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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Gaza on my mind

Posted by rabbiart on January 6, 2009

Like a lot of us the past couple of weeks, the conflict in Gaza is on my very conflicted mind. Doing drash by literary analysis of this week’s parshah with its strange and wonderful Grandfather Yakov blessing seems to be off track from what studying the Torah and our tradition is all about. I’m struggling with how I feel about the conflict that is raging, and whether there is anything that I personally can or can’t do about it, and how not to add to the angry and hateful feelings of which there are already too much in the world.

Not too long ago, November 13 to be exact, I rode my bicycle along the border between Israel and the Gaza strip. Our breakfast stop was at the Nir Am reservoir overlooking the border. (You can see it on Google Maps by putting in this string – nir am reservoir, israel) So although I don’t live in Sderot, or Ashkelon, or any of the Israeli cities that have been on the receiving end of Hamas rockets, I have a vivid picture in my mind of overlooking the strip and seeing Gaza City in the not too far distance.(see picture below)

In fact, as we were riding along the border on our way to breakfast I saw a “weather balloon” in the sky ahead of us. I asked Gil – our lead rider in that moment – if it was a weather balloon. He replied, “yes, its a whether balloon, it tells us whether or not there are rockets coming from Gaza.”

Does the tradition have anything to say about the conflict in Gaza? Of course it does; it has much to say. The problem is in figuring out which part of it to apply. We have the two-fold teaching of the basic justification for war; wars of self-defense and wars that are optional. This is part of the conflict about the conflict; is it a war of self-defense? After all, one could argue, few Israelis have been harmed, much less killed, by the rockets coming from Gaza. But, one can also convincingly advocate, that is simply because the weapons are primitive and the targeting poor. Into which category does the current conflict fall? It may depend on which lens we use as we peer through the looking-glass.

We have the concept of the rodef (one who pursues with the intent to murder) about which the Babylonian Talmud says that we should rise up and kill that person first. This teaching is itself based on Vayikra 19:16 which says (in translation) “you shall not stand idly by the blood of your fellow-man”, or in the original
לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ. Read that verse, and its easy to reach the conclusion that it applies to Hamas in Gaza and all who support them. After all, don’t they proudly proclaim out loud almost every day that their intent is to destroy the state of Israel. But perhaps, applying this verse is made difficult by the next verse, which begins
לֹא-תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ
You shall not hate your brother in your heart.

I’ve been corresponding this week with Mousa Diabat, who I met on the Israel ride. (I’m working with Rabbi Bloom to bring him to Temple Beth Abraham next year to speak to us). Mousa is Israeli, Palestinian, and I’m pretty sure, Moslem. (And you, reader, might think you’re conflicted. Hah!) He’s a graduate of the Arava Institute program and was holding a position in the Israeli government until he left to come to Oregon State to pursue a Ph.D. He wrote me of his experience walking around the campus wearing a t-shirt with Hebrew, Arabic and English on it. In part he said.

people here are asking me waiting for one-sided answers. But they do not get it….
My side of the story is more about what should we together in order to prevent similar events in the future. Still hoping…

For my part, I’m going to attempt to hold on to one thought, and to safeguard myself against one emotion. The thought is – it is not a simple situation, and it cannot be the case that one side is completely right and the other side is completely wrong. (Although this is far, far, far from thinking both sides are equally culpable and in a situation of moral equivalency). The emotion is hatred. There’s too much of it in the world, and I don’t want to be part of that. Beyond that, I think I’ll go stand emotionally with Mousa …. Still hoping.

That’s Art with some fellow bike-riders eating breakfast by the Nir Am reservoir. You can see Gaza behind the reservoir. It is a lot closer than it looks in this picture.


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