This past week in Israel was a roller coaster of emotions. In a number of ways, as some might say, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The Best of Times: On Monday, May 14, Israel celebrated its 70th Anniversary, a true milestone worth acknowledging from deep in our hearts. The centuries of longing to return to our homeland have now had seven decades filled with hope rather than despair, and with creation rather than mourning.
The Worst of Times: At least 60 people have died in Gaza in protests along the Israel-Palestine Border.
The Best of Times: On May 12, Israeli pop star Netta won the Eurovision song contest with her song, “Toy,” which celebrates diversity, female empowerment, and plenty of silliness, too.
The… Questionable… of Times: The US Embassy is moved to Jerusalem, West Jerusalem to be exact, along with a declaration (from the US, at least), that Jerusalem is the true capital of Israel. Speakers at the opening included two evangelical pastors, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, who have repeatedly been known to spout anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Mormon, and anti-Gay hate speech. The sensationalized media coverage around the event seemed more focused on the people who were present or not present, rather than what this moment meant for the land and people of Israel.
On Monday, we had a “split-screen” story – the US Embassy opening in Jerusalem, side-by-side with images of flames, tear gas, and injured Palestinian victims along the border just 30 some miles away.
What are we to do with all of this? How are we to feel? To react? Each day’s news brings with it fresh perspectives, fresh heartbreak, and fresh complexity.
I don’t need to tell you this, but I need to say it out loud nonetheless: This is anything but a black and white issue. It is okay to feel conflicted, confused, and a mixed range of paradoxical thoughts.
I’ll share with you some of mine.
I love Israel. I am a proud Zionist. I love the country, the people, and our historic ties to the land which have spanned over millennia. I believe without question that Israel has a right to exist and to thrive as a Jewish democratic homeland.
Additionally, my heart breaks for the terrible and unforgiveable position in which most residents of Gaza find themselves. They are denied basic needs by both Israel and Hamas, and they suffer daily.
I am frustrated by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s actions which exacerbate tensions with Palestinians. Instead of halting settlements or actively engaging in peace negotiations, he doubles-down on rhetoric which creates distance and inflames terrorists.
Israel has a right to defend herself and her borders against threats and attacks.
Palestinians have a right to advocate for their own country, their own leadership, and their own capital. They have a right to their narrative of the Nakba, the catastrophe of Israel gaining her independence in 1948 and reunifying Jerusalem in 1967.
Complicating this even further are at least four other forces:
1) The presence of rampant anti-Semitism that masquerades as anti-Zionism. Nothing Israel does will ever be good enough, or fair enough, or just enough. Israel’s existence will never be tolerated and their actions will always be wrong.
2) Evangelical preachers who are strongly and vocally pro-Israel, but only because returning the Jews to the land of Israel will hasten the coming of the End-of-Days.
3) The multiple terrorist groups which only wish to destroy Israel, with Hamas being the most significant over the last few weeks. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is an authoritarian, theocratic regime that has called for Jewish genocide in its charter, murdered scores of Israeli civilians, repressed Palestinian women, and harshly persecuted religious and sexual minorities. It is a designated terrorist group by the United States, Canada, and the European Union.
4) Manipulative and often false social media posts, memes, and reports. Our age of digital media is one in which it can be very difficult to discern fact from fiction. For instance, a video of a Palestinian “martyr” allegedly moving under his shroud that is circulating in pro-Israel circles is actually a 4-year old clip from Egypt. Likewise, despite the claims of viral tweets and the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry that ere initially parroted by some in the media, Israel did not actually kill an 8-month old baby with tear gas. The Gazan doctor who treated her told the Associated Press that she died from a preexisting heart condition, a fact belatedly picked up by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
These are just a few of the threads that interweave into an ever more complicated tapestry in Israel and the Palestinian territories. As journalist Yair Rosenberg explains, the Hamas thread is one of the most nefarious:
Many of the thousands of protesters on the Gaza border, both on Monday and in weeks previous, were peaceful and unarmed, as anyone looking at the photos and videos of the gatherings can see.
Hamas manipulated many of these demonstrators into unwittingly rushing the Israeli border fence under false pretenses in order to produce injuries and fatalities. As the New York Times reported, “After midday prayers, clerics and leaders of militant factions in Gaza, led by Hamas, urged thousands of worshipers to join the protests. The fence had already been breached, they said falsely, claiming Palestinians were flooding into Israel.” Similarly, the Washington Post recounted how “organizers urged protesters over loudspeakers to burst through the fence, telling them Israeli soldiers were fleeing their positions, even as they were reinforcing them.” Hamas has also publicly acknowledged deliberately using peaceful civilians at the protests as cover and cannon fodder for their military operations. “When we talk about ‘peaceful resistance,’ we are deceiving the public,” Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar told an interviewer. “This is peaceful resistance bolstered by a military force and by security agencies.”
Hamas further incentivized violence by providing payments to those injured and the families of those killed. Both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad terror group have since claimed many of those killed as their own operatives and posted photos of them in uniform. On Wednesday, Hamas Political Bureau member Salah Al-Bardawil announced that 50 of the 62 fatalities were Hamas members.
Sadly, there isn’t much that the Palestinians in Gaza can do to remove themselves from Hamas’ regime. Ever since Hamas was elected to Gaza’s leadership in 2006, it has not once permitted another election. It actively threats and even executes those who are viewed as collaborators with Israel or those who publicly criticize Hamas. Hamas manipulates and sublimates Palestinian anger by channeling it instead toward Israel.
And even with these violent acts toward Israel, we can be critical of how Israel has responded.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman writes:
We can believe that the events in Gaza are a war against Israel, support our soldiers, and still desire a public debate over the means necessary to win this war. I don’t value Monday morning moral philosophers, nor expressions of “concern” for loss of life. I do value serious moral reflection on how to ensure that we live up to our military moral code, which demands that even when force is used in self-defense, we only use the amount of force necessary and in proportion to the danger that we face, and that we do everything in our power to avoid civilian casualties. I do desire an Israeli society which welcomes and engages in this discourse.
We also must discourage charges of disproportionality. As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, past president of the Union for Reform Judaism wrote,
“Charges of disproportionality are among the most common leveled against Israel in her long struggle against Hamas, and they are among the most infuriating.
Are (Goldberg and Cassidy) suggesting that if there were a lot more Israeli dead, and a hundred Jewish bodies were strewn across the desert in southern Israel, then Israel’s action would be acceptable, or at least more readily forgiven? If not directly stated, that is what is implied.”
I asked earlier: what are we to do?
Fortunately, I do have a few suggestions.
1) Actively seek out multiple news sources from a variety of viewpoints. Understand that a number of our news agencies tend to have anti-Israel bias before they even start, so balance their reporting with articles directly from Israel itself.
2) Consider donating and supporting organizations which further the pursuit of peace between Israel and Palestine. Depending on where you find yourself and what you believe, you may choose AIPAC, J Street, New Israel Fund, or even ARZA, which is the Association of Reform Zionists of America.
3) Get involved with Israel advocacy. Just because these issues are complex does not allow us to remove ourselves from the discussion. We can support Israel’s right to exist while also stridently defending the lives of the Palestinians. We can criticize Israel without losing our hope for a more peaceful and just two-state solution. We can call on Netanyahu to act immediately to put forward a plan which relieves the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Hamas. We do not have to allow extremists from either side of the spectrum to dominate the discussion. The more that our nuanced voices are heard, the more that others will feel allowed to share their own complicated viewpoints.
4) Finally, GO TO ISRAEL. It’s all fine and good to theorize in the abstract from here. It is much more important to go there, have conversations with the various players, and get to know the story from actual Israelis and actual Palestinians. If we can filter out the politicians and instead talk to joe-shmo citizen on the ground, we will have a much more accurate and meaningful understanding of the situation. I invite you to come along on our CBSRZ trip in October, entitled, More Than Milk and Honey. These are exactly the kinds of discussions, visits, and conversations we will be having over ten days in Israel.
No matter what, we do what we Jews have always done – we pray for peace, and we work for peace. Our texts tell us to not only seek peace, but we must actively pursue it. We reach out our hands towards our Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters, for whom the land of Israel is eternally holy, and we continue walking – one step at a time – towards a future filled with hope, equity, and righteousness.
I conclude with these beautiful, gut-wrenching words from poet Alden Solovy.
Lamentation from Both Sides of the Fence
Oh, my people,
Look at what we’ve done,
And look at what we’ve become,
Hardening our hearts,
Shutting our eyes,
Closing our minds,
Banishing justice and love from our midst,
Turning fears into swords,
And hopes into spears,
Defending, always defending,
Our divine rights
To sovereign land.
Woe to the land that has soaked up so much blood.
Woe to the sky that has witnessed so much death.
Woe to the sea that cannot calm our grieving souls.
You who cast peace and prosperity to the winds,
Chasing hope to the clouds,
Banishing sanity to the netherworlds,
We have lost too many sons,
We have grieved too many daughters,
We rend our clothes and sit in sackcloth too often,
And we are crying, always crying,
Deep in our veins.
Darkness marches and madness sings,
‘Keep on, keep on, for this is the only path,’
While death dances with glee shouting,
‘Keep on, keep on, there is no other way.’
Oh, my people,
Look at what we’ve done,
And look at what we’ve become.
For these things do I weep,
My eyes are flowing with tears:
For the dead,
For the children,
For our aching hearts,
For this yearning for peace.
© 2018 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.