Israel and Gaza: In Search of a New Moral Calculus

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I knew my last post would generate passionate comments – and I confess that I did hesitate before posting something so patently emotional. I went ahead though, because as I read the increasingly tragic news about the Israel-Gaza conflict, I’m consciously resisting the knee-jerk impulse to paper over my emotions with dispassionate analysis. It’s becoming clear to me that our attempts to be “rational” keep us from facing the inherent irrationality of this conflict.

Of course the Qassam attacks against Southern Israel have been intolerable. Of course Hamas bears its share of responsibility for this conflict. But beyond the rhetorical “well, he started it” arguments (which could stretch well back to 1948 and beyond) there remains the central question: what will bring safety, security and ultimately peace to this tortured region? I realize there are no easy answers, but I believe to my marrow that it will not come by sending in the war planes and reducing what’s left of Gaza to rubble.

Does anyone in their right mind truly think this abject destruction will ultimately bring safety and security to Southern Israel?  In the end, Every Gazan killed equals that many more family members and friends who will now be forever enraged and inflamed against the Jewish state. If peace depends largely on cultivating moderates on the other side, what does blowing them to smithereens accomplish? Believe me, if Israel ultimately thinks their attacks will turn Gazans against Hamas, they will be sorely disappointed. If forced to choose between Israel and Hamas, who do we really think they will choose now?

But even more than the strategic considerations, I am infinitely more troubled by the deeper moral implications of Israel’s military actions. Yes, it is true that Hamas chose to end the ceasefire and yes, Israel has few good options. But it was ultimately Israel who made the decision to bombard Gaza with a massive air attack, loosing many several hundreds of bombs into densely populated city center, virtually guaranteeing widespread civilian carnage and death.

As I write these words, I can already predict the standard moral calculus: “Yes, but Hamas purposely launches Qassams into civilian areas while Israel tries to minimize civilian casualties whenever possible.”  I’m coming to realize that pat rhetorical equations like these might serve to help us sleep better at night, but they don’t change some basic unavoidable truths: that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the military power dynamic is heavily weighted in Israel’s favor, that Hamas’ Qassams are but peashooters against Israel’s armed might and ultimately, as traumatic as it undoubtedly is to live in Sderot, Palestinian civilian casualties vastly outnumber Israel’s. And in the end, it matters little to the loved one of a dead civilian whether or not his/her death was caused intentionally or by “collateral damage.”

From what I can tell, Israel’s response to this latest bloody go-round amounts to: “We regret if civilians are killed, but they started it and anyhow that’s what happens in war.”  I certainly understand how Israel, a nation that has been in a constant state of war and conflict since its inception might develop such a moral trope. But whatever comfort it might afford us in the short term, it will not ultimately provide us with a path to peace – only a rationalization for prolonging the bloody status quo.

That’s all for now. Thank you for your comments and please keep them coming. And let’s pray for better news tomorrow.


39 Comments on “Israel and Gaza: In Search of a New Moral Calculus”

  1. CShapiro says:

    Brant — Picking up where the last thread left off, I agree with Martin Okun, and I think his is the best answer to those who are criticizing you for not more roundly condemning Hamas’s attacks on Sderot.

    The issue to me is not who started it — which (as you said) is a hopeless discussion, with recriminations going back more than 60 years (“a land without a people for a people without a land”). And the issue to me is not whether Israel’s response is proportionate or not.

    The only issue that matters, it seems to me, is what course is most likely to lead to an end to bloodshed in the region. And this ain’t it, as you say. Israel’s claim that they are going to topple Hamas is, in my view, completely delusional. Please. This will only make Hamas stronger in the long run. Israel is making new terrorists by the dozen.

    Hamas is despicable and their actions are deeply cynical. This is a given. I am not defending them and I am not trying to justify their actions or the actions of some future terrorist who is watching his little sister die right now. But this is the reality. This is what will happen as a result of these attacks.

    And since massive bombings that lead to the deaths of hundreds, including scores of CHILDREN, cannot lead to a good result for anyone, Israeli or Palestinian, and indeed, is likely to lead to more deaths, on both sides — then even under the most utilitarian calculus, it is completely immoral. Do I think Hamas’s actions are completely immoral as well? Hell, yes. But I’m not a Palestinian. I’m a Jew. And so Israel is where my passion — both positive and critical — goes.

    When you figure out what to do besides writing impassioned blog comments, can you tell me?

  2. There are laws to which the US, at least, is a signatory, governing acts of war. Research the Geneva Conventions. Making our allies adhere to those laws would go a long way toward creating calm in the area.

    And regarding criminals and terrorists – we have seen that good police work on the one hand and social justice on the other, always working in tandem, reduce crime and unrest. It’s basic. It’s simple.

    Peace is possible. It takes diplomacy, skilled negotiation, and political will. But peace can be achieved and in our lifetimes.

  3. Ron Skolnik says:

    Kol HaKavod, Brant. War numbs humanity. You’ve helped restore some of the feeling to our hearts.
    Best,
    Ron

  4. Ross says:

    I never answered your question about what I think you should do. I think you should write a book.

  5. Elaine Waxman says:

    Thank you for sharing your very honest outrage and grief. In doing so, you challenge all of us to refuse to accept the unending cycle of violence and the mentality that permits it. I like to tell my children that it doesn’t matter who starts a fight, only who takes the steps to end it. I don’t think I can bear to hear one more person pretend to apologize for “unfortunate” and “accidental” civilian deaths. If it is the traditional Jewish custom to tear one’s garments upon hearing of a death, then perhaps this can also be understood as a call to tear down the pretenses by which we rationalize the violence that leads to those deaths. As for what we should do, I can only think of small steps: cry out against the cycle of destruction, sit shiva for those who die regardless of which piece of such tiny ground they fell upon, and pray with our feet, as Heschel would say.

  6. Jesse Bacon says:

    In response to CShapiro, I do not think the question of proportionality can or should be separated from the question of pragmatic effectiveness. The bottom line is that disproportionately doesn’t work in a pragmatic sense ,and even if it did, it lays waste to any ideal it purports to defend .

  7. MargeFrank says:

    As an American Israeli, fearful for her friends and family in Israel, mourning for the hundreds of Gazan deaths and injuries, I don’t have much ability to contribute a dispassionate comment, let alone have an idea of how to achieve peace in the region. I’m just a bundle of frayed nerves and tears.

    However, Brant, you have quoted David Grossman and, I, too, like his way of thinking. He has an article in today’s New York Times which has an actual proposal for an attempt to make peace, or at least a temporary cease fire. I, too, greatly admire him, as he has the capacity to continue suggesting attempts for reasoned solutions. I do believe his efforts are more constructive than our having minor tantrums, stamping our feet and telling Israel to behave.

  8. Lisa Kosowski says:

    I just wanted to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for truly being a Jewish leader and speaking out when the establishment has such strong forces to silence us. You provide me with the invaluable spiritual reassurance that my moral compass is on track.

  9. Ann says:

    Rabbi,

    No liberal hand wringing here.

    If Israel has a right to exist, it has a right to secure borders. Period.

    Hamas has shown in the past two years that it has no intention of making peace with Israel. Shooting thousands of missiles at innocent civilians is not a demonstration of peace.

    Is it “brave” and “courageous” to voice your opinion? No. It is brave and courageous to live in Sderot, Be’er Sheva, Ashkelon and other towns that continually withstand Hamas rockets.

    At Sderot, July 23, 2008, President-elect Obama stated:

    “The Qassam rockets fired by Hamas deliberately and indiscriminately target civilians. This terror is intolerable. Israelis should not have to live endangered in their homes and schools. I’m hopeful that the recent understanding to end the attacks will provide some relief, but America must always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself against those who threaten its people.”

    Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFoj-PKJhck for the full video of his statement.

    Israel is not indiscriminately bombing civilians in the current military operation. Go to http://www.youtube.com/idfnadesk to see that the IDF is specifically targeting Hamas installations.

    If peace is to succeed, the Palestinians need to seek better representation than Hamas.

  10. Ann quotes Obama’s speech in Sderot. I’m hoping that Obama’s steadfast support for Israel will give him creds to be able to put a hand on the shoulders of Israeli leaders and say, “Chill.”

    Bush’s do-nothing posture — let Israel do whatever it wants — has been a horribly destructive stance that has made Israel less safe.

    I remember hearing Dennis Ross once say: the key to less violence in Israel/Palestine is constant engagement by third parties, particularly the United States. He said that it doesn’t matter what the odds of any particular set of negotiations being effective are… it is the continual engagement with parties on all sides that tamps down the levels of violence and reduces the numbers of innocent victims.

  11. Lesley says:

    Yes, it does take enormous physical courage to live within shooting distance of Hamas. But as Bill Maher famously pointed out, physical courage is a morally neutral virtue. Our survival as a people depends on both physical AND moral courage, and I’m grateful for leaders like Brant who refuse to neglect the latter.

  12. debbie schlossberg says:

    gee brant- i think we part ways here. i believe one of the problems in this discourse is the mistaken impression that israel’s goal with this campaign is to squash hamas. israel knows it will not achieve this and does claim to. israel claims to be targeting the weakening of the hamas infrastructure(including those damn tunnels) to the point of returning to a more durable, sustainable cease fire-better than the last six months in order to achieve interim quiet in order to work on the bigger picture. the end goals of which we all speak-peace, security, two states living side by side are very separate matters from this short-term campaign, which the great majority of israelis, david grossman perhaps aside, feel is entirely justified. does the answer to israel and palestine’s quest for peace lie in a military solution? most decidedly not-it must be a political solution, but nobody is pretending that the gaza campaign is a solution to anything other than the immediate protection of the citizens of southern israel and an opon door to a solid cease fire.

  13. Debbie,

    If what you say is true, why didn’t didn’t Israel just bomb the tunnels instead of bombing in the heart of Gaza where there are innocent victims.

    It seems like most of the deaths are in Hamas’ military “middle – management.” Those are the guys who would be on the ground enforcing any political solutions.

    Who gains the most from the deaths Israel has caused in Gaza? Al-Qaeda.

  14. JB says:

    Hmmmm.
    Reading this reply, Rabbi Shai, makes me think of the morally and intellectually bankrupt justifications of the Bush administration to justify doing or not doing whatever they chose (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq – you name it). This feels like a fall-back to “Al-Qaeda (the boogeyman) is gonna get us, so we have to do what I say.”
    I hope that is not how you think to justify your position.

  15. varda says:

    respectfully, the reason that israel is bombing in the heart of gaza is because the hamas has storage facilities of rockets in the heart of gaza. in apartment buildings.

    which is not to say that i am not full of heartache.

  16. nancy fuchs-kreimer says:

    Brant,
    You are a true leader. I am proud to call you a colleague. The level of discourse in these comments is also exceptional—-passionate and thoughtful. Kol ha Kavod to you and them.
    Nancy

  17. Lynn Pollack says:

    I am so grateful to you, Brant, for sharing your anguish and grief with us and the world.

    Perhaps, as Elaine suggests, we should sit shiva — at a public event at JRC, mourning:

    The deaths of innocent Palestinians
    The deaths of innocent Israelis
    The death (for some) of a dream of an Israel that is a “light unto the nations”

    The thousands injured, the hundreds of thousands who can’t sleep at night, the many who have stopped speaking, the children and their parents who are in the throes of traumatic stress syndrome.

    I am ashamed at the lies coming out of the mouths of people who claim to speak for American Jewry. We need to help people see beyond the talking points of this propaganda (and I’ve seen the talking points), including the drastic misrepresentation of Gaza as if the 1.5M people there chose their fate of occupation and the slow strangulation — drastic shortages of food, medicine, and fuel — that Israel has imposed on Gaza since their withdrawal of troops and settlers in 2005.

    I urge everyone to venture out of your own comfort zone. ( I have done this myself, recently visiting Sderot. )

    Read Ha’aretz daily. Read the Electronic Intifiada. Go to the website of B’tselem (the Israeli Human Rights organization) and click on statistics. Dwell for a while on the numbers of Palestinians in Gaza who have been killed. Read their bios. Note their ages.

    Before the truce began in August of this year, between January and July of 2008, the Israeli army had already killed more than 400 Palestinians in Gaza, 75 of whom were children. I guess since no one seemed to be protesting these deaths too much, Israel felt emboldened that if they killed nearly as many in just a few days, that no one would care. Please, please let’s prove them wrong!

    Write a letter to your congressperson. To Bush. To Obama. To the newspaper. Identify yourself as a Jew who is appalled at this tragedy and in so doing give someone else the courage to speak out. Let’s build a movement of intolerance for this disregard for human life. Dayenu! Halas!

    Go to a demonstration and begin to understand the pain and anger the Palestinian diaspora is feeling. It’s a close community — the ties between Palestinians in Chicago and in the Occupied Territories are deep. (Friday, Jan. 2 — at the Tribune Plaza, 3 pm.)

    I hope to see you there.

    — Lynn

  18. JB,

    I think you didn’t understand what I wrote, or maybe I didn’t understand what you wrote…

    What I’m saying is to the extent that Israel is destabilizing Hamas by killing its mid-level military leadership, I think that is a mistake in terms of Israel’s own security.

    I think there are many reasons to oppose what Israel is doing. I’m raising the issue of Israel’s own security as a reason to be against Israel’s current Gaza actions.

    As hard as it might be to negotiate or deal with Hamas, it would likely be harder to deal with Al-Qaeda in Gaza. If Hamas is functionally destroyed by Israel’s actions, Al-Qaeda in Gaza might be the strongest player in what would likely be a chaotic situation.

    I can’t predict particular outcomes or which players will rise or fall. But the use of violence for political purposes usually has unintended consequences and should be used as little as possible. I feel that Israel falls back to violence all to often.

  19. We’re all diminished by silence in these circumstances; thanks for talking with reason and compassion about this situation. There’s got to be a better way.

  20. CShapiro says:

    Ann —

    To say that Israel has the right to protect its borders seems to me to miss the point. Sure it does. But that does not mean it has the right to do absolutely anything to protect its borders. Does it have the right to detonate a nuclear bomb in Gaza — that would solve the problem of Hamas, wouldn’t it? — but I trust that we all recoil from that particular option as completely unthinkable. I don’t mean to be flip. It’s just that saying Israel has the right to protect itself seems to me to tell us virtually nothing about the appropriateness of these particular actions. And it tells us nothing whatsoever about their wisdom.

  21. Ross says:

    Whenever a nation state engages in state violence there will always be people ready to rationalize its actions on the grounds that its means are necessary and constrained compared to the violence it is capable of and justified to commit. Humanity is inventive enough to always come up with a more violent alternative to compare with the violent means it is tasked with justifying at the moment. The use of fire bombings and atomic weapons during WWII, which has been justified by so many, makes this task easier since one can always justify any use of conventional weaponry, no matter how horrible, by comparison with the weapons of mass destruction used by the Allied powers in WWII. It is even better if a nation that is using conventional weapons has nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction at its disposal. The method of rationalizing violence on the grounds that it is less violent than a justified alternative is sometimes called “purity of arms.”

  22. Maxine Lange says:

    Thanks you for your thoughtful comments on the Gaza-Israel situation. It is truly a “sick to the stomach” disaster. Although your blog only emphasized the severity of the actions, it did help us to know we are not alone in how we think about the Israeli and Jewish responses. We can only hope that Obama may make some differences in how we respond.

  23. Ann H. (former JRC member) says:

    CShapiro-

    If you read the entirety of my posting (and if you follow the news), you will see that I noted that Israel is protecting its borders with a very specific military operation aimed at destroying tunnels used to smuggle weaponry and destroying installations that store weaponry and house terrorists that are intent on the destruction of Israel.

    This morning, a friend sent me a letter written by Tawfik Hamid, an Egyptian Muslim now living in the United States. He speaks to the current situation and to the direction Palestinians must take if there is to be peace.

    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1230733118401&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter

    Ann H.

  24. CShapiro says:

    Ann H —

    There are a lot of things the Palestinians should do. As I said in my very first comment, Hamas is despicable and its actions deeply cynical. I do not view Hamas a victim. It is, however, the elected representative of the Palestinians in Gaza. Israel helped to eliminate Fatah (which played its own horrific part in its demise and in the failure of a lasting peace agreement — don’t mistake what I say as pity for Fatah or a characterization of it as a victim). So now we have Hamas. If Israel “crushes” Hamas, what do we get in that vacuum? A moderate Palestinian leadership — I don’t think so. I think we get something like “Al Qaeda in Palestine.” I don’t think such a thing is in the longterm interests of anyone — Palestinian, Israeli, American, etc. But I think that is human nature.

    As I also said, I am not a Palestinian. I am a Jew. I am a member of a community that provides Israel with enormous financial and political support and a citizen of a country (the US) that provides Israel with billions in aid. With that, comes responsibility. My responsibility and passion is for Israel and its actions. I deplore and condemn Hamas’s actions, but my relationship with Hamas and Palestinians is not the same as my relationship with Israel.

    As for the rest of your comment, there is no doubt that Israel has reasons for targeting the bombs where it targets them. I do not believe that Israel is bombing indiscriminately in the sense that it is lobbing bombs at Gaza, fall where they may. I believe that Israel is trying to take out Hamas’s infrastructure and ability to function militarily. I think we are in agreement about this.

    Here is where we disagree. I think what Israel is doing is shortsighted, self-defeating, and immoral. I gather from your response that you would say the same if Israel were in fact lobbing bombs indiscriminately or if it detonated a nuclear weapon. Which is precisely my point. I am unwilling to say, oh well, Israel is engaged in a precision military campaign in response to outrageous provocation so it must be supported. I say, Israel may succeed in taking out Hamas’s infrastructure — that is, it may indeed succeed at its narrow military objective, albeit at the cost of — at this point — well over 100 times as many Palestinian lives as Israeli lives. But it is making new terrorists in the process, it is radicalizing the population, and it is knowingly killing hundreds of innocent people, including children. And yes, I know all about how Hamas hides among civilians — like I said, despicable and deeply cynical. Israel can and should be smarter and, yes, better. So should the Palestinians and I hope that moderate Palestinians prevail. It would help, however, if Israel did not go out of its way to undermine the conditions that would make that more likely.

  25. CShapiro says:

    One more thing — I am not a pacifist. When I say that Israel should be “better” I don’t mean that it should be suicidal. I mean that when it can, it should try to create the conditions for peace even if the other side hasn’t done so.

    I do not think anyone believes that Hamas’s bombs or other military capabilities are an existential threat or even a serious danger to the Israeli population. They are terrifying and outrageous and deliberatively provocative and violate Israel’s sovereignty, They are, in many senses of the word, intolerable. But there are choices in how to respond.

    I believe that the existential threat to Israel is in the longterm continued radicalization of the Palestinian population and in both sides’ refusal to recognize each others’ legitimate goals and legitimate grievances. We are locked an a vicious cycle. Defining Israel’s response to the bombing as justifiable because it is a specific military campaign, in my view, misses the forest for the trees and perpetuates the cycle.

  26. Danielle Peshkin says:

    Brant:
    I so appreciated these last two posts, and have emailed them to several friends in the West Bank (I don’t know anyone in Gaza) because I think they will give them hope.
    I consider your willingness to take the risk to post with such intellectual and emotional honesty a deeply religious act; a leap of faith in the idea that that which connects us as humans (and as Jews) will outweigh divergences in political opinion.
    Particularly, one line really made me think. You write: “It’s becoming clear to me that our attempts to be “rational” keep us from facing the inherent irrationality of this conflict.”
    I think it is incredibly important to point out that this conflict is rooted in our common, human irrationality. Both Israeli and Palestinian identities were to some extent constructed in juxtaposition to the “irrational” other, and both Israelis and Palestinians use the many irrational actions that have composed the decades-long “cycle of violence” between them to justify “reactions” that serve to increase the violence…we’ve all heard this before. But maybe your statement alludes to what is the really relevant cycle in this conflict: you can’t count the casualties inflicted by what I’d call the “cycle of dehumanization,” but I would argue that it is just as relevant, just as real, and just as violent. And it is the only way that I can understand what is happening right now in Gaza.
    It goes like this: those who commit irrational acts are less human (“terrorists”/ “Zionists” used in the pejorative sense,) those who are less human lead lives that are less valuable (420 Gazan deaths are acceptable collateral damage/it is alright to target civilians with rockets), the pain of those who are less valuable is less worth analyzing, their voices less worth hearing, their actions are irrational.
    Where and why did we learn to think that as humans we should be rational, that to be irrational is to be, somehow, less human? In a conflict with such deep ties to religion, why are we able to forget that what makes us human is exactly the part of us that is not rational?
    `
    -Danielle Peshkin

  27. varda says:

    war in gaza is heartache, heartache heartache. there are no easy answers.

    israel gave back the last bits of gaza 3 years ago, moved everybody out. and the entire left wing of israel, who had pushed for this for years, was so hopeful, even with all of the pain of soldiers dragging israelis out of their houses, here we were giving the palestinians a chance for peace and a chance to build their own country. but what the palestinian leaders did with it was to put energy into continuing to bomb israel. to build arsenals in mosques and in apartment buildings in the middle of crowded gaza.

    the left came out of the giving back of gaza with its’ tail between its’ legs. the right wingers were right. the palestinians did not grab the opportunity for peace and run with it. i, as a peace loving, grown-up-in-the-60’s lefty, am totally disillusioned.

    the citizens of sderot have been bombed on an almost daily basis for 3 years. the entire population of israelis near gaza have post-traumatic-stress syndrome. imagine trying to take a shower but being afraid to because there might be a siren in the middle and you’d have to run outside to the bomb shelter. or imagine not having a bomb shelter. or being in a wheelchair……

    yes, there are a lot of innocent people in gaza getting bombed now, who are helpless, cannot leave, live in poverty….. i hate seeing them get hurt too.
    but what do you do when someone is shooting a rocket at you and you want to destroy the rocket, but the rocket-shooter has his wife and kids staying on the floor above him?

    negotiate, maybe? but how do you negotiate with someone who is intent on your total destruction? how do you negotiate with someone who thinks it is morally right and an honor to send his son into tel-aviv with a bomb strapped to his chest, how many bombs have to fall before you say “enough”? i really don’t want to destroy his kids, and i really really don’t want him to destroy mine.

    israel could blow all of gaza into a parking lot. but is trying to bomb ONLY the terrorists, tunnels for transporting arms smuggling, and the ammunition, and most of all, the rocket launchers. but what the world sees is the innocent people who get hurt, and the world is mad at israel.

    the mood in israel is one of sad determination. noone is dancing on the roofs every time someone is killed.
    if the shoe were on the other foot, i have no doubt that hamas would turn israel into a parking lot. and then dance on the roofs. (like they did on 9/11 in gaza) they are aiming at children. we are aiming NOT to hit children..

    as golda meir once said, “when they love their children more than they hate us, there will be peace” (ok i’m paraphrasing.)

    maybe there should be no countries and no religion ..imagine all the people, living life in peace….. (hey i think i’ll write a song).

    but for now, i’ll just sit tight here, hug my kids, and hope this ends soon.

  28. Mark Karlin says:

    Brant,

    Thank you for your eloquence and your courage in your comments on the current bombing of Gaza.

    For far too long, the Israeli government has been subjecting the civilians of Gaza to collective punishment through a vigorously enforced boycott.

    These are not actions that will help win the hearts and minds of Palestinians who seek peace. According to some indicators, the popularity of the Hamas terrorist gang (who came to power as a result of elections encouraged by the U.S. and Israel) was waning in Gaza; i.e., before the current round of aerial bombardment.

    The issue as you say is not whether or not Israel should ensure its future and safety; the question is how best to do that.

    This is the same question we faced after 9/11 in the United States. How do we best stop terrorism? Do we do it with our heads and strategic thinking, or just with military might?

    The irony is that Israel is no longer facing the collective armies of surrounding Arab states. In fact, it is facing no armies of any Arab state. This was its dream in the ’60s and ’70s. It may even, depending upon what one reads, be near a treaty with Syria.

    So what is the collective punishment inflicted on Gaza all about? As you point out, it won’t stop the rockets in the end. It will radicalize more Palestinians at a time when support for Hamas was waning, and it will possibly start another Infitada on the now relatively quiet West Bank.

    The Gaza attacks are more about positioning for the February Knesset elections than about stopping the rockets.

    As a Jew with his heart in Israel, I can only hope that the Israeli government can learn the lesson of Vietnam. You must win hearts and minds if you are to attain peace.

    But those in power in Israel must start seeing Palestinians and not just looking through them. They must nurture the potential of those who just want to live their lives in peace.

    Otherwise, I weep for the future of a nation for which I hold much love — and where many friends and relatives live.

    Mark Karlin

  29. banjobailey says:

    It seems to me the only way for israelis to “nurture the potential of those who just want to live their lives in peace” would be to perform a radical act of compassion for the Palestinian collective.
    What would that look like? Perhaps it would look like what Hamas did to win their election in the first place: provide basic services to the people without corruption.
    This would mean swarming into the Gaza Strip and rehabilitating the whole place: buildings, streets, water, electricity, health care, food, schools, security, safety. AND, it would mean Israel LEADING this endeavor with the real financial and physical support of Americans, Europeans and whichever else Middle Eastern country would choose to participate in rescuing their Palestinian brothers and sisters, at last.
    As we say here in America, all politics is local. And right now, the whole world weeps for the Palestinians who suffer our own collective failure of radically compassionate imagination.

  30. RAhad says:

    The links below helped to clarify my understanding of the current mess in Gaza.

    1st Rabbi Michael Lerner has some good things to say.

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/rdpulpit/919/rdpulpit%3A_israel_in_gaza%3A_right_but_not_smart/?page=1

    Next, a necessary rebuttal on a New York Times position.

    http://www.creative-i.info/?p=3421

    And some background (proper journalism) on why Hamas controls Gaza today.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804?currentPage=1

    Lastly an interesting analysis provided by another blog reader:

    As I recall,

    didn’t Israel back Hamas to displace the PLO, another organization they once supported? Well they murdered Arafat and got their wish and now that wish has become the problem, perhaps a bigger problem than the latter. Blunder or not, that is the question. And as you point out there are some who see it moreso as an opportunity. As long as Israel has the power to decide who should or shouldn’t be allowed to govern Palistinian affairs, then those who say there is no solution for peace are correct. It is also obvious that Israel, at least for the most part does not want it any other way. Also I’d further add that all of us have been collectively punked right along with the Israeli citizenship and the Palestinians. As long as the business of politics, or should I say the politics of business dictates US foreign policy, there will never be a peace for Israel or anybody else, including ourselves.

    Who is benefitting the most by this conflict? I’d say defense contractors and oil corporations. Which brings up another question. As long as US foreign oil dependence is intact, Israel’s strategic importance remains paramount. But if that importance continues to dimish it makes one wonder how long the United States will keep sending hundreds of millions in aid to prop up Israel? Perhaps the real reason lies behind the US military. Israel is a destabalizing factor in the Middle East and we don’t build more weapons than the rest of the world combined for nothing. As long as Israel is a strategic lynchpin there will be a need for continued extravagant defense spending. Once that need is gone, other issues must be invented like the missile defense shield that poses for another cold war in the making.

    The bottom line is the Palistinians(and the Jewish and American taxpayers) are being used as pawns in a crap shoot by influences who gain and maintain their political power by insuring the chaos. Collective punishment of the Palistinians guarantees outside influence by all the major players, from the Iyatollahs’ right down to US defense contractors and Saudi oilmen. The Palestinians, like us are the victims and they are helpless victims without recourse. They know as no doubt everyone else does that if they threw out Hamas as Israel wants, nothing would change. Israel would insist on yet another radical group they think will play ball with them. The illegal settlements would continue as planned. How much food, blankets, electricity and medicine they receive would be dictated by Israel and the rest of the western world won’t raise a finger beyond a verbal protest to stop it.

    I think the solution beyond removing our own dependence from foreign oil, lies in giving Israel some tough love which would include not sending them weapons until they decide to pull out of the occupied territories. At the same time the rest of the world must take action to ensure Palestine is not only protected from it’s enemies, but be given autonomy along with the right to govern themselves and chose their own political leaders. If the UN could so easily march in and give Israel it’s own country and autonomy, then why can’t it do the same for the Palestinians? Well I think we know the answer.

    by Michael Shaw (8 articles, 1 quicklinks, 1 diaries, 361 comments) on Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 6:57:36 AM

    Hope some of this proves illuminating.

    All the best and Happy New Year.

    R.

  31. Jonathan says:

    This is a very thoughtful forum and I commend the rabbi and participants. However, I do not agree with most of my fellow Jews’ condemnation of the Gaza offensive.

    I am against war unless it is, truly, in self defense. I was against Vietnam, Korea, intervention in Central America, and was out portesting the war in Iraq well before USA launched invasion.

    Yet I see Israel’s action as truly, in self-defense.

    I cannot ask my fellow Jews in Israel to practice peace when it is their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, who are continually threatened and killed by Hamas and their fundamentalist brethren.

    Gaza is not Iraq and Israel is not the USA. Hamas has stated its continual war with Israel from the beginning; their objective is to kill every Jew in Palestine, a geographic region that inlcudes the everything that is now Israel and Palestine. Why is it that liberal American Jews refuse to judge Hamas and Islamic fundamentalists by their murderous actions, and their unambiguous words?

    I am against the Israeli settlements and was against cluster bombs and civilian bombings in Lebanon last time. This is different.

    In the security of our American homes, we speak of peace, as though Hamas has EVER expressed an interest in peace for any stated objective beyond. I lived in Lower Manhattan through sept 11; I have read what the Islamic fundamentalists want. It has nothing to do with peace.

    Many ask of how this will end: my hope is that Hamas will be defeated militarily, will lose the power to suppress and intimidate the many Palestinians who do, through the Palestinian Authority, truly support a lasting peace with Israel.

  32. Varda,

    I know you live in Israel and I do think that gives your words more power and weight. I’m sitting here in Philadelphia with not much on the line.

    I think unilateral withdrawal was a big mistake. Yes, easy to say in retrospect; I was also hopeful at the time. But we fell into Hamas’ trap. In retrospect Israel should have

    a. evacuated the settlers but not withdrawn the army.
    or
    b. tried harder to come to a deal with Fatah so that Fatah could claim victory and have some more credibility with its people by having delivered something. That “victory” would also give them more responsibility. As good as Abbas looks now, Sharon was rejecting him as a partner back then.

    Okay that’s ancient history.

    Some more recent lessons. Now that we know Hamas can hit Be’er Sheva and other places further than before… we now know that Hamas was restraining itself when it wasn’t being shot at.

    Israel keeps setting the standard too high and each time the results are that a previous standard of security will never be reached again.

    It is a choice to live in Sderot. One need not live there. Maybe this isn’t the strongest version of the Zionist dream, where one can’t live anywhere in Israel and feel equally safe as any other place.

    But the IDF killing civilians makes Israel less safe in my opinion, by creating the lesson plans for young Gazan’s about the righteousness of their cause and the viciousness of their enemy.

    It’s also morally wrong in ways that damage the soul of Israel.

    That’s all that is in me for now. I’m glad you wrote here.

  33. I have supported a two state solution way before it was fashionable for an Israel supporting Jew to do so. I have had couples walk out of restaurants leaving me alone at a big table for making such a suggestion (during the 1970s) so I don’t need a lecture from anyone about proportionality or fairness. I’ve been there.

    However, the Palestinians’ intractability and stupidity never disappoints, so having watched this spiral, I’ve reached the point where I actually agree with Bush’s moral simplicity on this issue: Hamas brought this upon themselves. They begged for this because they love playing the victim.

    If I lived in a country where missiles were being lobbed at me–3000+– I’d ask my government to do something about it. Nothing but what’s happening now could possibly cause the missiles to stop. Might it not work? Yes. But Israel was left with no other choice.

    The Israelis have been far more patient than they needed to be and far more patient than any other country would be.

    I have little sympathy for the Gazans: they voted for these missile lobbing imbeciles who want only to destroy Israel. They are getting what they voted for now.

    What the hell every happened to moral clarity? We bombed the crap out of the Germans in WW II and dropped two A-bombs on Japan producing terrible human suffering, but most Americans have no regrets: they started it and we ended it.

    Perhaps a “proportional” response would be for Israel to lob missiles back into Gaza without regard to where they land and who they kill? That’s the Hamas playbook. Would that satisfy the hand-wringers?

    That’s how I feel now. I’m fed up with whimpering liberal/progressives (and I’m one) who reflexively side with the weak even when the weak is wrong.

  34. Shlomo says:

    I am an American and an Israeli. I believe Jews should live morally. I criticize a lot of things that Israel had done, and is continuing to do. But as the call for “proportionality” is heard, I feel compelled to respond differently. Take this:

    White Jewish Americans: Living on a beautiful land (actually, it was much more beautiful before it was cruelly and horribly taken away from the Native Americans), singing “This land is your land, this land is my land…”, etc. in a true peacenick spirit (are you including the Native Americans in the “…you and me…” of your song?), living in a make-believe leftist world, where they can experience all these feelings of love and compassion for humanity, (especially for innocent people) and criticize Israel for all the bad things it does.

    American Jews, living the good life, which was achievable only with the price of millions of people’s deaths and sufferings throughout the world (whether by killing natives to steal their lands, or by destroying nations for their oil and other material goods, whether by acts of war, or by acts of economic rape), feel good about their beautiful conscience when they criticize Israel for its evilness. After all, beating your own is the highest act of morality…

    You can only afford that spirit because the raped Native Americans have been subdued way before your lifetime, and there is no outside force (like Iran, Russia, or whoever) that keeps fueling them with weapons and propaganda…

    But what if Native Americans were living in densely populated reservations, shelling rockets daily on your towns, homes, kindergartens, schools, hospitals, synagogues? What if they cowerdly used their own mothers and babies as human shield against retaliation? what if their deadly weapons were to traumatize your 2 year olds, your 5 year olds, your 10 year olds? what if you could not sleep at night or lead normal lives?
    I am sure that in that same peacenick spirit of yours, you would have risen up and pleaded with the American government and army: Please do not harm these innocent people anymore! they have suffered enough!! Better we suffer now! Better we let them play Russian Roulette with our lives and our babies’ lives! or better yet, let’s all wash ourselves into the Atlantic and the Pacific, so they don’t have to do the dirty work! Please let them have their beloved country back!!! After all, we have no right to be here!!

    Oh, how lucky you are that this is not the case… I am sure you will discount everything I say, as good Jews know how to do. I am sure you will not be able to actually imagine a terrible scenario such as I suggest above. And why should you? You will never have to live under such a threat.

    Go ahead. Bash Israel. Power to you.

  35. Gwen says:

    I am going to go out on a limb with this one and I know many of you are not going to be pleased with my comments. However, it is something which must be said.

    The conflict between Israel and Palastan is a very troublesome one. Peace is long overdue. When a society treats other members of society like second class citizens, there’s bound to be a push-back. This is the case of Israel and Palastine. The Palastinians are being treated like second class citizens and they are angry! I’m certainly not saying that they are innocent. Certainly, plenty of poor policies and violence has taken place on both sides.

    FYI: Humas recently (right before this whole recent conflict) was willing to give Israel a portion of their land. Israel said, “no go”. We want that land AND the land stolen from Palistine. In other words, Huma’s was willing to negociate for a peaceful outsome and Israel wasn’t. Thus, the anger continues and so does the violence.

    If there is anything to learn from this stituation, it is that you can not try and “kill” the enemy in hope that you will prevail. Take a look at the current Iraq situation in which our administration thought that by trying to “kill” the enemy, it will wipe out the problem. Instead, the problem has only gotten worse and we are more unsafe because of it. This will be the case with Israel. Once this conflict has calmed down, they will discover that they have only added fuel to their problem of safety. It’s amazing what killing the innocent will do to a rational person. Killing innocent people while they have no way of escaping is NEVER the answer; and I fear that Israel will soon discover the errors of their ways in this situation.

    It’s time for the violence to stop. It’s time for some real negociations by both sides so that peace can finally be accmomplished.

  36. myles gideon says:

    Brant, I just wanted to quickly say thank you, thank you, thank you for these posts. It makes me proud to be part of a JRC family to see our rabbi having the courage to publicly decry the Israeli military’s assault on Gaza. My respect for you increases daily.

  37. Shlomo says:

    Apologies for my previous post… My anger was directed at a different kind of crowd, and I just “let it out” in the wrong place… so let me try to lay out my (now cool-headed) view, which is quite different than what it looked like above.

    I agree with many of you, that Israel needs to act morally at all times. I agree with you that human life is a treasure, on both sides of the border. I agree with you that no matter what the other side does, we should always live and act ethically and humanely. But do I agree with you that we should do it because it would serve us better in the long term? Not necessarily. As much as I want to hope and believe that acting morally might induce reciprocation, I have found myself disillusioned too many times… It might inspire high morals, but unfortunately it seems that never with the people in control. No. We should act and be moral because it’s the only right way to be!

    Yes, I am concerned with Israel’s deterioration of ethics and morals. Yes, we should dismantle the settlements. Yes, we should work our hardest to find creative solutions to act humanely at border crossings, without risking ourselves when our kindness is taken advantage of. No, we should never use cluster bombs. We should never use our military might frivolously. We should avoid collective punishment at all cost. And above all: We should strive to continue to indoctrinate our children with love, compassion, high morals, peace, and tolerance for the other, even if on the other side of the border there is a different kind of indoctrination going on.

    But (yes, there’s a but…), we are also mortals. The military imbalance doesn’t make us super human. We die when we are shot at. We are afraid when we are in danger. And yes, we are angry when we are tested beyond our human limits. And the immediate and the short term have their importance too! No one can live for “the long term”, especially if you don’t know if or when this imagined “long term” will come. And when in danger, you have to protect yourself. So, yes, I do support an Israeli response that targets the elimination of danger. Even if it’s “only” the short term danger. And even though it’s impossible to do without the terrible cost to both sides. There, I said it better this time.

    I believe that Israel, with all of its failings, is still very high on the moral scale, compared to other nations in conflict. Yes, I would like it to have less failings. I would like to see it act more ethically. Even though I know that some moral ideals are impossible, especially when the other side is deliberately scheming to take advantage of them.

    I can only hope and pray that this episode will end quickly and with the least amount of bloodshed on either side. That our leaders, commanders and soldiers will have the wisdom to exercise the highest morals they can in every action and decision in front of them, while still taking the least amount of risks with their own lives.

  38. Larry says:

    Morality is a funny thing. What is moral is not always obvious. That is why we Jews have written and argued so much about it. It is why God provided us the Torah – written and oral. It is why even today, Jews the world over consult thousands of years of our moral tradition when making decisions as seemingly inconsequential as what to eat and as clearly momentous as going to war.

    Hamas causes suffering to Palestinian and Jew alike. If Israel’s actions in Gaza diminish that power and that suffering, then we should seriously consider that this military action may be more moral than the withdrawal from Gaza that enabled Hamas to cause the suffering.

    Some say that war never solves anything. One such person was the British Labour leader George Lansbury, very popular in his time, who said, in the House of Commons on the first day of WWII:

    “The cause that I and a handful of friends represent is this morning going down to ruin. But I think that we ought to take heart and courage from the fact that after two thousand years of war and strife, at least those who enter upon this colossal struggle have to admit that force has not settled and cannot settle anything.”

    He was wrong. And the course of the next several years proved him wrong yet again. The Allies’ military action stopped both European fascism and Japanese imperialism. It freed Koreans, Chinese, French, Germans, Poles, and myriad others, including, of course Jews.

    Not only that, but after scores of Allied attacks on civilians far more terrible than any attack that Israelis have ever made, those German, Italian and Japanese citizens and leaders who faced the attacks did not react with terrorism. After unconditionally surrendering (as the great FDR demanded) they willingly became friends of the Allies and (with the exception of the East Germans whom the Soviets controlled by military force) partners in freedom, peace and democracy.

    Torah teaches that those who are kind to the cruel will be cruel to the kind. Misplaced kindness to the cruel members of Hamas has enabled Hamas to inflict cruelty on those Palestinians who want peace for themselves and Israelis.

    There is a time for war and a time for peace. If Israel receives enough support in fighting this war, a war Hamas started years ago, not only will Israelis resume their peacemaking efforts, but those Palestinians who want peace will finally be free and able to reciprocate with peace.


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