Palestinians can change


As the peace negotiations resumed last week and all Jews struggle with the question of whether the Palestinians, nurtured on hatred, might ever be suitable partners in peace, we may take some small measure of hope from the discussion in this last week’s parsha of the eligibility of descendants of the Moabites and Ammonites to convert to Judaism.

In explaining why 10 generations must pass before males may join the Jewish people, the Torah cites two incidents. In the first, the Moabites and Ammonites failed to welcome the Jewish wanderers as they approached the Promised Land. In the second, the Moabite king enlisted the services of the prophet Balaam in a futile attempt to curse the nation of Israel.

The first demonstrated a lack of gratitude, since Avraham avinu (Abraham, our father) intervened with Hashem to save Lot and his daughters, the parents of Moab and Ben-Ammi (Ammon), from the destruction of Sodom. The second showed a hatred of Israel and a desire for its destruction.

The rabbis ask which incident figured more prominently in the determination to restrict these nations from joining into association with the Jewish people. They answer that ingratitude disqualifies more than enmity. Thanklessness is akin to a genetic defect which can only be outbred over a long period of time, while antipathy is a function of nurture and can be coaxed from the system through the same process of education and enculturation that engendered the original hostility.

Let us pray that the negotiations are successful, and let us take some comfort from the parsha that the Palestinians, who acknowledge their descent from Avraham, will find it within themselves to set aside their hatred — if not to become members of the Jewish people then at least to exist side by side with us without bloodshed.


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