By Imam Yahya Hendi and Rabbi Gerald Serotta
January 27, 2009 | 06:58 PM (EST) The Huffington Post
Americans understood the profound connection between our national observance honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the recent inauguration of President Barack Obama. How profoundly tragic that the overwhelming historic impact of these days was diminished by the suffering of so many throughout the world. Dr. King once remarked that the ancient law of an “eye for an eye,” will leave everybody blind. Nowhere have we seen this blindness more prevalent today than in the Middle East.
As a Jewish child of the American South who marched along the same paths as Dr. King, and as a Palestinian born American who walked the same paths as Jesus of Nazareth in the land of Israel/Palestine, we stand together now as a Rabbi and Imam in the hope that Dr. King’s spirit will help bind the wounds of all God’s children endangered in the conflict in and around Gaza.
We propose that no one can be truly pro-Israel without being pro-Palestine, that no one can be truly pro-Palestine without being pro-Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures report in Genesis that Abraham/Ibrahim prayed on behalf of the barren women of the kingdom of Avimelech, located in the area we now call Gaza. We understand from this ancient text, which connects those prayers to God’s remembrance of Abraham and Sarah with the subsequent birth of a child, that the blessings of family and residence in the Holy Land require mutual recognition of the suffering, the pain, and the humanity of the “other,” whether Hebrew and ancient Gazan, or today’s Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jew.
There can be no doubt that the harming of innocent civilians — whether they play in school yards in Southern Israel or seek refuge in schools in Gaza — is minimally a tragedy, and in many cases constitutes a crime against humanity by any international standard. In religious terms, texts from both the Koran and the Talmud declare that the taking of a single life is equivalent to the destruction of any entire world, just as the saving of a single life can save an entire world.
Dr. King, whose dreams were an important presence this January 20, understood clearly that non-violent resistance could end the cycle of hatred, and that love and dialogue were politically powerful, even decisive. While no two forms of oppression are identical, Dr. King also taught that oppressive systems such as segregation in the American South and by analogy, the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, harm the powerful along with the powerless. Tragically, non-violence has played almost no role in ameliorating the conflict, primarily due to the acquiescence if not the encouragement of regional and world political supporters of each party. One would be hard pressed to find peoples with fewer honest friends than the Palestinians and the Jews in the last brutal century, friends who could teach and demand from them the alternatives to violence.
Contrary to common wisdom, conflict between religions need not doom the Israelis and Palestinians to a fratricidal struggle. Although the media has not widely reported this fact, even in the midst of the recent conflict, important world bodies of religious leaders have spoken clearly to the contrary. The World Council of Religions for Peace statement concluded “Peace can come to the Middle East but only by honoring the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis, facilitating painful but honorable compromises…Morally responsible Israelis and Palestinians know that the ‘right to self-defense’ can never be used as an excuse for killing, harming, or inflicting collective punishment on innocent civilians.”
Another religious leader active in the Civil Rights struggle with Dr. King, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, proposed to then President John Kennedy that the situation of African Americans be declared a “state of moral emergency…the hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
We live in another such historical moment, when a new president promises to inspire us with the audacity of hope, but also when violence festers and burns a holy land central to the religious identity of much of the Western world. We call for this wise President and his advisers to declare themselves Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, and Pro-Peace. We ask that they affirm the legacy of Dr. King by extending the beloved community to include our sisters and brothers bleeding in the Holy Land today with a massive humanitarian campaign on behalf of all those suffering in the wake of the recent conflict. In particular we urge that that a US Naval Hospital vessel be temporarily stationed off the Gaza coast to support the medical needs of the Gazan community.