Building a Dream for Peace

“If you will it, it is no dream.” — Theodore Herzl

These are the words that kept running through my head as our bus ferried us between new housing complexes, high-tech offices, and the largest amphitheater anywhere near the Mediterranean. The tour guide — an architect working on this particular city’s planning — shared with me that, following two years of trying to get pregnant while living in crowded, unplanned spaces elsewhere, she and her husband had been successful less than two months after moving here. I was in Rawabi, the first-ever master-planned Palestinian city and first new Palestinian city built in thousands of years, and I was absolutely moved beyond speech.

Rawabi reminded me of Tel Aviv, which is a world class center for culture and trade built for and by Israelis and represents the best of Jewish self-determination. Both cities are symbolic of their inhabitants’ aspirations to achieve success, peace and normalcy in the lands of their peoples. My inner Zionist was kvelling because Rawabi is an example of Palestinians taking control of their destiny and laying the groundwork of a new state. But there is one crucial difference: Tel Aviv is already in an independent country, while Rawabi’s home remains very much a work in progress.

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Six Day War. This anniversary is fraught with multiple meanings, ranging from the reunification of Jerusalem with the Old City and triumph in a terrifying existential war, to Israel’s ongoing military occupation of the West Bank. I’m fearful of the destructive path many conversations may take next year, but I’m also very excited by JCRC’s new campaign: Invest in Peace.

Invest in Peace is a coalition supporting the self-determination of both Palestinians and Israelis by championing efforts on the ground. The coalition promotes NGOs and companies who are actually creating an environment that will change the status quo and make a two-state solution more possible. It also amplifies constructive, respectful and pragmatic dialogue about Israel and Palestine in ways that go beyond the “my way or the highway” approaches. Invest in Peace is a unique effort by a Jewish community-relations organization to promote the efforts of Palestinians and Israelis who are working toward peaceful coexistence.

My own personal experience has taught me that too many see the solution to the conflict in zero-sum terms. My support for peace has caused people on the far right to tell me I’m “not a real Jew” and people on the far left to accuse me of being a “fascist” or a “racist” because I support Israel’s right to exist. And I know my experience is shared by many who feel caught in the middle, especially the majority of American Jews (and Americans at large) who support a two-state solution. That’s why the launch of Invest in Peace feels so right to me: We want to be a part of the solution!

My words will sounds like a pipe dream to many. This century-long conflict has embittered many generations and fueled efforts to simply reject the existence or legitimacy of the people on the “other” side.

But here is the reality: Israel is real. It’s here to stay. It’s been more than 40 years since the last war of existential threat. The rhetoric that calls into question Israel’s existence is predicated on a false binary of which side of history, identity and social justice we stand. The foundations for a future state of Palestine are also quite real. In addition to Rawabi, the cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, Nablus, Hebron and Jenin are under Palestinian Authority control, laying bedrock of statehood and full sovereignty.

Considering many challenges ahead from both inside and out of Palestinian society, what a future state of Palestine will one day look like is very hard to tell. But I hope it will look like Rawabi.

Invest in Peace is part of the process of empowering Americans to be partners in ensuring that Palestine’s peaceful rise is also Israel’s gain. From border issues to security, there are immense challenges. But, as someone who has been to Israel and the West Bank several times, I can say this: Both peoples are highly traumatized, experience entirely different national narratives and want to live independent of one another under their own respective sovereignty. Consistent polling shows support for a two-state solution from both peoples, even during times like these, when negotiations and progress feel so very far away.

“For me, dreaming is simply being pragmatic.” — Shimon Peres, 1923–2016

The recent loss of former Israeli president Shimon Peres was deeply painful in the Jewish Diaspora because he embodied Zionism and Israel’s founding. Israel’s independence empowered the Jewish people to control their destinies. Peres, known for being 93 years-young and filled with unmatched optimism, left behind a legacy that leads me to embrace Jewish self-determination, but the peaceful rise of Palestinian self-determination as well.

“If you will it, it is no dream.” As we start the Jewish new year of 5777, I’m tired of dreaming: let’s start building and growing this movement for two states for two peoples today.

This blog post was originally published on Medium by Joe Goldman on October 5, 2016.