Monday, January 3, 2005

The Invisible Fifth Border

"As I look out the window on one side I see the mountains over Jordan.  I turn my head and I see the mountains at the southern tip of Israel, lurching into the Egyptian crossing at Taba.  Throughout this trip we have seen four foreign borders:  Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon."  So writes my good friend Clifford Kulwin, rabbi of the congregation where I served alongside my father for nearly a decade in the 1960s.  He and forty four of my fellow members visited Israel over the past two weeks and these comments were embedded in an email report about the trip.  What struck me was that even at this late date the idea of a fifth border, that of Palestine, did not play into the thinking of one whom I know is a strong advocate of peace between Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land. 

The news from the Middle East has been grim in these last years no more so than from Israel and the occupied territories.  The Intifada that broke out after the failure of the last peace efforts under Bill Clinton's sponsorship, and which has continued almost unabated since, has seen hundreds of lives lost, many innocents on both sides.  In the intervening time, there has been little hope for a solution which stands in such stark contrast with the day when Rabin and Arafat gingerly shook hands on the White House lawn.  But there does now seem to be some glimmer of light ahead of us.  Sharon's decision to start the withdrawal process from Gaza and the pending elections for new Palestinian leadership suggests at least the possibility.

But progress is also going to take new thinking and more aggressive, albeit sometimes cosmetic, supportive communications to accompany it.  The power of words should never be underestimated.  How we describe something effects not only how we think about it, but in the long run can impact on the outcome.  It seems to me that we must begin thinking about and articulating that fifth border.  We have to cede sovereignty even if it does not yet exist.  It isn't enough to have George Bush talk about the future State of Palestine, we have to think and say it as well.  To be sure words alone will not do it, and the settlers in Gaza and on the West Bank will continue to resist the idea.  But if we don't do our part to change the conversation, to verbally insist on a new reality, then the process will be all the harder.  At this point the forces for change need our support.  Hopefully Cliff Kulwin's next email report on a visit to Israel will naturally include the phrase, "we have seen five foreign borders."

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