From the latest tremors rippling through the Middle East you get the sense that we are living in historical times, and we are in the midst of a tectonic global shift, that will only be appreciated and recognizable in time.
Is there anything that we can do to precipitate these changes – and help ensure that they are peaceful, with the minimum of tension and uncertainty natural to all upheavals?
After addressing how the recent Middle East uprisings demonstrate the volatility of the region necessitating Israel to be especially vigilant in its negotiations (The World is Not Flat), and then how this crisis reflects the difficult but promising history of reconciling freedom and faith, defining our challenge today to allow these events to bring our world to a better place (The World is Round) – I would like to now, with your permission, address what we can do about the situation, and the leading role Israel can take in this process.
When President Anwar Sadat (Mubarak’s assassinated predecessor) traveled to Jerusalem with his gesture of peace, it was considered a bold and historic move (and indeed, it ended up costing him his life). Never before had an Arab leader, no less one who had just attacked Israel in the Yom Kippur War, reached out and actually came to the holy land with an outstretched arm.
Some considered it a brilliant move – that is for Egypt. After all, in return for a peace treaty Egypt received the entire Sinai and all its resources, plus the billions of dollars in US aid – now accumulating to over 600 billion dollars (you read that right)! Not a bad deal, would you say?
Whether it was equally brilliant for Israel is another story. Without getting into a debate about the issue (especially considering the new situation on the ground in Egypt today), I submit that Israel now has an opportunity to launch a far bolder peace initiative – which can actually transform the entire region.
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Last week’s column discussed the fact that there is nothing fundamentally new about the current difficulties facing Egypt – and the entire Middle East – in trying to establish a free society. This has been the human race’s challenge from the beginning of time: How to establish freedom and respect human rights in a world dominated by power, control and greed.
Indeed, this battle is part of the inherent existential tension between matter and spirit, between a life driven by self-interest or by a higher calling; between survival or transcendence.
We addressed the long difficult history of discovering freedom and balancing it with order. How the solution is not the millennia old model of totalitarian leaders controlling the masses, or religious authority imposing its will one the people. Neither is the answer the other extreme option of secularism without faith (espoused by the thinkers of the Enlightenment). Because, as the founding fathers so clearly understood: Without the absolute, inalienable rights guaranteed to us by our Creator, Who created us all equally, all freedoms will be arbitrary. The challenge is to balance the two – faith and reason.
Yet, finding this balance is a long process, a slow but consistent evolution of emerging individual rights. And the journey is fraught with hardships: The friction between faith and modernity, reconciling religious passions with free inquiry; the struggles to integrate spiritual values in a secular world; and the greatest challenge of all – to bridge heaven and earth and ultimately make our peace with G-d.
Similar to the maturing of a child into an adult, history is the story of an old order (of autocratic rule and denial of human rights) growing and maturing into a new order (of freedom and social justice). Maturity is a long painstaking process, as the old gives way to the new, and a lost world grows up and tries to find its balance, between morality, self interest, corruption, faith, and all other forces unleashed by the dissonance between what we do and who we are.
Every nation, every religion, every community, even every home and family – from the beginning of time till this day – faces and will be faced with the challenge of finding a balance between individual interests and common good, between personal freedoms and G-d. We all will have our day of reckoning – to make our peace with G-d.
And that time of reckoning has now come full force to the Middle East.
Islam today is at a crossroads. Just as Christianity, earlier in history, evolved from oppressive leaders tyrannizing the masses, until it arrived at a place of restoring human dignity (in a country like the USA), Islam too is now faced with the challenge of embracing the core principles of its faith – honoring and celebrating the dignity of every human life – while balancing and integrating it with the forces of modernity and coexistence with others.
With the new emerging Middle East landscape the entire world is entering into a new stage of maturity – to discover balance between the passions of faith and the sobriety of reason, an integration of spiritual values and material success.
Israel’s Historic Role
Here is where Israel can play a crucial leadership role:
Of all the nations throughout history struggling with the balance between the Divine and the mundane, the Jewish people are the first and the oldest. More importantly, in their struggle they have endured the harshest of circumstances – “paid a heavy price” – and are here to tell about it.
As war-seasoned veterans with unparalleled credibility, the Jewish people living in the Biblical Holy Land of Israel, are perfectly positioned to now lead the way in proposing a bold new peace initiative – and the timing couldn’t be better.
Before presenting this radical peace plan, a short introduction is in order.
Many different Middle East peace plans have been attempted and have failed. All those plans were predicated on a flat world mentality: Land for peace, economic agreements, cultural exchanges, sharing technology and resources. What all these plans did not take into account was the religious factor: The Muslim world is saturated with faith and passion. Many in the Muslim worlds disdain the West (including Israel, whom they perceive as part of the West) for its blatant secularism, consumerism and decadent indulgences. This contempt – for good or for bad – has been exploited by some, and has also bred radical Islamism, which calls for jihad – holy war – against the Western infidels, the “Crusaders and the Zionists” (as the Western world is derisively referred to), to the point of literal war.
The Western world’s response has always been a defensive one – either conciliatory efforts, trying to find some common ground, attempting to isolate and weaken radical Islam’s sway, or outright hostility, waging battle against terrorism.
The world may be flat politically, economically and technologically. But spiritually and religiously – the world is round, very round. The Western intellectuals who obstinately hold on to the idea (of the Enlightenment) that faith will succumb to reason are simply living in denial. Let them visit the Muslim world and see what dominates there. Religion should not be confused with radicalism. Faith plays and will always play a major role in society. As such, the diversity – the roundness, so to speak – of world cultures will and should always remain intact, and indeed, enrich the human experience.
Assimilation and dilution of our diverse paths would be a tragedy. G-d created us a diverse people, and we should not attempt to annihilate the uniqueness of different faiths, each should shine with it own distinct light. Yet, at the same, they are all bound to one g-d, with each one recognizing that we are all complementary parts of one grand cosmic composition. Each needed and each needing the other.
We don’t need a flat and square universe. We need a round one – a circle, as it were, which has no top or bottom, no beginning or end – every one is equal, contributing his indispensable strengths, all united by the Divine circle.
In a flat word all that may be needed to create peaceful coexistence is equal rights and economic opportunity. But in a round diverse world – where at work are also powerful forces of religion and passionate voices of faith – humility and commitment to a higher calling is the vital ingredient in achieving global harmony.
This “round” factor – which is driven by faith and passionate religion – has never be addressed in any of the peace talks. Indeed, due to the fears associated with religious issues, diplomats and peacemakers deliberately ignored it, but it always remained the invisible “elephant in the room.”
Since all previous peace efforts have failed, why not try an entirely new approach?
No one has ever attempted a “religious” solution, or better put, a solution that takes into account the religious passions of the Muslim/Arab world.
The New Peace Initiative
The new peace initiative described below solves that issue: Instead of the defensive (and even apologetic) mode of the past, one that smacks of weakness, and certainly does not address the religious issues, Israel should come out with an offensive (the best defense is offense) and declare:
Dear brother and sisters. We are all children of Abraham, “father of all nations.” Our great common ancestor, Abraham, pioneered a path that would integrate material life and G-d, a life in this physical selfish world that would be aligned with G-d’s plan for us all. Just like today, Abraham and his children struggled to find the formula for this exact balance.
In Abraham’s home, and then in his son Isaac’s home, brothers battled over these issues: First Ishmael and Isaac, then Esau and Jacob.
So you see my dear brothers and sisters, we share ancestors who also battled with each other. Ishmael – the father of the Muslim/Arab world. Esau – the father of the Western/Roman/Christian world. Isaac and Jacob – the father of the Jewish world.
We, the Jewish people, received the Torah at Sinai – which formalized G-d’s mandate to the human race, teaching us how to reconcile and fuse our material and spiritual lives.
1300 years later Christianity was born, followed 700 years later by Islam – embracing the core values of Sinai, which were first initiated by Abraham.
From then till now, history is witness to the battles that you and all of us have fought through the ages. Much blood has been shed in the religious wars that have plagued the last two millennia.
But we as Jews – living in the holy land of Israel – can tell you, that though it is a difficult and arduous journey, we have endured. And despite the difficulties, we have learned through hard earned experience that there is a path of shalom – of peace and balance.
But balancing faith, freedom and integration in our material world is a long and extensive process; one that takes time to achieve maturity.
Yes, dear friends, it’s been a long journey.
But now, we have an unprecedented opportunity. As you fight for social justice – and take to the streets of Cairo, Bahrain, Tripoli (and whatever cities will erupt in the coming days and months) – as you emerge and demand your G-d given rights and freedoms, we reach out to you offering any support we can in finding the right balance of freedom and order, faith and modernity.
Second, we extend our hands to you in peace – not artificial peace (based on fear, money or other external and superimposed forces), but a true peace, in which we live together, side by side, as children of Abraham, disciples of Sinai, learning how to find Divine harmony within our diversity.
We reach out to each of you to make true peace – out of strength, not weakness and pressure.
Your faith and values can teach the world many vital things. But we all can learn from Abraham how to temper our faith and allow it to saturate the secular world, not through aggression and destruction, but through inspiration and love.
Because, after all, marrying heaven and earth is a process, one that takes time to mature to find the right balance.
As Jews we have been here, done that. We have seen it all, and stood at the abyss many times. Like no one else, we have suffered the brunt of history’s battles – the wars between religion and paganism, faith and reason, and we have found the balance.
Why Will this Succeed?
Why does this peace initiative have a great chance of success? Because it takes the bull by the horns and addresses the core issues at stake, above all – the Muslim hostility to Jewish control over the Holy Land.
As long as Israel remains in its status quo, and makes feeble attempts at achieving peace with its Arab neighbors – and doing so like a modern Western nation (distrusted by the Muslim world) – Israel will always remain a scar, an open wound on the landscape of Muslim sensibilities and territory; a demoralizing reminder of their shame and fall of the Ottoman Empire and the great Muslim civilization that was meant to emancipate the world. Every time a new Arab/Muslim child will look at the map of the Middle East, he or she will see a vast seamless expanse of Muslim lands, with one black eye – the sliver of Israel – darkening the horizon.
Under such humiliating circumstances, the most you can expect from Israel’s Arab neighbors is a cold and artificial peace (like the 30 years of peace with Egypt). And even that – a peace bought with money or arms. Or one sustained by the deterrence of superior Israeli arms. Is that true peace? Can a peace driven by fear or other external forces be maintained?
But imagine if Israel were to rise to the occasion (not as another modern Western country on the Mediterranean) as the eldest nation in history, and declare for all to hear: We are the children of Abraham and we call on all our brethren to embrace Abraham’s vision of global harmony, all nations united under one G-d. Here is a time-tested path to that takes into account our diversity and differences, and yet allows us to be at peace with each other and with G-d. A proven method that integrates faith and freedom, religious passion and refined empathy – in ways that do not burn another, but warm each other.
Abraham walked through this region close to 4000 years ago. He began his journey in what is presently Southeastern Iraq, traveling northwest, until he arrived, guided by G-d, in the Promised Land.
The time has finally come for Israel – a country that is almost 4000 years old – to fulfill its calling, something that the entire world will respect, and is surely (at least unconsciously) waiting for: To be a light unto nations.
Just like the Bible remains the greatest best-seller of all timed, continuously outselling any other book ever published, Israel is the Biblical land that everyone looks toward, and waits for it to fulfill its duty and lead the way to world peace.
With the current upheavals rocking the Middle East, the timing couldn’t be better.
Israel exports many important commodities to the world at large. Much has been written about Israeli innovation in technology, and how Israel has the most companies on Nasdaq, second only to the USA.
But its most valuable export by far still remains hidden and unknown (or locked in insulated yeshivot).
And that export is captured best in the words of Isaiah (2:3):
From Zion shall go forth Torah; and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.
Here is the full context: It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of G-ds house shall be established on top of the mountains and all the nations shall flow unto it. And many nations shall go and say, let us go up to the mountain of G-d and we will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths, for from Zion shall go forth the Torah; and the word of G-d from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This is Israel’s greatest export – Abraham’s global vision, which accounts for all nations living under one G-d.
Imagine what would happen if Israel charted this new course today – becoming the number one exporter of this vision? How would that affect the region? The world?
Is there a leader that is bold enough, daring enough, courageous enough, wise enough to rise and offer us this spiritual vision?
You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…