In February, Reform Jewish high school students from across the country came to Washington, D.C for the Bernard and Audre Rapaport L’Taken Social Justice Seminar. Anya Byrne from Temple Israel in Tallahassee, FL, prepared and delivered a speech on pursing peace in Israel to staff in Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Rick Scott, and Congressman Neal Dunn’s offices. In the face of continued violence and instability in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, advocacy and engagement from Anya and her peers are crucially important in helping reach a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.
Although Israel is a small country thousands of miles away from us, I believe that the U.S. has an important role to play in facilitating peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The U.S. has historically fostered a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Israel, now providing $3.8 billion per year in Foreign Military Financing, much of which will be spent by Israel in the U.S. developing new projects and technologies to bolster their security. The benefits the U.S. receives through its relationship with Israel demonstrate compelling reasons for the U.S. to continue assistance to Israel, an important anchor for the peace process, as it provides Israel with the necessary assurance to move forward in peace negotiations.
To further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it is critical that the U.S. provides humanitarian aid to Palestinians, nearly all of which has been cut by the Trump administration. Humanitarian aid to Palestinians ensures a strong enough level of stability for Palestinians to pursue peace, providing them with basic needs such as food, water, and health care, and helping to grow the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian Partnership Fund Act would provide humanitarian and economic aid to the Palestinian people and support coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians by financing economic projects in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza and supporting “people to people exchanges.” U.S. aid to both Israel and the Palestinians plays a powerful role in promoting coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and allows for the peace process to work.
I agree with the Reform Movement’s belief that “the only course that offers hope for peace is a two-state solution, with security for Israel and independence for the Palestinians.” While Israelis deserve to feel secure in a Jewish National Homeland, Palestinians also deserve a place where they can create stable, happy lives. Jewish tradition teaches that we have an obligation to “Seek peace and pursue it.” Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve justice and to live in a land that is not torn by war.
We learn in Isaiah 1:27:
“Zion will only be redeemed through justice and those who return to her through acts of righteousness.”
I have attended years of Reform Jewish summer camp, where I met countless Israelis and listened to their stories, I feel compelled to defend the dream of Israel as a Jewish national homeland. But I know the dream of Israel isn’t complete. The dream of Israel won’t be complete until I can turn to the best friend I met in my freshman year of high school, Sereena, and say that both our people are living in harmony in the Middle East.
The first time I spoke to Sereena, we clicked. Sitting in our AP Human Geography class, we bonded over a love of all things fashion and the newest drama of our freshman class. But when Sereena learned I was Jewish, and I learned that Sereena was Palestinian, we met our first challenge as friends. Through sharing our cultures and talking about what we wanted for both Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East, however, we worked through the tension and ended up with a friendship that was stronger than before. Sereena has since moved to a different school, and while I don’t see her as often, our friendship from two years ago and the way we worked past our differences gives me hope for the future of peace between Israel and Palestine.
To ensure that the peace process between Israel and Palestine can progress, I urge you to continue to vote for foreign aid for Israel as a demonstration of American support for Israel, the peace process and Israel’s security. I deeply appreciate the work of the United States to foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians over the years, and all the aid that has been extended to Israel and the Palestinian people to support their growth and stability. Because of this, I also urge you to cosponsor the Palestinian Partnership Fund Act, formerly S.3549/H.R.7060, when it is reintroduced to support programs that promote economic cooperation, dialogue, and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.