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45 Years Too Many

klutznick_isr_tour186x140.jpgBy James Klutznick, APN's Chairman of the Board

My heart recently filled with pride at the sight of my fellow APN Board Member, Mandy Patinkin, addressing a crowd of 700 mostly young Israeli peace activists at a conference organized in Israel by the Peace Now movement (Shalom Achshav). Mandy told them how their efforts inspire progressive American Jews and reinforce our belief that there could be a strong, secure and just Israel, living in peace with its neighbors.

Mandy passionately recounted changes he sees in Israel today, compared to what he saw on his first visit to Israel, thirty years ago. His speech touched me deeply because it so profoundly expressed the concern that I and my friends share about Israel's current path.

This week, we are marking 45 years since Israel took control over East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Some will celebrate this date simply as the anniversary of a brilliant victory.

Others of us will reflect with regret on how this remarkable triumph has, in the course of 45 years, been transformed into a pyrrhic victory. What was the promise of land for peace has turned into a malignant occupation that robs Israel's citizens of the right to live in peace within recognized borders, with a recognized capital, enjoying international respect. The settlement enterprise in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has hijacked Israel's future. "There is no partner" has been a mantra adopted by those who prefer land to peace, and who care little about Israel's character as a progressive democracy and a "light unto the nations."

On June 7, 1967, while in basic training at Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas, news of Israel's David vs. Goliath victory was being reported in real time. I vividly remember how proudly I and my fellow non-Jewish airmen marveled at how Israel eliminated the Arab air forces and achieved complete air superiority within hours. I believe that Israel's military brilliance drew my fellow airmen, like other Americans, to learn about Israel and appreciate its other virtues: its moral foundation, its efforts to save persecuted Jews worldwide, and its quest to live in peace in a hostile neighborhood.  I remember how I proudly told my friends about meeting David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founder and first prime minister. I was sixteen, on my first trip to Israel with my father, Philip Klutznick, who as a world Jewish leader was instrumental in the establishment of relations between Israel's leaders and the United States government.

Sadly, almost two generations of young Americans do not know an Israel that is not an occupying power, that is not reflexively associated with walls and checkpoints and batons and rubber-bullets and the misery of an oppressed civilian population, seeking freedom and self-determination. Most Palestinians do not remember what it's like to not be under Israeli occupation, and most Israelis don't remember the days in which they did not rule over another people.

Ruling over another people is not in Israel's DNA. It's not democratic. It's not Jewish. It's eating away at Israel's moral fabric, at its international standing, even at its support here in America, among non-Jews and Jews alike, particularly among young people who do not see Israel in the perspective of its founders' vision.

I decided to lead Americans for Peace Now because I strongly believe that the only way for Israel to fulfill that vision is by making the two-state solution a reality. I am an American for Peace Now because I know that if we don't act now, the valuable opportunity we have for a two-state solution will slip away, and with it our vision of the Israel we love, the Israel that makes us proud.

As Mandy Patinkin said in Tel Aviv earlier this month, all of us - Israelis, Palestinians, and their friends internationally - share a common fear. The fear will not disappear until our hope for a better Israel and our determination to help achieve it overpower the thick walls of fear and hatred that 45 years of occupation have created. Together with my Shalom Achshav colleagues in Israel, I am determined to turn our hope into a reality.