Why Our Jewish Ideals Demand Solidarity with Palestinian Aims; in the Third of Our Week of Special Essays Written by Wales' Faith Leaders, Dan Cohn-Sherbok - One of the Nation's Most Celebrated Rabbis - Presents His Vision for Peace in the Middle East: The Thursday Essay

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Cohn-Sherbok

AT THE beginning of his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama announced to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington: "We are not at war with Islam... We will stand with those who are willing to stand up for their future."

Later, at his inauguration, Obama explained that "our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."

This vision for the future embraces the quest to establish peace in the Middle East. Immediately after his election Obama made a flurry of calls to Arab and Israeli leaders, signalling that Middle East peacemaking was a top priority following Israel's assault on Gaza.

And during the past year attempts have been made to find common ground between Israel and its neighbours. Yet, despite some hopeful signs, there is currently a stalemate on the road to peace.

The current state of the peace process is desperate.

After the Gaza war, many Israelis believe it is pointless to negotiate since giving land to Palestinians will only create terror.

Understandably they are anxious about the creation of a Palestinian state on their borders.From the beginning the Arab world has been unwilling to accept Israel's existence.

As early as the 1920s Arabs living in Palestine resisted Jewish immigration.

Under the leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, Arabs rioted in Jaffa and elsewhere against the Jewish community. Repeatedly they attempted to persuade the British government to limit Jewish immigration.

Once the United Nations authorised the establishment of a Jewish state in 1947, Arab nations attacked Israel. This was followed by a series of wars against the Jewish nation.

In recent years Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), which is currently the official government of the Palestinian people in Gaza, has been bitterly opposed to compromise.

In its official manifesto it declares: "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that all the land of Palestine is sacred to Islam, through all the generations forever, and it is forbidden to abandon it or part of it, or to yield it or part of it."

Such intransigence has fuelled rabid anti-semitism. Suicide bombers have sacrificed their lives as martyrs to the cause. In response to this threat Israel has sought to protect its citizens by creating a protective barrier throughout the West Bank. …