogue, a tent really, was erected near the location where their bodies were found. A few days ago, that synagogue was defaced and its prayer books were piled and torched, burnt to ashes. Nineteenth-century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, famously wrote once: "Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.". It all starts with the books.
I recently enjoyed the warm southern hospitality of Charleston SC, after being invited to speak at the Addlestone Hebrew Academy on the topic of Israel, an event put together by local Jewish Congregation Dor Tikvah and the Ida Fisher Memorial Fund for Israel Education and Action. Israel is a hot topic issue year-round, but it seems to be even more so these days, as the Middle East is changing dramatically and is a source of much concern and frustration around the world. At StandWithUs we believe education and dialogue are the only path for peace. Hence, I found it befitting that my talk took place at a school. Education is key to enrich public discourse on the issues at hand, whether it is an internal issue of a local nature or a matter of great international delicacy and complexity such as the Middle East and Israel. Knowledge empowers us to make wiser decisions and makes it easier to engage with one another in a constructive manner, as we realize that life is not about black or white, but rather so many shades of gray. Education makes us better people and better citizens. The vitality of this principle could never be more evident today. On the morning after our event, three young Palestinians chose the path of terror, killing a young Israeli policewoman in Jerusalem. The following day, two 13-year old girls (!) on their way back from school attacked a security guard at a shopping mall with knives, luckily only injuring him this time. Hamas, the terrorist organization ruling Gaza, announced a "graduation ceremony" of yet another "Children Terror Camp", ready to shoot and kill. These are but small examples of a recent sad list of violence and its breeding, which in the last 4 months alone claimed the lives of over 30 innocent Israelis, many a time by Palestinian minors. What went wrong, we must ask ourselves. Israel is not perfect. No country is. But in addition to the "usual" issues societies deal with, Israel is faced with an almost impossible reality: a state and people whose enemies not only work tirelessly to terrorize, kill and maim within the geographical boundaries of Israel, but the only one whose basic legitimacy is challenged internationally, as a matter for public debate. It is a bastion of freedom, spearheading western values in the face of those who abhor them and will do all that they can to bring about their destruction. A lonely democracy in a sea of hostilities, where generations upon generations of children grow up to hate Israel, not seeking a better life for themselves, but rather for various ways to die.
The Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians were auspiciously signed in 1993, over 20 years ago, without prior international pressure and at the initiative of both parties. The dream was to bring about a utopic peace, almost biblical in its proportions, or so it was seen by so many of us. Many important issues were - and still are - on the table: final borders, Jerusalem, water, regional cooperation, security etc. The same issues come up today, whether in diplomatic circles, the UN or the general media, all of whom choose to focus on the same list, and especially on the issue of "settlements" (whatever that term means), as if it is the only or main obstacle to peace. However, like the elephant in the room whose existence is continuously ignored, the one topic we rarely hear about is education: education for peace and tolerance, education for love of the other, education for cooperation, education for life. Indeed it is the settlement of peace in people's hearts which should be the issue and the focus of all, from governments to NGOs to international media. So far, we have lost more than 20 years of such education, one which might have been able to avert the recent attacks and many more. These Palestinian minors, many of whom born after the signing of the Oslo Accords, could have been - and should have been - offered a better future. A different future. Education takes time. A change will not happen in one politician's term, maybe not even in two, and that coveted Nobel Peace Prize will simply have to wait. I realize that in our fast paced age of the here and now, it is difficult for us to accept it. However, for the sake of our children - or maybe even grand grandchildren - we must humbly embrace our humanity and its limitations and get to work on what really matters. Like Moses who redeemed the People of Israel, and never entered the Promised Land, so should we realize our mission, knowing we might never see the fruits of our labor in our lifetime. It is already too late. This is the only way to guarantee that our children might have a better future, surely better than our present, and that is worth everything.