Rabbi Barry Leff Digest
Number 62 Date 11/7/03
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The olive branch is a very strange symbol of peace. The olive is
bitter; yet isn’t
peace sweet? The idea of the olive branch as a symbol of peace comes from
this week’s Torah portion. This week we tell the story of Noah and the
flood. As the flood waters are receding-after all life has been
extinguished from the earth, save that which was on the ark with Noah-a
dove is sent out looking for land. In Genesis chapter 8 verses 11 and 12,
we read “The dove came in to him in the evening; and in her mouth was an
olive branch. And Noah knew that the water had subsided from the earth.”
Coming back with an olive branch was taken as a sign that the flood
waters were receding. For Noah and his family, life would soon go back to
something resembling normal. After almost a year of being enclosed in a
zoo, they would be free to roam about on dry land once again.
None of the traditional Jewish commentators takes up the olive branch
as a symbol of peace. The Talmud suggests instead that the olive branch is
a symbol of piety. In tractate Eruvin they ask what does the olive branch
symbolize? The dove said to the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘May my food be
as bitter as the olive but entrusted to your hand rather than sweet as
honey and dependent on a mortal.’ Another story says the olive branch came
from the Garden of Eden.
A charming medieval Christian “Midrash” from the Aberdeen Bestiary also
sees the olive branch as a spiritual symbol: “Of Noah's dove, it is said:
'The dove came in to him in the evening; and in her mouth was an olive
branch'. The dove returns to Noah's ark as the soul is recalled from
external things to the inner peace of the mind. The dove returns at
evening as the light of wordly pleasure starts to fade, and the soul flees
from the pomp of empty glory, fearing to encounter the darkness of the
night - that is, the depths of eternal damnation. The dove carries an
olive branch signifying the soul seeking mercy. It carries the olive
branch in its mouth, signifying the soul begging with prayers for its sins
to be forgiven.
One source claims Pablo Picasso is responsible for the dove becoming a
symbol for peace in modern times; another source says the olive branch has
been a symbol of peace since the days of Julius Ceasar. Regardless of its
origins, the dove and the olive branch are now accepted as the symbols of
peace. It is interesting to note that Noah learned of peace-learned of the
receding of the flood waters-through the acts of an intermediary: the
In political circles we now speak of “doves” and “hawks.” Ariel Sharon
is hawk-a carnivorous bird, strong, clear-eyed, and a killer. Yossi Beilin
is a dove-Noah’s symbol of peace.
The doves have again been seeking peace. Last week the Israeli doves,
led by Yossi Beilin, announced that they had put together an agreement
with the Palestinian “doves,” led by Yasser Abed, which has been dubbed
“The Geneva Accord.”
Like the original dove, these doves are intermediaries. Any agreement
they make is not binding on anyone. It is not an agreement between
governments. It is an agreement between politicians who do NOT have the
backing of their own governments in making a deal. As such, the Geneva
Accord is at best a strawman, something that can be used as a conversation
starter between the REAL principals, the governments.
In this week’s parsha Noah is called “ish tzadik v’tamim b’dorotav,” a
pure and righteous man in his generation. The commentators have a great
debate about the meaning of “b’dorotav,” some saying it is to Noah’s
credit-he was righteous DESPITE living in really miserable times-and
others saying it was derogatory to Noah, claiming that what it means is
Noah was not really a terribly righteous guy: he only seemed righteous
because he was being compared with a real bunch of heathens.
Just as Noah can be judged either favorably or negatively, the Geneva
Accord can be viewed favorably or negatively. Those who are positive about
it claim that it represents a real breakthrough, an agreement on some of
the thorniest issues that Israelis and Palestinians have been struggling
with. Those who are negative about it claim that it is a treasonous act
for people other than the government to negotiate with the other side and
it may build some expectations on the other side that are not going
Before we can decide whether to judge the agreement favorably or
negatively, we need to understand both what is in the agreement, and a
little bit of history.
In July of 2000, Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak, and Yasser Arafat were
negotiating a deal at Camp David. Those talks broke down when Yasser
Arafat decided to leave the negotiating table and return to terrorism.
There was an effort made to continue the discussions at Taba, a resort on
the Sinai coast near Eilat, but that effort didn’t get very far before
being dropped because of the escalations in violence. The Geneva Accord
basically picks up where Camp David and Taba left off.
I was living in Israel at the time of Camp David and Taba, in the
summer and fall of 2000. People were amazed at how far Barak was willing
to go: dividing Jerusalem, giving the Palestinians dominion over the
Temple Mount, etc. There was serious doubt whether Barak would be able to
sell the Israelis on the deal. The new deal, the Geneva Accord, is even
more generous to the Palestinians than the Camp David deal. Some
highlights of the Geneva Accord:
Palestinians will cede the “Right of Return.” A limited number of
refugees will be allowed to settle in Israel, but this will not be
defined as a realization of the right of return.
Palestinians will recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish
Israel will withdraw to the 1967 borders, except for some
territorial exchanges. The new suburbs closest to Jerusalem will be
part of Israel. Efrat, a suburb of Jerusalem that is 8 km away, will
be part of Palestine. About 7,000 Jews make their home in Efrat,
mostly religious, about a third of them native English speakers. I
know several people who live there and can’t imagine them willingly
going along with being made part of the PA.
Jerusalem will be divided. Not only are Arab neighborhoods in East
Jerusalem part of the Palestinian state, but the Old City itself
will be divided. Jaffa Gate-the “main gate” to the Old City, located
about five blocks from the King David hotel-will be under
Temple Mount would be under Palestinian control. An international
force is supposed to ensure freedom of “access.” Jews will be
forbidden to pray there. The Western Wall will stay Jewish and the
“Holy Basin” will be under international supervision.
Palestinians will pledge to prevent terror and incitement and disarm
all militias. Their state will be demilitarized.
Israel’s territorial compromises-dividing Jerusalem and withdrawing
from the settlements-are not conditional on the Palestinians doing
anything to actually dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.
Compared to the “Roadmap” presented by US President Bush in April,
there is no phased approach. Israel would make real concessions on day one
regarding territory, and hope that the PA lives up to its commitments
regarding combating terrorism. The Roadmap, on the other hand, calls for a
phased approach: the first phase being to end terrorism on the one hand,
and to normalize life in the PA on the other hand. To give both sides a
chance to resume a normal life. The second phase would be a transition
leading to negotiations regarding the final borders of a Palestinian
state, which would be implemented in the final phase.
Looked at absent any historical context, one could say, gee, if the
Geneva Accord really leads to peace, as painful as it is for Israel, it’s
worth it to be able to live a normal life and put an end, once and for
all, to the fighting and hatred and killing.
But we can’t look at the Accord without taking into account the
historical context. In the first place, it would be a grievous error to
give the Palestinians additional concessions now. Not just for Israel, but
for the world. To give the Palestinians MORE than they were offered three
years ago, after they have unleashed the most brutal and horrible
murderers on innocent Israeli civilians would be to reward terrorism. It
would be telling every terrorist in the world that the strategy works.
That if you don’t like what you are offered at the bargaining table, start
killing innocent people and you’ll get more. That is not a message that
the world can afford to convey. Terrorism MUST be seen as something that
hurts your cause, not helps it.
The other piece of historical context that is needed is to look at what
happened in past agreements with the Palestinians. There is a saying that
goes “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” We cannot
allow ourselves to be fooled by the Palestinians again. In the Oslo
agreement which was signed 10 years ago, the Palestinians were granted
quasi-autonomy. They were put on a path to having an independent state.
Israel agreed to arm a Palestinian police force, providing the
Palestinians with 40,000 guns. A few years later those same guns were
being used by Palestinian terrorists, many associated with Yasser Arafat’s
personal security forces, to kill innocent civilians. Why should Israel
agree to give the Palestinians what they want BEFORE the terrorist
infrastructure is dismantled?
In 1948, the Irgun, an indepedent Jewish radical group led by Menachem
Begin, was trying to bring weapons for their troops into Israel. The first
Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, insisted that there be only one
military force in Israel, the IDF. He told the Irgun they had to turn the
guns over to the IDF. The Irgun refused. Ben-Gurion ordered the ship
shelled. 32 Irgun fighters were killed in the struggle, but it put an end
to separate Jewish militias. There was one government.
Until the Palestinians are ready to take an equivalent step with groups
like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, security promises they make are meaningless.
None of the recent occupants of the “musical chair” of the Palestine Prime
Minister has been willing to take on the radicals. Arafat seems to
encourage the divisiveness.
Making huge concessions for peace with a government that does not
control whether or not there WILL be peace does not make much sense. The
approach that DOES make sense is one symbolized the The Great Seal of the
United States. The seal has an eagle holding arrows in one talon and an
olive branch in the other. That balancing of strength and peace together
is what Israel needs today. Israel does not need the Geneva Accord with an
exchange of land for promises. Israel needs the strength to stay the
course until the Palestinians decide they truly want peace. To stay the
course until the Palestinians recognize that Israel is here to stay. As
Golda Meir put it, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their
children more than they hate us.” Peace will come when the Palestinians
want a normal life more than want to live in a fantasy of destroying
It is a great mitzvah to serve God with great joy,
always...R. Nachman of Breslov
Rabbi Barry Leff
Beth Tikvah Congregation
9711 Geal Road
Richmond, BC V7E 1R4
phone: (604) 271-6262
fax: (604) 271-6270
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