“It is not right, fellow countrymen./ You who know very well, the crimes committed in our name.” Josh Ruebner began his public presentation in Founders Gallery on Jews for Peace in the Middle East with a poem by Jean Paul Sartre.
Ruebner is the co-founder and executive director of Jews for Peace, whose objective is to end the Israeli occupation and the atrocities committed toward Palestine. This mission statement was further explained in a handout for the presentation. “Israel has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem for the past 35 years – the longest military occupation in modern history,” reads the handout. “This military occupation has created a deadly dynamic of repression and resistance which has shattered the lives of too many innocent victims on both sides of this imminently solvable conflict.”
Ruebner said, “It is written in the Torah that God proclaims, ‘justice, justice, you shall pursue’.” Furthermore, he said, “whoever could speak out against the sins of others and doesn’t should also be held responsible.”
It is believed by Jews for Peace that the Camp David summit meeting between Former President Bill Clinton, and Prime Minister Yasser Arafat should never have taken place. Ruebner cited unpreparedness as the reason for the rejected proposals at the summit meeting, and goes on to mention that all subsequent negotiations for peace in the Middle East also failed.
“Israel was ultimately the one to walk away from negotiations with Palestine,” he said. “This left things at status quo. Status quo for Israel is a brutal military occupation killing off both sides of people.”
In his speech he expressed concern that due to no resolution being found, Palestinian people are still in desperate need of help. The conflict rages on with innocent people are caught in the middle. “Today, [Oct. 21] ten people died in a bus bombing. The day before, 16 died in the Gaza Strip,” said Ruebner.
Ruebner went on to address the United States’ involvement with Israel. “The United States has no real issue or reason to help Israel. However,” he said. “The U.S. gives unlimited diplomacy, economic, and military support to Israel.”
He implored the Jewish communities not to merely follow the ethos found in the Torah, but to “become living examples of it.”
“We are taught by Rabbis that God created one person so every human thereafter would have a common ancestor. That way no one could claim another person’s ancestors were worse,” said Ruebner. “God created us equally and we should therefore have God given rights, such as freedom and no man or government should take these rights away.”
Ruebner said, “the self appointed leadership of a bankrupt Jewish society has sold out morality in favor of nationalism.”
Ruebner continuedhis presentation, quoting the Torah, Martin Luther King Jr, and Henry David Thoreau. He mentioned the organization, the American Jewish Community and calls it (among other organizations), “sheer propaganda.”
“The oppression of Palestinians degrades the soul. It is an unjust system and must be removed. Any attacks against civilians is immoral whether by the government, military, or people [other civilians],” said Ruebner.
He also addressed the recent reactions of some Palestinians, saying, “people respond in kind to the treatment they receive. This is made evident by Palestine’s response to increased Israeli occupation. Palestine has responded in various brutal ways.”
Ruebner went on to direct attention toward the often-expressed belief that “Jews and Arabs are destined to fight each other.” Jews for Peace do not believe this is so.
“We hate the occupation. We hate the degradation and the sin. We do not hate the Israeli or Palestinian people,” said Ruebner. “All people, Americans, Jews, Arabs, Christians, Latin Americans, and so on, should learn to band together to counteract the atrocities committed.”
In the question-and-answer period after Ruebner’s presentation, some audience members voiced concern that Ruebner only focused on recent issues and did not address the underlying, deep-seated history of the conflict in the Middle East.
Jonathan Malino, rabbi and Guilford philosophy professor , said, “you should look at the conflict within the context of its entirety. Even right wingists could quote scripture and cite recent events to support their claims.”
However, Guilford student, sophomore, Manil Fares disagreed. “The escalation of violence has led to recent events and I believe that is why Ruebner found it so important to focus on current events.”
The question-and-answer session eventually broke down as the audience took sides. Some agreed with Ruebner; others fervently did not. According to some audience members that did not agree, Ruebner’s speech was “one sided,” and “misleading.”
“I’m amazed that the Peace and Conflict Studies could hold meetings like this and claims with a straight face that it’s to help resolve the conflict. People are already inclined to disagree with Israel based on a one-sided forum,” said Matt Geiger, junior at Guilford, and head of Hillel on campus. “The goal of things like this is to delegitimatize Israel, which doesn’t help resolve the situation at all.”
Several people also expressed concern that people do not recognize that the actions of current Israeli president Ariel Sharon play a large role in the interaction between Israel and Palestine.
“A main factor in the conflict is Sharon’s policies,” said Rebecca Muller, senior and Hillel member at Guilford.
Malino also agreed, saying, “as long as Palestine is unwilling and unable to negotiate, Sharon will always be popular and get re-elected. Things will continue the way they are.”
As the round table discussion came to a close, Ruebner offered glimmers of hope that there could be peace in the Middle East for the people in attendance.
“There is a peace movement in Israel. It is small but very important.” Ruebner said, “2,000 Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip refused to fight. Hopefully that action will snowball, because if the people are aware, and refuse to enforce the oppression of the Palestinians then the government could not continue to oppress them.”
The discussion at the Hut was more subdued than that at the Founders presentation. Most of the people at the Hut left in general agreement on the issues. Bahader said at the close, “I always thought Americans were pro-Israeli and extremists. I’m glad to have been able to talk with you [Ruebner].”
Much like the Middle Eastern conflict itself, the presentation in Founders ended with nearly everyone taking a side. It was obvious, however, that both the anti- and pro-Israel believers in attendance want to work toward peace.
Ruebner elaborated on his position before jetting off to another public presentation elsewhere.
“The oppression of the Palestinian people is a blight on our souls. The Jewish people will one day have to recognize what has been done.” He said, “It’s ironic that a people will such a history steeped in oppression have now become the pharaohs. I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was on the side of justice and peace.”