Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is a leader.
It is important to say this on this particular day, November 4, the 20th anniversary of the death, the assassination, of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli military leader and Prime Minister of peace.
A leader is one who tells people what needs to be done, and models it for them. A leader is one who sees the bigger picture, more than what sounds or feels good in the moment. A leader is one who sees to the welfare of all people not just those who support him or her, not just those of one group but all. A leader has a vision of things as they could be, and is willing to risk discomfort and unpopularity to share ideas and programs to help move toward that new way of life. Rabin was this kind of leader.
Such a vision continues to be articulated by Rivlin. A year ago, as Jonathan and I were in Israel, he declared that the time had come to recognize that Israel had become “a sick society.” He did not mean that Israelis are bad people but that the unwillingness to engage Palestinians in a shared nation is corrupting the national soul.
And in May he spoke of the need for each group to recognize the value and culture of the other. He even went so far as to say that just as Arab children must learn Hebrew that all Jewish children should be taught Arabic. What a concept! It would be good for us in the United States to insist, in a similar way, that all children be taught Spanish (take that, Donald Trump!). As Rivlin says, language “leads from the ear to the heart.”
What is interesting about Rivlin is that he does not support the two-state solution, believing that Arabs and Jews can live side by side. This is why he goes deeper, dealing with questions of identity and difference, hoping to encourage dialogue between those who stand across the chasm of hatred and yell at each other, and thrown stones and even launch rockets. What he really wants is a unified nation of people of the land, all people of the land.
This kind of thinking is where peace is actually made. Treaties are not peace, dividing up the political spoils among various groups or nations–that is not peace. Such things may help, by reducing warfare and overt violence, but peace requires deeper change, peace is a matter of the soul and spirit of people. It is overcoming the inner, intimate instinct for violence.
Rivlin seems to understand this; or maybe he just sees how hopeless it is to keep playing the political games of Netanyahu and Abbas and others (even Obama and Kerry). It is telling that recently the Prime Minister of Israel said, “I am asked if we will forever live by the sword? Yes.” (see story here)
The President of that same nation says, according to a report in The Times of Israel, that
opposing narratives were at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a “zero sum game between identities, between national stories.
“My independence is your catastrophe,” he said, alluding to the Palestinian Nakba, marked with an annual day of mourning that coincides with Israel’s celebration of its independence in 1948. “You build your identity, which negates mine, and I build my identity, which negates yours.” (read the story here)
He wants each side to cease building separate identities at the expense of the other, to recognize a shared inheritance in the land and a deep spirituality.
The difference between the two attitudes, between Rivlin and Netanyahu, is stunning. One will help Israel survive and thrive. The other will cause more sickness and, I believe, ultimately lead to its demise.
To live by the sword is to die by it. Rabin knew this from personal experience, even before the assassin’s bullet. Rivlin seems to know it today.
On this day, we must pray in gratitude for Rabin, as we pray for the life of Rivlin (who has, like Rabin, received many death threats). Theirs is the journey of hope and liberation from hate and violence, the way to godly living in the land of such promise.
And we must pray for Netanyahu, Abbas, and all the others, that they finally come to their senses, to learn to reach across the great divide to begin the really hard work of peace.