Looking to the future in a year of milestones

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on May 2, 2017

Today is Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, marking an incredible 69 years since the founding of the state. The day just past was Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, which commemorates and honors the Israelis who have given their lives over the course of those seven decades so that their country would survive and flourish against all odds.

2017 is a particularly significant year for commemorating and looking back. It marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, when Great Britain declared its support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in the territory of Palestine. It marks 70 years since the United Nations passed Resolution 181, the “Partition Plan” recommending the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states on that same territory.

And in just over a month, we’ll mark exactly 50 years since Israel’s stunning triumph in the Six-Day War. That victory, which felt like a miracle to Jewish people watching anxiously around the world, also had the unforeseen consequence of starting the country down the long road of occupation. That road has led to the moral, political and military challenges that Israel is faced with today, and to the continued injustices facing millions of Palestinians.

We know what all these important anniversaries tend to bring with them. Over the next few months and throughout the year, we can expect a great deal of commemoration — and of the recrimination that often accompanies it.

Politicians, pundits, activists and historians will argue over the complicated details of the past and the responsibilities borne by both sides.They will discuss the triumphs, failures, errors and injustices of the past one hundred years — and even beyond.

We may agree with some of their verdicts and assessments, and feel deeply frustrated with others. But either way, we know that when we review the past, we must be careful not to lose sight of the most important and urgent questions of all: What happens next? How can we create a better future?

At J Street, that struggle for tomorrow remains our central focus. It’s why we advocate for steps that both Israelis and Palestinians can take to end the conflict, and for actions that US leaders and the American Jewish community can take to help support and encourage a peaceful solution.

Of course, history and memory are deeply important. To play a constructive role in ending the conflict, it is essential to respect the narratives of both the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Israelis and all of us who have cheered and supported the incredible accomplishments of the Jewish state will celebrate Zionism’s success and take pride in Israel’s cultural, economic and even military achievements. We will mourn for those who have been lost along the way, and lament the bad decisions — and decisions not taken — that have led to the continuation of conflict and occupation. And we know that Palestinians will commemorate all of these events in their own way, through the lens of the Nakba and all the strife and suffering they have experienced since.

But as pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy activists who want to secure Israel’s Jewish and democratic future and see an end to the occupation once and for all, we will make sure to keep working on what comes next, even in this year of significant anniversaries.

Fifty years of occupation is unacceptable. But so was 49 years, and 25. So will 51 years be, if leaders continue to make the wrong choices, allowing the dangerous, deteriorating situation to persist.

Our work is to help stop the continued cycle of violence and the grievances that accompany it, piling up year after year.

Our work is to fight for a future that will live up to the vision of Israel’s founders and be worthy of the brave men and women who have fought for it. Our work is to make sure that Palestinians can finally experience the self-determination and independence that we celebrate for Israel.

That’s why, at this important moment in the history of Israel and the Jewish people, we need to challenge ourselves, our communities and our leaders to focus on the future — to not only think about the wrong turns and missed opportunities of the past, but about the urgent choices of today.

In 2017, we can choose to focus on how we can help build a better, safer Israel — one that is vibrantly Jewish and democratic and living at peace with its neighbors as it turns 70, 80 and on and on in the decades ahead.

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