Giving up on Peace Is Not an Option

June 1, 2011
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Maayan Ravid and Stav Bar-Shany

We are young students in Israel and each year we hear stories passed down from generation to generation with the unrelenting message to “never give up.” For more than 60 years, our families have struggled to live here — freely, safely, and peacefully. We can easily become disheartened, realizing that today we are not much closer to a peaceful, normal existence in the Jewish homeland than our parents or grandparents before us. The obstacles today are clearly different. The state is firmly established; it has grown and developed; its accomplishments are world-renowned. Israel has fulfilled some aspects of the Zionist vision — such as a homeland and safe haven for world Jewry — while sidelining others — such as the ethical commitment to social justice and coexistence with our Arab neighbors — along the way. Today, in addition to the ongoing security issues, our struggles revolve around the state’s moral composition and identity — how we treat others around us and among us.

In the last decade, as young Israelis, we have actively worked to improve our country. We participate in countless events, protests, initiatives, coexistence seminars, political discussions, media interviews, and arguments with family and friends. We know that a desired peace — a suitable solution — is yet to be found or agreed upon. We continue to hope and work, only to be disappointed time after time by our own politicians and their counterparts, by one conflict or military operation after another, by an ongoing occupation of a neighboring people. At the end of the day, the reality in Israel is both difficult and complicated.

How do we maintain hope and avoid despair in the face of multiple failed peace efforts? Activism is a Sisyphean effort, but as we take stock of the broader historical picture, considering our partners and the stakes involved, we know we must prevail.

First, we look back: We stand on the shoulders of many who worked and struggled for the state and for the Jewish people, often in more dire and extreme situations. Following them, we have no choice. This is the only country we have, with its distinct Jewish character,
historical ties, intensity, and never-ending challenges. We must continue striving to live here safely and peacefully. We cannot give up on their hopes and dreams.

Second, we look around: There is a wonderful and inspiring group of active people who share our passion and yearning for peace, understanding that it is crucial not only for us but also for our neighbors. Young people on both sides of the political and cultural barrier are tired of fighting and they fear the encroaching extremism. We understand that there must be another way to ensure safety and promote a livelihood for both sides — to create a viable future for two states, to better the economies of both peoples. We realize that solving our conflict might radiate throughout the region and even the world. We cannot give up on each other.

Third, we look ahead: We want to continue living in this country. Our ancestors struggled for it in the past and we struggle for it today. But we do not want our children to need to continue that struggle further. The Zionist dream is not to continue living on the sword while preventing another people their own sovereignty. The Zionist dream is to be a nation among nations with many achievements, aspirations, and a sense of moral integrity. We cannot give up on the future.

Considering where we come from, who our partners are, and where we set our vision going forward, the option of despair and disillusionment is simply nonexistent. Like our grandparents, we believe that we have a responsibility to shape the Jewish future. We feel privileged to have been born at this complicated time and in this special state. We feel privileged to be a part of the Jewish people and culture. We do not have the privilege of giving up on all of its potential, on what our grandparents — who founded the state — dreamed it could and should be.

Frustration and disappointment can lead to disillusionment. But they can also lead to a sense of urgency and responsibility. Our call is to sustain hope and resolve in the face of an enduring external and internal crisis. The stakes are just too high for us to give up. Sixty-odd years after the founding of the state, its ability to live in peace with its neighbors is as crucial to its future as any security consideration. We just cannot afford to give up on it.

Stav Bar-Shany studies Middle East and general history at Tel Aviv University. A former member of the Meretz political party, Bar-Shany worked with member of Knesset Dr. Tzvia Greenfield. Bar-Shany has volunteered with the Jewish Agency as a youth counselor in summer camps in Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. She thinks that Tel Aviv is the best place in the world, and that a two-state solution is the only political option to ensure that Israel will continue to prosper and fulfill its unique potential. She has been involved in several political initiatives that promote these ideas to different communities in and outside Israel.

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Maayan Ravid is soon to complete her studies in political science and the history of the Middle East and Africa at Tel Aviv University. Ravid has lived in Israel and in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been involved with community initiatives promoting peace and reconciliation on both continents. She has volunteered for several years with Sudanese refugees in Israel and worked with Hillel on social justice programs.

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