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Sermon

>My Sermon – 5th June – The Real Peace Activist (A response to the Gaza Flotilla)

>I remember the moment like it was yesterday. The place: A Halloween party in Stanmore. The date: The 4th of November, 1995.

We were standing on the street outside when someone said that the Prime Minister of Israel had been killed. As a friend and I talked about it, we assumed that it must have been an Arab terrorist who had murdered Yitzhak Rabin. He was the man pursuing peace, so it was only logical that the forces of violence and hatred would have tried to stop him. It did not even enter our minds to consider the possibility that it would have been another Jew. We were so used to looking for the enemy on the outside, that we never thought to consider the enemy amongst us, or even the enemy within.

How different the world might be today if Yitzhak Rabin, the warrior for peace, the man who signed the Oslo accords with the Palestinians and made peace with Jordan, had not been murdered on the streets of Tel Aviv almost 15 years ago.

Yitzhak Rabin is my hero; for the man he was, for the man he became and for the dream he envisioned and sacrificed his life pursuing.

Yitzhak Rabin wanted to be a water engineer, but at the age of 16, he was handed a gun and called upon to defend his family, his people and the fledgling state of Israel. In 1967, he was the army Chief of Staff when Israel achieved its miraculous victory in the Six Day War. He was a member of the Government when the Yom Kippur War was waged. He embodied the Israel Defence Force and the military struggle to create and protect the State of Israel.

And yet, when the opportunity for peace presented itself, he rushed to put down his gun. In the words of the Prophets he was ready to beat his sword into a ploughshare and turn his spear into a pruning hook. He was ready to become a soldier for peace. He twice stood on the White House lawn to shake the hands of his former enemies; first with Yasser Arafat in 1993 and then with King Hussein of Jordan in 1994.

On November the 4th, at that fatal peace rally in Tel Aviv he addressed the gathered masses:
I was a military man for 27 years. I fought so long as there was no chance for peace. I believe that there is now a chance for peace, a great chance. We must take advantage of it for the sake of those standing here, and for those who are not here – and they are many.

I have always believed that the majority of the people want peace and are ready to take risks for peace. In coming here today, you demonstrate, together with many others who did not come, that the people truly desire peace and oppose violence. Violence erodes the basis of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned and isolated. This is not the way of the State of Israel.

Yitzhak Rabin was prepared to fight to defend the Jewish people and the State of Israel when fighting was necessary. And he was ready to transform that struggle into one for peace when the opportunity presented itself. He was a true rodef shalom, a pursuer of peace – a real peace activist.

This week has been a difficult one for those of us who love Israel. It’s been a difficult week for those of us who truly pray for peace and pursue it. And it has been a difficult week to be Jewish.

The media like to see things in black and white, with an oppressor and a victim, with a right and a wrong. The conflict is described as being between Israelis and Arabs, or Israelis and Palestinians. And when one listens to the radio phone-ins, this quickly descends into a conflict labelled as one between Jews and Muslims. Make no mistake, as Dr. Martin Luther King warned us, anti-Zionism quickly descends into anti-Semitism; and as anti-Zionist rhetoric reaches new heights, we have to be cautious about the threat to our own community.

But the media are mistaken; they are wrong and I would go so far as to say they are fanning the flames of conflict. The Middle East dispute is not between Jews and Muslims, or even Israelis and Palestinians. It is a conflict between those who want peace and those who want war; between those who accept Israel’s right to exist, and those who wish her wiped of the map; between activists for peace and enemies of peace.

Yitzhak Rabin pursued peace with both his words and his actions, clearly placing himself on one side of the divide. Unfortunately, this week we have seen the forces of violence and hatred portraying themselves as champions of peace. The members of the IHH, who led the flotilla, have been labelled by the media as peace activists. It grates every time I hear it, but then why should I be surprised when the members of Hamas and Hezbollah are called fanatics, rather than terrorists.

The Turkish based IHH, is also known as the ‘Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief’. With such a name, one would assume that it would be filled with lovers and pursuers of peace. These were the people who set sail for Gaza to bring aid and relief to the Palestinians who are in a very real sense suffering. Before even considering the events of earlier this week, it is important to realise that the IHH have long been suspected and accused of having very real links with extremist terrorists. If the aim was really to bring much needed aid and supplies to the people of Gaza, surely the offer of taking them via Ashdod should have been acceptable – and we should not forget that for 5 of the 6 boats, it was. If the aim was really peaceful protest, then a convoy of ships stranded several miles from the coast of Gaza could have created a very powerful picture for the international media.

The aims of the members of this boat were never peaceful.

Now, I will be the first to admit that Israel could have, and should have, dealt with the situation better. Israel should have recognised the public relations trap into which they were walking. Israel needed to find another way to deal with the flotilla.

But in five out of six boats, a peaceful solution was found. In five out of six boats, the passage of the aid was prioritised over PR. In five out of six boats, the forces of peace triumphed. In one boat, violence erupted. Had the Israel Defence Force wanted to really attack this boat, there would have been many more than nine dead. Israel naively boarded this boat looking for a peaceful solution, and they were hijacked by the forces of war and violence.

This was not a boat of peace activists. It is an insult to the great peace activists of the 20th century to label these people as peace activists. Mahatma Ghandi, Vaclav Havel, Martin Luther King Jr, Anwar Sadat, Desmond Tutu, Yitzhak Rabin – these were peace activists. They could be judged by their words and their actions, as both spoke their truth. These people’s actions betrayed their true nature and their true intentions.

Israel made mistakes and Israel is not completely blameless; but the media’s oversimplification is upsetting, negligent and dangerous.

Today, Israel is vulnerable and isolated as she faces an existential threat from the unholy trinity of Hamas, Hezbollah and Ahmadinejad. The Iranian regime continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons while their leader publicly declares that Israel is a stain which must be wiped of the map. Hezbollah, which has labelled Israel a cancerous entity, continues to amass weapons on Israel’s northern border, preparing for another conflict. And Hamas develops its weapons capabilities to strike deeper and further into Israeli territory.

These groups are the enemies of Israel. These groups are the enemies of peace. These groups spread violence and bloodshed. And most significantly, these groups are also the enemies of the Palestinian people.

In recent years, the contrast between the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank is striking. Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction have rejected violence as a way to reach a solution to this conflict, and they have prospered. Over the last three years, the West Bank has flourished as a result of international aid, improved Palestinian security and the resulting reduction in Israeli restrictions. While the people of Gaza continue to suffer under the oppressive Hamas regime, which would rather score PR points than actually help its people.

This week, with all that has happened, peace may seem to be a very distant, almost unattainable dream. But we must remember what Yitzhak Rabin, the real peace activist, told us when he signed the Israeli-Palestinian declaration of Principles.
Our inner strength, our high moral values, have been derived for thousands of years from the Book of Books, in one of which, Koheleth, we read:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

We must recognize our enemies; exposing the opponents of peace, the proponents of war, and the activists of violence. And they exist among both the Israelis and the Palestinians. But at the same time, we must find the real peace activists from across the political and religious spectrum. We must unite with them and we must work with them to fulfil Rabin’s vision, to achieve peace and security for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the entire Middle East, so that one day we can finally turn our swords into ploughshares, our spears into pruning hooks.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr preached:
We must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.

May we all be true peace activists, pursuing a just and lasting peace for our peoples and for all the world. Ken yehi ratzon – may it be God’s will.

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