In a powerful opening night to J Street’s fifth national conference, two friends, Maha Mehanna of Gaza and Roni Keidar of Israel gave a vision of a different future in which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace.
Mehanna declared that Israelis and Palestinians will know peace when they have the courage to look each other in the eyes. “Stop fighting over who will control the future,” she said. “Let the future breathe.”
“Give people on both sides a life worth living,” Keidar urged the Israeli government, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give peace a chance.
Over 3,000 people attended the event, including over 1,100 students from 125 campuses across the country. Under the banner, “a clear choice for a better future,” they came together eager to show the strength and determination of the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement, rallied by an organization that has grown dramatically in its seven-year existence.
Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of North America’s largest Jewish denomination, delivered a keynote address in which he warned, “a non democratic state is inherently un-Jewish… The occupation threatens the very Zionism that we hold dear.”
Grieving parents Bassam Aramin and Robi Damelin of the Parents Circle Families Forum led a moving tribute to the lives lost in last summer’s seven week war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
In his address to the organization he founded, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami criticized the racism of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s re-election campaign and the damage he has inflicted on the US-Israel relationship. He promised that in the months ahead, J Street would challenge Jewish communal leaders to make clear their opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. “Mr. Prime Minister you do not speak for us,” he declared. “We at J Street have no plans to give up our fight.”