What is peace? Is it more than the absence of war? Jewish tradition seems to assign peace a far higher value than the lack of belligerence. Indeed the term for peace, shalom, is used in a variety of ways. Shalom bayit, family peace; shalom olam, world peace; and Shabbat shalom, Sabbath peace, are just three of the modern expressions. Left alone, the word shalom is the primary Hebrew greeting and is usually translated as hello and goodbye. The term is also the Hebrew word for personal wellbeing.
Months ago UNESCO with the cooperation of the American State Department announced that they would sponsor an exhibition in Paris on Jewish Ties to the Holy Land. Last week the organization and the State Department both announced that they were postponing the exhibition, as it would be an impediment to the peace process.
On its surface one might understand how doing anything that supports the bonds to the Land of Israel that have been recorded in the literature of the past three thousand years might seem to inject a problem into upcoming peace negotiations. After all such a step, taken in Paris of all places, would demonstrate that this bond with the land is not only a matter of propaganda, but of an established literary record. For UNESCO and the State Department to stand up for an established reality might be controversial. The Palestinian leadership has denied the Holocaust for years. Its bulldozers remove as much of the archeological record as they can from the Temple Mount. So any third party that stands up and proclaims that the claim to the land of Israel is ages old and not the product of the last century might be deemed a problem to negotiators afraid to confront and admit the truth.
The historical record must be recognized for real peace to occur. By cancelling this museum display, UNESCO and the State Department seem to proclaim the opposite. They seem to be suggesting that the cessation of a state of war can be achieved by playing ostrich. The Palestinians and Arabs can hide their heads in the ground and ignore the reality that the Israeli side brings to the negotiating table.
Should not UNESCO, the United Nations agency for education, pursue truth? Revealing truth is part of what any good educational system is built to do. Teaching truth must be its mission, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be for some to learn.
As for the State Department, why broker a peace between the Israelis and Palestinians based on falsehood? If truth cannot be the basis for a successful outcome, can peace based on falsehood endure? Hiding the Jewish tie to the Holy Land can achieve nothing.
Certainly both Jews and Arabs have legitimate reasons to want that small slice of Middle Eastern real estate. Still, until each side can understand the other side's perspective no peace can survive.
It is interesting that the presentation was to have taken place in Paris, among the most secular areas on theglobe. If a meaningful presentation of this sort can take hold in a secular land, cannot a sacred tradition be accepted among people who claim to venerate their faith in the Supreme Being?
The decision to cancel the presentation is cowardly and a defamation of the basic commitments that should have motivated both of its sponsors. Truth!