Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
Rumi (13th century)
In Israel, they have a name that encompasses all the obstacles to lasting peace in the Middle East. For a topic as fraught as the ongoing conflict between the various parties who claim a stake in the future of the region, this term neatly includes all the history and all the hope and frustration of all the conflicting interests in 3 short Hebrew syllables: המצב –(“ha-matzav”) literally, “the situation.” The word appears several times in the Hebrew Bible to refer to a person’s physical status or station. In medieval times, the word’s meaning broadened to include a person’s existential situation. During the Second Intifada (2000-05), which included the time I was studying at Hebrew Union College’s Jerusalem campus, it came to refer to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Although ha-matzav is grammatically neutral, the usage of the word also carries with it the idea of a continuing source of pain and anguish without any obvious solution.
Its in the nature of hamatzav, that it never entirely goes away but the pain and the anguish is more palpable at certain times than others. The last few weeks have been such a period for all those who live with the daily danger of death coming from the sky. At such times, voices in our society, both within and without the Jewish community, often demand that American Jews take a binary position on hamatzav that requires unwavering and uncritical support for one party or the other. At such times, antisemitic perspectives flood social media and the Jewish community engages in an internal dialogue that increasingly threatens to tear us apart on the very issue that should unite us, connected as we are to the land and people of Israel by history and familial ties.
I believe it is possible to be a proud Zionist and to support a sustainable and equitable peace with the Palestinians. I further believe that its possible to maintain a commitment to the equal dignity of Israelis and Palestinians even as I understand that the Israeli government cannot just stand by as rockets are fired indiscriminately at its residents. I acknowledge that, since I and my immediate family do not live in Israel, we do not face the same risks as those that do and that I cannot insist that a distant observer’s assessment of danger govern the decisions of those who live under a daily threat of death.
I also admit that the land and people of Israel are separate from its current leaders and that, in a healthy system of government, room exists for honest disagreements with the decisions made and strategies employed by those in power. Finally, I share the frustration at the lack of obvious answers to hamatzav even as I continue to hope that one day, when somebody asks me: “מה המצב? (`What’s the situation?’),” they will be referring to my latest checkup rather than conflict in the Middle East. In the meantime, may the One who makes peace in the high heavens, also bring peace to Israel and to all the inhabitants of the world. Amen.