Last week, the violence in Israel and Gaza came to a halt with the announcement of a cease-fire. A tenuous pause, at best, in the launching of rockets designed to indiscriminately kill civilians in Israel and military strike in retaliation to destroy the rocket stockpiles. A cease-fire is not peace.
I will never forget being in Israel in 2014, during the massive Gaza conflict. They declared a cease fire for 6pm that night. We were driving in a bus at 5:50pm when the alarms went off – hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel in a last volley to inflict pain. Our bus screeched to a halt. The driver told us we had twenty seconds until impact. We ran off as quickly as possible and laid down in a nearby ditch with our hands over our heads. We prayed for safety as the thunder of the Iron Dome overhead signified the destruction of the rockets near us. That is not peace.
Sadly, we sense that the conflict between Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank will resume again. Resigned to that fate, we do at least a have a chance to pause now and reflect. Looking back, it is clear now that many are trying to describe the complex Israeli-Palestinian inter-relationship in the most simple, and often ridiculous terms, sacrificing nuance in favor of simplicity.
Just this weekend, a group gathered here in Southwest Florida claiming that there is a connection between the pursuit of racial justice in America what is transpiring in Israel. Through the lens of this simplistic view, Israel is the “European colonialist” and is oppressing the “indigenous” Palestinian minority. This ludicrous concept ignores THOUSANDS of years of history — the Kingdom of Israel ruled that area from 1000 BCE to 70 CE while the term Palestinian originated in the late 1960’s. Many Jews are not even of European descent. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were surreptitiously exiled from their home countries across North Africa and the Middle East in the 1940’s, after dwelling in those lands for millenia.
To be clear, what is happening in Israel is NOT AT ALL an issue of racial justice. Israeli-Palestinian interactions have no connection to issues of race in America, slavery, colonialism, imperialism or any other type of “-ism.” That false narrative twists and ignores the facts of history in an insidious way that threatens to undermine the important pursuit of racial justice in America.
Conflating American racial justice with the Palestinians completely glosses over the nuanced reality that Hamas is not a peaceful organization using non-violent protest to advocate for justice. They are not gathering for a sit-in or marching peacefully! Hamas IS a recognized terrorist organization bent on sweeping all Jews out of the land of Israel. Hamas uses violence and terrorism, employs human shields in conflict, condones the treatment of women as chattel and the killing of LGBTQ individuals, and portrays all of Western civilization as a threat. That is a cause for justice?
Amidst these efforts to simplify the conflict and villainize Israel, those who condemn Israel maintain a deafening silence regarding the truth of Hamas. Especially its terrorist tactics which use suicide bombers and rockets to indiscriminately kill innocent civilians. Silence is acceptance, plain and simple. We know too well that the silence of witnesses in the face of evil enables hate to kill – Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur, not to mention the tragic history endured by the Jewish people.
Where are these voices for justice on behalf of Israeli citizens? Rabbi Josh Weinberg, head of ARZA, the Reform Zionist organization notes, “’Don’t Jews also deserve to be the recipients of justice?’ Apparently, Hamas never needs an excuse to shoot rockets, missiles, and mortar shells into Israeli communities with the express intent of killing civilians. No country, however weak or strong, should be expected to turn the other cheek to such violent attacks.”
To be fully transparent, Israel itself is wrapped in nuance. As a government and national state, Israel is not perfect. It is fair to critique and question some of the choices. It is reasonable, to ask whether there have been missed opportunities to enact change and perhaps move out of this model toward a two-state solution for the future.
At the same time, it is unjust to demonize Israel and unreasonable to place the entire burden upon Israel for change. In 2005, Israel acted unilaterally to exit Gaza and turn it over to the Palestinian Authority. The result? Greenhouses and factories were torn apart, and the infrastructure created by Israel was left in disrepair. Within two years Hamas came to power, and from that point Gaza became a place from which to instigate violence against Israel by rockets and tunnels.
Real peace, true shalom, is connected to its Hebrew root — shalem — wholeness. Peace comes when all the parties, when all the parts, are at the table to work toward the good for the whole. Until Hamas accepts the existence of Israel, until the Palestinian Authority comes back to the negotiating table, peace between Israel and the Palestinians cannot, and will not, be a reality.
Rabbi Adam Miller is Senior Rabbi at Temple Shalom of Naples.