News & Features » News and Features

"A Lasting Peace"

Two Richmonders see the Middle East from different points of view.


Jamie Cowen Rabbi, Tikvat Israel

Style: What is your opinion of Ariel Sharon?

Cowen: He's done a better job than probably most people in the United States would have imagined. Obviously in Israel he got a majority so the majority expected him to do a decent job. Israel was looking for someone who had a strong hand in dealing with terrorism. Generally speaking, Sharon has done a good job in a very difficult time.

Sharon has been controversial because of some of his decisions. Was the movement of Israeli troops into Palestinian cities a necessary action?

I don't see a lot of alternatives. It's tragic that it has to happen this way. If this were happening to the United States, the U.S. would be taking rigorous if not more rigorous action. I think that it's very justifiable, but tragic.

In light of the fact that the Bush administration has stated that it will no longer deal with Yasser Arafat, can Arafat still be a partner in the peace process?

This Israeli government and probably the next one following are never going to deal with Arafat. He is proven throughout the years to be completely untrustworthy. Palestinians are going to have to get to the point of recognizing that they have a corrupt leader and they need to get somebody else.

Have there been restrictions on Palestinian life that have ignited hostilities?

That is such a complicated question. I would say, the first answer would be yes. They [Palestinians] don't have full rights and they want them. But I wouldn't assign the total blame to Israel. There is a lot of blame to be shared here among all of the countries of the Middle East. The Palestinians who live in the West Bank used to belong to Jordan. Before the 1967 war it was Jordanian territory. They had basically no rights then at all. After Israel conquered the territory, Jordan didn't want them. Israel, from everything that I understand, would prefer not to have the territory because they don't want to have to govern all of these people who are not Jewish. But at the same time they [Israel] want to have defensible borders. That has not proven to be possible at this particular time. It's a Catch-22.

What should be done about the settlements?

Some probably will have to be disbanded. I think some will not. There are areas around Jerusalem and other heavily Jewish areas, and areas where there need to be definable borders that probably need to remain under Israel's control. I think there are other areas where they either need to be disbanded, or in the case that a Palestinian state does arise, there needs to be some means of protection for them such as an agreement with the Palestinian future government that these settlements would be protected like they would in another country in the world.

What do you see as the purpose of the fence that the Israelis are constructing? Is the fence designed as a dividing line between Israel and a Palestinian state?

The purpose is clear: to keep Palestinian bombers out of Israel. It's a shame it has to be done. Whether or not it's adequate remains to be seen. They can't continue to survive the constant onslaught of terrorism. They're trying to carve out protection for their citizens. I don't see that as being the final barrier.

What impact are recent developments in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict having in the Richmond Jewish community?

From many of the conversations I've had, there's more concern for Israel's future than there has been in almost a generation. I think there's a sense of almost hopelessness. Is there an answer to this problem? People have relatives over there. The dream of the Jewish people is in large respect connected to the fate of Israel. It was created as a safe haven after World War II because it's been shown that they can't be protected without having their own country. The concern for Jewish people outside of Israel is this going to cause anti-Semitism to spring up again. It [anti-Semitism] certainly has in Europe. It hasn't as much in this country.

Majid Khan Imam, Islamic Society of Greater Richmond

Style: What do you think of Ariel Sharon?

Khan: Sharon is a politician like other Israeli politicians. His survival depends on hard-liners equipped with hate to continue the policy of occupation by building and protecting settlements on the occupied land, stripping the dignity of the Palestinian people, and now erecting an expensive but useless fence or wall in an attempt to change the boundaries.

Is there another leader in Israel whom you see as more reasonable?

Politicians have a different agenda: to get elected. People have a right to elect anyone they like. I don't know if there is another one that can do it.

Have there been restrictions on Palestinian life that have ignited hostility?

Sharon is totally responsible for igniting the hostility by entering the Muslim sacred place the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

What should be done about the settlements?

Under the international laws, the settlements are totally illegal on occupied land and an illegal thing cannot be allowed.

Can Arafat still be a legitimate partner in the peace process? Would a new Palestinian leader be more effective in promoting peace?

Arafat has taken all the necessary steps: First he met the demand by Israel to recognize them, then the demand for face to face negotiations with Israel, finally agreeing to the U.S.-brokered peace plan and Oslo accord. Yet, after waiting for 50 years, there is no independent Palestinian state. Every new Israeli leader has their own way of denying the Palestinian people the right to establish their own independent state. The peace will come only when the U.S. starts treating both sides with fairness and without any pressure from the Zionist lobby in our country.

President Bush has said that his administration will no longer deal with Arafat. Will this be problematic for the Palestinian people? Will this be problematic for the peace process?

In America, we will not allow any foreign power to interfere with our elections. Therefore it is up to the people of the region to elect whoever they think is best.

What do you see as the purpose of the fence that the Israelis are constructing? Is this primarily a move to deter terrorism, or is this new fence designed as a dividing line between Israel and a Palestinian state?

Can you quote an example from the pages of history where a permanent and lasting peace was achieved by putting up walls and fences? Secure borders are no longer possible because of development and use of nontraditional weapons to launch attacks from air and sea. Fences can be effective for keeping the animals inside. Can we erect a fence, let's say, across the border of the U.S. and Canada and hope that it will stop infiltration of illegal aliens and terrorists in our country? Furthermore, the American taxpayers will end up paying a $300 million bill in the first phase and it will take millions more to complete it!

How do the recent events in the Middle East impact people in the local Islamic community?

Understand that the problem between the Palestinians and Israel is not a religious issue. It's an issue of the country's freedom. If they use the name Muslim or Jew it is because they happen to be of a certain faith. It is more of a political problem there. Our administration should be a just and fair broker without taking sides to reach a settlement and a lasting peace. S

Add a comment