Gaza: The Arrow Cannot Be Taken Back


“When an arrow leaves the hand of a warrior he cannot take it back.” (Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael, Beshallach, Shirah)

From this classic Jewish teaching we learn that violence unleashes a myriad of consequences that we can neither control nor reverse. Apropos of recent events, I take this to mean many things:

…when you loose tons and tons of bombs on a small patch of land inhabited by 1.5 million people, you will invariably kill a myriad civilians.

…we cannot begin to fathom the depths of grief and loss that Israel’s actions have brought upon scores of Gazans, their families and loved ones. Indeed, even in the wake of a fragile ceasefire the death toll continues to rise. (Read this article from today’s NY Times, which documents heartbreaking scenes of victims continuing to be pulled from the rubble weeks after they were killed).

…we cannot comprehend the anger and fury Israel’s actions have inspired in Gazans, Palestinians, and the Arab world at large. Yesterday I spoke with a Palestinian American friend who told me he had never seen the Arab streets so inflamed against Israel – and in many cases, against their own governments. (The anger of Egyptian citizens toward their goverment is frightening to behold).

…it is impossible to underestimate the damage this war has done to the already tenous prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine. Most analysts seem to agree that no matter whoever might be considered the military “victor” in this war, the moderate Fatah (at present Israel’s only Palestinian peace partner) is the heaviest political casualty. Moderate Arab countries are all the queasier about supporting the peace process and the Saudis are now under fire to pull their plan from the table.

This quote from the NY Times article above sums up the tragic new reality on the ground:

In the upper middle-class neighborhood of Tal al-Hawa, Ziad Dardasawi, 40, a wood importer, was trying to process what had happened. As a supporter of Fatah, a political rival of Hamas, Mr. Dardasawi said that he despised Hamas, but that its rocket fire was no justification for Israel’s military response.

“Let’s say someone from Hamas fired a rocket — is it necessary to punish the whole neighborhood for that?” he said, standing in a stairway of his uncle’s house, where furniture had been smashed, and all the windows broken.

He drew on an analogy he thought would strike a chord: “In the U.S., when someone shoots someone, is his entire family punished?”

The Israeli actions made the situation more intractable, he said. “How can I convince my neighbors now for the option of peace? I can’t.”

He added: “Israel is breeding extremists. The feeling you get is that they just want you to leave Gaza.”

(Photo: Tyler Hicks/NY Times)

2 thoughts on “Gaza: The Arrow Cannot Be Taken Back

  1. boris furman

    Arab anger, Palestinian anger, inflammation on the streets are not compelling reasons to change behavior. Anger is by definition an irrational response. Anger often begets violence which necessitates a response to protect one’s self against that violence which often begets more anger. Just because some one is angry doesn’t mean I should not defend myself from their violence.

  2. Elaine Waxman

    I have to disagree, Boris. Anger is NOT an irrational response, especially when basic conditions of living are not being met. There is no question that the residents of Gaza do not enjoy even the most basic of human rights as this point — e.g., food, water, let alone freedom of movement. We can all argue endlessly about why that is, who started what, etc. but the fact remains that unless the underlying causes of tension on both sides are addressed, violence will continue. There is little evidence that continued aggressive military action on the part of Israel results in better long-term security for Israelis, just as the Palestinians are not served in the long run by the violent actions of Hamas. (And by the way, I think we all have to be very careful not to lapse into characterizing all Palestinians or Arabs as equivalent with Hamas). I truly believe the only way forward — away from the endless cycle of violence — requires a vision as radical as that of MLK’s or Gandhi’s or Mandela’s. Those leaders showed that real anger against oppression can beget radical change, without violence. Unfortunately, I have no idea where that is going to come from in EITHER Palestine or Israel.


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