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An Old-New Israeli Voice: The Voice of Conscience

By Lev Grinberg – Jerusalem*

In recent weeks a new voice is rising, loud and clear. A voice previously marginal and repressed, a voice that now threatens to inundate the entire country with the hope of breaking out of the crisis.

It is the voice of conscience, which sees all human beings as equal, having the right to shelter, health, freedom and dignity, and above all, the right to life.

The most salient expression of the new voice are the soldiers that declared their objection to serve the occupation, and the intensity of the reactions, be they negative or positive, that they provoked.

But this is only one expression of the new voice’s power.

The new voice permeates reports from the Occupied Territories, and it has begun to mobilize masses for action, in previously inconceivable scales, such as the last two Saturdays' rallies.

The voice of conscience is both personal and collective, hence its strength. It is personal because each individual must be accountable for his actions. It is collective because it manifests social responsibility and creates a common language through which we are able to communicate, talk about the reality and connect with each other.

The voice’s intensity and growth potential stem from its clarity and unambiguousness. You cannot tell the voice of conscience that “we” want peace but “they” don’t, because the daily abuse of the Palestinians and the provocative exterminations are clear for all to see.

You cannot distract the voice of conscience by claiming that “Barak offered everything”, because in terms of conscience, this does not justify the war crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces.

And of course you cannot recruit soldiers with the militaristic argument that “we must win this war”, because the occupation is not a war forced upon us, and woe to us if we ever do win, and thus succeed to maintain the occupation.

The new voice’s greatest power is its ancientness. There is no need to invent it; it already exists in the individual consciousness, in the Jewish and humanistic tradition.

This is the voice of “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself” and “What is hateful to you do not do unto your fellow man”.

These are the values on which most Israelis were brought up, and this is the dormant voice now awakening.

It is inside us, only until now it has been silenced by other voices, which mobilize a nation to war and raise primal fears that mute the voice of conscience.

This old-new voice is powerful enough to tear down the protective wall of blind militarism, of racism - that make distinctions between types of blood according to their origin, and of fascism - that demands national unity.

The voice of conscience and the Jewish moral code are capable of establishing in Israel a different culture, a culture of tolerance and coexistence.

The voice of conscience can link Jews, Christians and Muslims brought up on the sacred principle that all human beings are created in God’s image.

The voice of conscience can provide an agreed-upon moral basis between Jews and Arabs according to the biblical, pre-democratic rule that “One law shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourns among you”.

If this voice grows stronger, it can also provide the ethical basis required for rapprochement and resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, which is now conceived as intractable, breeding a sense of despair and thoughts about leaving.

The ancient Jewish voice of conscience is the voice of the new hope.

* - Lev Grinberg is a peace activist and political sociologist, Director of the Humphrey Institute for Social Research


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