Open Letter to Netanyahu on the 50th Anniversary of the Six-Day War

RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2017

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

We write in the name of T’ruah, a network of more than 1,800 rabbis and cantors in North America who hold deep love for the State of Israel, and who believe that the vision of the Hebrew prophets, cited in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, for a homeland committed to peace and justice, represents the most powerful guarantee of Israel’s future.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, we celebrate the extraordinary victory that enabled Israel’s survival, and granted the Jewish people sovereignty over our holiest sites. We also recognize that this victory inaugurated fifty years of occupation that has infringed on the human rights of Palestinians, left too many Israelis and Palestinians dead or injured, and continues to threaten Israel’s long-term survival.

Many of us remember, or have learned of, the palpable fear among Jews the world over in the weeks leading up to the Six-Day War, as multiple armies threatened to attack the fledgling state. Israel’s surprising military victory sparked among Jews around the world a new appreciation and pride not only in Israel, but in their own Jewish identity. With memories of the Shoah still raw, Jews, both religious and secular, celebrated the sight of Israeli soldiers standing in front of the Western Wall, now part of a unified Jerusalem. An historical moment that could have led to the destruction of the State of Israel instead became a marker of the Jewish people’s will to survive.

In the weeks following the end of the war, a few voices warned of the consequences of assuming military control over hundreds of thousands (now millions) of Palestinians. Some imagined a peace agreement in which the land captured during the war could be traded for a lasting peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors and an arrangement could be found for the Palestinians who lived in those territories.

Fifty years later, the “temporary” occupation has taken on an air of permanence. Several hundred thousand Israeli civilians now live in the occupied territory, in violation of international law. Palestinians experience daily violations of their human rights, including restrictions on freedom of movement, land theft, and a two-tiered system of law governing the West Bank. The occupation  continues to claim the lives of Israelis, including the soldiers charged with defending the territories. The occupation has done grave damage to Israel’s standing in the court of world opinion. And the occupation has eroded support for Israel, even among world Jewry.

As we approach this momentous fiftieth anniversary, we call upon the government of the State of Israel to stop the building of Jewish settlements over the Green Line; prevent Jewish settlers in the West Bank from taking the land and property rightfully owned by Palestinians; and pursue all possible political avenues to relinquish control of the territories conquered during the Six-Day War with appropriate international guarantees. These steps will advance two objectives long sought by Israelis and diaspora Jewry: a more secure State of Israel and a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

This is not about assigning blame. Certainly, the Palestinian leadership bears much responsibility for missed opportunities for peace, and for condoning or even encouraging terrorism at various points. But spending the next fifty years pointing fingers will get us nowhere. The land, that many consider holy, already cries with the blood of thousands of men, women and children who have died because fear and hatred of the “other”—the evil inclination has proven to be stronger than the good inclination, the ability to reconcile and forgive. The Ethics of our Ancestors teach: “Who is a true hero? The one who can control his/her darker inclinations.” (Avot 4:1)

Zionism is not about waiting for others to make decisions about our history, but about claiming responsibility for our own fate. After fifty years of a seemingly endless cycle of war and violence, isn’t it time to take a bold step for peace? Isn’t it time to take a risk for an Israel that lives in peace with its Palestinian neighbors? 

In the Torah, the fiftieth year is the year of Yovel, the Jubilee. It evokes the following verse which is enshrined on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:10) Rabbi Ya’akov Yehoshua Falk (P’nei Yehoshua, 1680-1756) commenting on that verse, said: “It does not say “for all its slaves,” but “for all its inhabitants,” for in a land where there is no liberty, even for a minority of its inhabitants, all its inhabitants are enslaved.” 

For the past fifty years, both Israelis and Palestinians have been enslaved to an occupation that harms both parties. We call on the government of the State of Israel to be a rodef shalom (Avot 1:12), the party that pursues peace, ending the military occupation, and laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state, living side-by-side, in peace, with Israel.