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A middle way to Mideast peace

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Lois Ballen was looking to "make something happen" in her Durham community. A longtime subscriber to the progressive Jewish magazine, Tikkun, she'd been following the publication's search for a new approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and its critical stance on aspects of the U.S. war on terrorism.

Recently, when the magazine's founders launched an interfaith, grassroots campaign dedicated to a "middle ground" in the Middle East--among other things--Ballen decided to act. She invited one of the campaign's national organizers to talk about forming a "Tikkun Community" in the Triangle.

On May 12, Robyn Lundy spoke to a gathering of about 35 people in the sanctuary of Judea Reform synagogue in Durham. Her appearance was part of a five-week speaking tour that included stops in Missouri, Iowa and Georgia. Although the main topic was the Middle East, Lundy also touched on domestic issues and a June 3 national "Teach-in" Tikkun is setting up to lobby Congress for a more "compassionate" approach to peace and security issues.

Since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has been following a "fear-based framework," Lundy said, "a framework that says that in order to achieve security, we have to achieve domination over others." It's the same approach that led to the war in Iraq and new restrictions on civil liberties at home.

Tikkun is proposing an alternative path, Lundy said, one that emphasizes economic justice, compassion and cooperation with other nations. "Making war is not going to bring us safety," she added. "I contend that if we signed onto all the international treaties this Administration has rejected and worked on internal issues like economic need, we'd be a lot more secure."

As for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Lundy said it's critical that American Jews speak out against the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as a first step toward lasting peace in the region. Tikkun (Hebrew for to heal, repair and transform) has proposed the creation of separate Israeli and Palestinian states with a shared Jerusalem, and a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with the aftermath of violence committed by both sides. Lundy's description of another plank in Tikkun's Middle East platform--reparations for Palestinian refugees who've fled Israel and Jewish refugees who've fled Arab countries--met with audible rustling in the pews.

Talking about these issues isn't easy, she said, particularly in American Jewish communities, where criticism of Israel is often considered suspect. In fact, her speech in Durham was one of the few on her five-week speaking tour hosted by a Jewish institution. "In a lot of places, I can't get the synagogues to sponsor me," Lundy said. "Or if I do, the rabbis won't come to the talk." (Judea Reform's Rabbi John Friedman was in the audience May 12). Viewing any criticism of the Israeli military occupation as anti-Jewish echoes the way the Bush administration has painted criticism of the U.S. war on terrorism as anti-American, she said. In both cases, keeping the lid on the discussion has prevented the pursuit of less violent policies.

The crowd at Judea Reform was polite and supportive, though not especially quick to answer Lundy's call to form a local Tikkun network. One reason is that there are groups already working on similar issues in the Triangle, including Jews for a Just Peace North Carolina, whose members took up one whole row in the sanctuary.

For her part, Ballen says she's excited about working to form a Tikkun chapter in the coming months. The morning after Lundy's speech, members of several local groups met with the organizer to talk more about Tikkun's positions and plans. "It's not just the Middle East that's of interest," Ballen says. "It's the thinking on many other issues. What draws me is that the approach is not fear-based. It's more thoughtful."

For information call 383-7878 or visit www.tikkun.org

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