Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Israel and Fairness

An old friend of mine complained about my blog post from yesterday. She called it over-simplified and one-sided. She says that rather than pointing fingers, we have to look at what we can do to make the situation better and help to bring an end to this madness. I'm honestly, sincerely, trying to see her point--she is a very smart woman, and she has chosen to live in Israel, so she knows what's going on from a much closer vantage point than I do. And so, I don't take her opinion lightly, and I don't want to dismiss it.

But, at the same time, I have a very hard time seeing it. I have never, ever been an "Israel is always right" person. I know that Israelis have often done terrible, awful things. And--this is very different, and much more relevant--the Israeli government has sometimes done them, as well*. And, some of those actions have surely made peace more difficult to achieve--the expansion of settlements is the obvious example. Some of that expansion can be easily justified (much of it is really just the expansion of already existing neighborhoods into the edge of the territories), but some is pretty clearly an attempt to grab more land and, possibly/probably intentionally, make it harder to ever create a reasonable, secure Palestinian state. So, no, Israel is not blameless.

* I say it's more relevant because I don't think we should judge a society by the actions of its worst members; we should judge it by the reaction of the larger society to those awful actions. 

When a group of Israelis capture and (almost certainly) burn alive an innocent Palestinian teen--that is among the worst, most evil actions I can possibly imagine. I don't have the words to adequately describe my disgust and horror at this, and I'm sick to think that these murderers, in any way, are connected to me or my religion. But, the swift, clear condemnation and pursuit of justice from Israel and the vast majority of the Jewish world says a lot about who we really are. It's a sign, I fervently hope and believe, that we are better than scum who claim to represent us through violence.

But, I don't want to come off as too even-handed here, because I truly believe that being overly even-handed in this situation would be unfair and fundamentally untrue. Yes, Israel has done some bad things, and yes, Israel has done some things to make the situation worse. But they simply can't compare to what the PLO, Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian leadership has done.

I was thinking about my friend's comments a lot last night and this morning, and I was really trying to sit with them, and not dismiss them. And then I came across yet another article which pointed out yet another (not new) inequity. The wider world is so ready to, subtly and not so subtly, blame Israel for so much, but turns a blind-eye what it happening to Israel:
Since the beginning of this year, Gaza terrorists have fired more than 450 rockets on Israel, with about half of them coming since mid-June, when two Hamas terrorists kidnapped and brutally murdered three Israeli teenagers.
Why is it that a majority of the international community only notices when Israel undertakes its sovereign right, and obligation, to defend its citizens? Can you imagine if even one rocket was fired on London, Washington, Paris or Moscow? This is simply intolerable and no country can, or should, tolerate such attacks on its people.
Where is the outrage from the United Nations, which does not hesitate for a moment to call a "special emergency session" on the "Question of Palestine" or pass the umpteenth resolution blindly condemning Israel? But 24 hours after the rocket attacks on Israel started, I am still waiting for even one syllable of condemnation from the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly or the Human Rights Council.
I admit, it's a bit of a non-sequiter. Talking about how to apportion blame for the underlying conflict is not the same as talking about who is engaging in the conflict in a more legal, moral way. Logically, theoretically speaking, it's entirely possible to say that two groups are equally responsible for a conflict, but only one is fighting fairly. But, I can't help feel that there's a connection here. Israel has been imperfect but, overall, unbelievably right in how it's handled this decades-old conflict.

It offered to exchange the newly occupied territories, just days after they were captured, in exchange for peace. They were unequivocally rebuffed. Several times since, the same fundamental offer was made--Israel would return the territories (often with some alteration and compensation), asking only to be allowed to exist, safely, as a Jewish state. It's always been rejected.

My understanding is that has always been the basic calculus of the situation. Israel would gladly live side by side with a Palestinian State. The Palestinian leadership has never been willing to reciprocate. Is that overly-simplistic? Probably. There's always a lot of nuance and caveats in the real world. But, it might still represent a reasonable summation of the basis for this conflict.

My friend compare the situation to marriage counseling--progress will only be made when each side stops blaming the other, and instead commits to making the changes they need to make. But, is that always the case? To expand the metaphor, if one partner really doesn't have any interest in being faithful, or if one partner is physically abusive, even if the other has done some wrong, can we really say that they are equally responsible for the trouble in the marriage, or that there is anything that the abused partner can, or should, do to make things better?

I know that I'm one-sided on this. And, like I said yesterday, I hate that. I'm deeply committed to seeing both sides of arguments, in almost all situations. And, in my heart, I really am still a liberal peacenik. I want to be able to believe in the prospect of peace, and that if we just find a way to talk and negotiate, we can get there.

But, when Hamas (a partner in the current Palestinian leadership) calls murderous kidnappers "heroes," and sends hundreds of rockets into Israel, deliberately aiming to kill and injure as many civilians as possible, I have a hard time believing that.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rabbi, you have succinctly summarized my thoughts, feelings, and opinions about Israel and the Middle East.