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Rabbi Barry Leff Digest
Number  62  Date  11/7/03

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Topics in this digest: Noah 5764

The olive branch is a very strange symbol of peace. The olive is bitter; yet isn’t Noah 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 dove.

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 happen.

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:

The 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.

The Palestinians will recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

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 Palestinian control.

The 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.

The 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 Israel.

Shabbat Shalom

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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