.אנחנו צריכים שלום
Yesterday, I learned about an Israeli phrase from the 1980s and 1990s: "Shooting and crying." It refers to the Israeli who defends himself and his country with deadly force but regrets having to do so. There are voices in Israel that focus on shooting: Kill our enemies at all costs. There are those that focus on crying: The pain caused by violence is unacceptable. And there are those who do both: I hate to kill you, but I have to do it.
The sermon I heard yesterday mounted a defense for shooting and crying. The offensive in Gaza, the speaker said, is necessary for the security of Israeli citizens, but the moral considerations cannot be forgotten even in such a critical situation. It may seem hypocritical to some, but it's the best we have.
Shooting and crying.
We're in a bad spot here in Israel. Hundreds of people are dying and everyone is weighing in with her opinion. What's the right thing to do in this situation? What's the right thing to say?
The advocacy group J Street (a liberal answer to AIPAC), released a statement condemning both Hamas and Israel and calling for an immediate cease-fire:
Israel has a special place in each of our hearts. But we recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong. While there is nothing "right" in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing "right" in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.
And there is nothing to be gained from debating which injustice is greater or came first. What's needed now is immediate action to stop the violence before it spirals out of control.
I have to say that I agree. And it's hard to do so. The President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffe, publicly opposes the sentiments expressed in this statement:
These words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve. A cease-fire instituted by Hamas would be welcome, and Israel would be quick to respond. A cease-fire imposed on Israel would allow Hamas to escape the consequences of its actions yet again and would lead in short order to the renewal of its campaign of terror. Hamas, it should be noted, is not a government; it is a terrorist gang. And as long as the thugs of Hamas can act with impunity, no Israeli government of the right or the left will agree to a two-state solution or any other kind of peace. Doves take note: To be a dove of influence, you must be a realist, firm in your principles but shorn of all illusions.
These words were welcomed by the commenters on the blog and likely reflect the prevailing attitude among American Reform Jews. We hate violence, but Israel has to defend itself. Moreover, Israel is the victim here: If Hamas didn't attack Israel, Israel wouldn't attack back, and therefore, every civilian death is on Hamas' hands. Rabbi Bob Orkand, president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, defends this view by quoting Michael Walzer: "When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible--and no one else is--for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counter fire."
But I don't buy it, and I certainly can't sell it. This view seems sound on paper: Israel's the victim, and Hamas is to blame for the people being killed. But is it entirely unimaginable for us to entertain the opposite view? If Israel hadn't acceded to the illegal settlement of Palestinian land and enforced hardships upon the Palestinian populace, maybe Hamas wouldn't be so powerful today. Both views are right, both views are wrong. And I return to J Street's point: "There is nothing to be gained from debating which injustice is greater or came first. What's needed now is immediate action to stop the violence before it spirals out of control."
I'm not surprised at what Israel has done, and I'm not surprised at the various reactions to Israel's decisions. However, I am disappointed that the rabbinic leadership of the Reform Movement isn't acting as the still, small voice reminding the public that it's wrong to kill. It's wrong to be killed, it's wrong to impose hardship, it's wrong to abandon your public. But it's also wrong to kill and that's a Jewish and universal value. And someone has to say it.
I would have been much more proud of Rabbi Yoffe if, instead of saying that influential doves have to condone killing sometimes, he had said that it's wrong to kill. Of the shooters and cryers, I'm a cryer, and I'll cry quietly to myself about the deaths of hundreds of people and I'll cry loudly from the rooftops that it's wrong to kill. Do with that information what you will, but do not ignore it.
I think that it is rabbinical responsibility to be the voice of moral conscience in this conflict, and regardless of what's politically sound or best for the people of Israel or more justifiable based on historical circumstances, someone has to be the voice that reminds the people that it's wrong to kill. Because we've seen what happens when people forget this most essential value.
I hear over and over again that "we pray for the end of the military action in Gaza." That's not my prayer. My prayer is simple.
We need peace.
We, Israelis. We, Palestinians. We, the people of the entire world. We can't separate ourselves from our neighbors, close or distant, and we can't forget that every single human being is created in the image of God. To save a life is to save the entire world.
Need. We don't want or wish for or expect or fight for or plan for or even hope for. We need. It is a basic and inalienable requirement for our lives. Our humanity depends upon it:
Peace. Non-violence. Co-operation. Reciprocal community. Respect, justice, brotherhood, acceptance, virtue, enrichment, depth, education, broadness, embraces, laughter. It's political, familial, moral, historical, and messianic.
We need peace.
That's my prayer.
It's not complex, it's not nuanced. It doesn't take into account historical arguments, and it doesn't discern winners from losers. It's a statement of existential reality, and it's my heart's loudest cry. And I believe that it needs to be heard and understood and taken into account and adhered to. You can't hear this sentence and then dismiss it because it's inconvenient right now. "We don't have time for peace, we're under attack."
We need peace.
Now. Can I simply say "We need peace" and go home? Can I make a blanket moral statement without applying it to the situation on the ground? If I do, is that irresponsible? Perhaps. So let me say this:
It's wrong for Palestinians to kill. I condemn terrorism, and I support freedom and democracy, two principles which Hamas tends to withhold from the people of the Gaza strip. Hamas is bad for the Palestinians, and if wishing made it so, I would wish that every Hamas-nik woke up in the morning and decided to step down from power. The poltical reality is that Israel has enemies, and they're trying to destroy Israel. Israel is defending itself and is not maliciously killing for the sake of killing. I understand the situation to the best of my ability, and if I had to cast a vote, I'd vote for democracy over terrorism every time. It's wrong to kill.
So what does that mean with regard to Israel today in the Gaza strip? I wish I knew... Is it justifiable for Israel to invade Gaza, trying to minimize civilian casualties, in order to demolish an aggressive enemy? Could very well be. Is it just? It's much harder for me to say. Is it right? I don't know.
But what I do know is that it's wrong to kill and that we need peace. So long as our first priority is security instead of peace, we'll be fighting for a secondary goal. We have to change our perspective, to realign our priorities, if we're ever going to reach the goal of peace that almost everyone can agree on. I believe that if, starting tomorrow, Israel's first priority were peace (regardless of what Hamas' goals are), their thinking process would be different. They would ask the question, "How do we protect Israeli citizens?" but they would also ask the question "How do we work for peace with ourselves and with our neighbors?" Right now the first question is the only one getting asked, and as soon as they find an answer, they go with it. I don't see the second question getting discussed, and that's painful to me.
So, the situation is very complicated, but I feel that there's a responsibility for a group of people to speak the moral truths that our tradition imparts upon us. We need peace. I'm at a loss for what else to say. What would I do if I were a politician? I don't know. But I believe that my role as a rabbi is to speak my heart on this issue and my heart reminds me that we need peace, and that's my message.
That's my prayer.