Friday, January 2, 2009

THE CRISIS IN GAZA: A Response to Rabbi Gopin, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, and the Jewish Left. Part II

by Carlos

2nd  part of 2



I am not a member of the Jewish right and I have the battle scars to prove it. But the actions of the Jewish left are dangerous and must be confronted. I understand they are looking for an approach to the conflict that is consistent with moral and spiritual principles. I am too. However, no such approach can be found by shortchanging the complexities we all face.

It is easy to be spiritual if we define reality in such a way that our cherished theories work. It is easy to create a false world in which appeal to the other's better nature always wins, while those whom we judge for not following our vision are left to pick up the pieces in the real world. We want to believe that all human beings desire the same things and that at the bottom of its heart Hamas, being human, really does want peace with Israel. We want to believe that if we are just nice enough, using no force, imposing no sanctions, then the other side will respect us and commit to an indefinite ceasefire under which all will prosper. Unfortunately, both the words and deeds of Hamas soundly contradict any such notion. What we see as being humane and compassionate, Hamas sees as an occasion for contempt and a weakness to exploit.

It is ironic that the Jewish left maintains it is seeking a "nuanced" approach to the conflict, as opposed to the black-and-white picture it accuses its adversaries on the right of perpetuating. One cannot find nuance by oversimplifying reality. A true nuanced approach must recognize the historical and factual complexities that thwart even the best spiritual plans. It may be praiseworthy to love, or at least not hate, your enemy. But it is foolish to assume that your enemy necessarily thinks the way you think or values what you value. The enemy recognizes our difference in values and says so: "We desire death like you desire life." We need to recognize it too.

No one with an ounce of compassion would want to inflict even a single civilian casualty, even in self-defense. But sometimes the only choice we get is a Sophie's choice. How do you preserve your spirituality when confronted with the choice either to kill or be killed, or worse, have your family killed? Answer: you fight for that spirituality. But what you do not do is abandon your family to destruction. Nor do you cherish illusions about your enemy that make it OK to do exactly that. No, you fight to protect yourself with as much respect for the humanity of the other that you can maintain without destroying yourself.

The difference in values could hardly be clearer. Israel patiently waited for years while its people were under fire, while Hamas used every "ceasefire" to rearm with deadlier weapons. Israel warns civilians to evacuate; Hamas fires without warning. Israel tries to spare civilians whenever possible; Hamas wants human trophies and designs its weapons not only to kill but to maim and disfigure the human body. Even Israel's targeting of tunnels has been selective, bombing weapons tunnels while sparing commercial ones. Unfortunately civilian casualties are inevitable when unlike you, your enemy does not protect its civilians but as part of its war strategy exposes them to danger. Israeli towns build shelters to protect their citizens when the rockets come, while the world complains that the rockets didn't kill enough Israelis to justify a response. Meanwhile Hamas fires at Israel from residential areas, and gathers people on rooftops of buildings it thinks Israel wants to hit. Why? Because it knows Israel does not share its values and does not want to kill civilians, and it uses that fact as a battle tactic. Whatever mistakes Israel may have made, it does not murder innocent people intentionally. The same cannot be said of a culture that values death and martyrdom over life and peace.

Undoubtedly there are Palestinians who truly do want to coexist peacefully with a Jewish state. Unfortunately there are not enough of them. It is not Palestinians as people who are the enemy. The real enemy is an ideology of darkness that has too many people in its grip. The real spiritual approach must begin with recognizing the darkness as darkness. No side is free of darkness. But if we really want to be "nuanced," we must recognize varying degrees of darkness. Claiming the right to fire increasingly powerful missiles in an intentional effort to murder civilians is beyond the pale of civilized society. So is filling those rockets with ball bearings and with large quantities of ammonia to inflict maximum human damage. And so is using one's own civilians as shields for those weapons.

Yes, it is indeed a challenge to respond to this level of depravity without losing one's own humanity. But we serve no spiritual purpose by shying from that responsibility and taking refuge in theories and assumptions that make life simpler but do not correspond with reality. These are tough questions, and we must wrestle with them. True spirituality begins with struggle. It always has.

- Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.




Erlanger, Steven. "An Egyptian Border Town’s Commerce, Conducted via Tunnels, Comes to a Halt." New York Times, Jamuary 1, 2009.

Katz, Yakov. "Latest Rockets Manufactured in China." Jerusalem Post, January 1, 2009.

Kershner, Isabel and Ethan Bronner. "Israel Pursues Diplomacy but Presses Attacks." New York Times, Jamuary 1, 2009.

Selig, Abe. "School Closure Saves Lives of Pupils." Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2008.

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