On April 1, Palm Sunday, a group of Jews and Palestinians gathered beneath a banner at Prince Alfred Park, Parramatta to take part in a Peace March. The banner read “Palestinians and Jews for Peace and Justice”.
It began with a simple idea during a meeting with seemingly incongruent groups of people, who had been tenuously forging a friendship with each other for about a year.
Jewish Voices for Peace and Justice is a group that has been meeting for six years. It was founded by two friends, myself and Lyndall Katz, both experienced facilitators for peace and conflict resolution, both very involved in the Jewish community. We felt it was time to create a space for Jews to express their heartbreak and their struggles about Israel, and their commitment to peace and dialogue.
Abe Quadan, a Palestinian, who is also highly experienced in conflict and peace work had made the original approach, attending an event at the Temple Emanuel at Woollahra and introducing himself to the Jewish attendees. He and his Palestinian colleagues were keen to make relationships with Jews, and we at Jewish Voices were delighted.
Since then groups of Palestinians and Jews have met at each others homes, essentially to listen to each others stories, share food and learn to trust.
The idea of walking under the banner brought with it an enthusiasm and joy that was immediate. Yet the simplicity of such an idea belies the political complexity of such an action. Walking together in a peace march is not the same as being in dialogue with each other.
In spreading the word about the march, Jewish Voices invited both the New South Wales Board of Jewish Deputies - the mainstream representative of the Jewish community, and also Independent Australian Jewish Voices - Anthony Lowenstein’s and Peter Slezak’s group (who published a petition that strongly challenged both Israel and the Jewish leadership).
It was a way for Jewish Voices to make the point that regardless of attitude, of alliances, or convictions, anyone who wished to come and walk beneath the banner was welcome.
Neither group attended.
There was support from the Jewish community, and an element of suspicion. I have wondered why such an act should arouse suspicion. I have realised that when we think in polarised terms - them and us - we cannot imagine that it is possible to fight for the rights of the Palestinian people and not make Israel the enemy. On the contrary it was the intention of the Jewish and Palestinian friends who walked that day to support both homelands - for Jew and Palestinian.
The organisers of the rally saw fit to include in their flyer issues such as Iraq, Iran, and David Hicks. Vic Alhadeff, CEO of NSW Board of Jewish Deputies, had intended to offer a Hebrew prayer at the march, but when he saw that the organisers had identified other political issues, he felt he must withdraw.
In the past “peace” rallies have often been very anti-Israel, at times anti-Semitic, so this did create a huge dilemma for Jewish activists. To remain at such rallies feels complicit with the overwhelmingly anti-Israel sentiments, so many Jews chose to stay away, despite their desire to be counted among those who know that non-violence is the way. Vic Alhadeff was concerned that it would be the case at this rally also.
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