(this is a version of the sermon I gave on Friday night)
The first thing that I’d like to say about the current situation in Gaza, is that I fully support Israel in this. I think that it’s important to begin that way, because there are so many voices condemning Israel for its actions over the past week or two. To paraphrase Rabbi Stanley Davids, Israel’s act of self-defense is being viewed, as it always is, as the cause, not the result, of rising tensions and human suffering. But make no mistake, Israel’s actions are the result of violence; they’re not the origin of it.
Hamas rules in the West Bank, as they have ever since they were elected there, in 2006. They openly and officially call for the destruction of Israel, and they openly and officially call for the use of terror – for the murder of civilians – to achieve that goal. Since 2001, population centers in Southern Israel have been the target of over 4000 rockets, as well as countless mortar shells*. For the past six months, there has been a lull in fighting. That lull is often referred to as a ceasefire, especially in the press, but it is no such thing; during those six months, Hamas has launched 215 rockets at Israel. And then, on December 21st, Hamas announced its unilateral decision to not renew the lull.
* Since posting this, I've seen many sources with significantly higher counts of rockets and artillery fire. I mention this for accuracy, only; I don't think the higher numbers materially change anything, as far as this analysis goes.
This is the context in which Israel has acted. They have an enemy, on their doorstep, actively pursuing their destruction, and doing it primarily through the means of the murder of innocent civilians. Even Mahmoud Abbass, the leader of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank claimed, at the outbreak of the Israeli operation, that Hamas is responsible for this violence. Similarly, although the Arab street is up in arms, the leaders of the various Arab nations have been nearly silent on this, which many in the west are taking as a sign that they, too, understand that Israel was forced to act, and to act decisively.
To those who still oppose Israel in that, I continue to ask a simple question – what would you have Israel do? They already unilaterally left Gaza, even removing the settlers, which cost the country dearly. All that accomplished was to give Hamas a safer base from which to rearm and plan their assaults. They engaged in a cease-fire (they refrained from attacking, while Hamas was “observing” their lull) which, again, only gave Hamas a chance to regroup. You can claim that they should be involved in more diplomacy, and you might be right, but what country would ever negotiate with an enemy which is seeking not victory, but annihilation?
It’s hard to find official stats, but the number of civilian deaths seems to be very low, considering the size of the offensive. Israel has, as it nearly always does, been taking enormous pains, even putting its own pilots at risk, to minimize the deaths of the innocent. It is impossible to avoid them completely – the terrorists purposefully use civilian centers as their bases, precisely to make it impossible for Israel to attack without harming civilians. Many are of the opinion that international law places the blame for the deaths of civilians on those who hide among them. I don’t know law, but morally, I find that compelling. Alan Dershowitz, a few years ago, pointed out that, in American jurisprudence, if the police, in trying to stop me from a crime, accidentally kill an innocent, then I am guilty of murder. The same applies here – the Palestinian terrorists are guilty of murdering their own people, and they are using Israel as their weapon of choice
I also need to say, because it really does need saying, that these deaths, while they might be justified, are without question, tragedies. Last week, I read of a leader of Hamas who ignored warning from Israel to leave his house and was then killed in a bombing – one which took the lives of his 4 wives and 11 children. 11 Children. It’s horrific.
I will defend, to my dying day, Israel’s right to engage in war with a vicious enemy, and that’s what Hamas is – a vicious enemy. But, I pray that I never find myself happy about that war, or satisfied with the deaths of those whose only “crime” is being born into such wretched circumstances As always, those who have died, on both sides – innocent, guilty – share one thing in common. They were each created, each and every one, Betzelem Elohim, in God’s image. My heart is heavy with the thought that the country that we love so much is being forced to kill innocents, to kill children. None of them deserve this, not one. Golda Meir famously once said that she could forgive Israel’s enemies for killing our children, but she could never forgive them for making us kill theirs.
It is one thing to be willing to fight. But, to revel in the deaths of our enemies, and especially to revel in the deaths of the innocent, is a tragedy, and a crime. It is profoundly un-Jewish. I will confess to the smallest sliver of my being which, on occasion, harbors these types thoughts. I am ashamed of it, and I recognize it as the yetzer ha-ra, the impulse for evil, which is a part of each of us. In this war, Israel may find survival, but in the despising of these deaths, each and every one of them, we may find our humanity
I make no suggestions on how to conduct or conclude this war. I am not a military strategist, nor a politician. What I am is a Jew, who prays for a day when this war will be over, truly over. Not in a lull, but rather no longer necessary. I pray for a day when the Palestinian people can have the homeland that they so richly deserve, and can live side-by-side with us, living in our own homeland, no less deserved.
I pray for a day when we can live Zecharia’s words, the words we read as Chanukah ended, and this war began: “Not by might, not by power, but by the spirit of the Eternal God,” shall we survive
Oseh Shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom Aleinu v’al kol yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel – may the One who causes peace to reign in the high heavens, let peace descend on us, on all Israel, and on all the world.