January 31, 2002
A New Threat
Latest Palestinian terror attack has new element -- a female bomber.
Because Palestinian violence has been so devastating, Israel's retaliatory actions seem to be justified. Whether they are effective or not is almost secondary to the need to respond. Suicide bombings cannot be left unattended. Yet in all of Israel's actions, while practical concerns are raised, few in the country have questioned the moral issues involved. After all, it is reasoned that the Palestinians do not consider the moral implications of their actions. But every political and/or military decision has its moral equivalent. That the Palestinian Authority is little bothered by ethical restrictions should not mean that we in Israel need use the lowest common denominator as a yardstick to measure our behavior, and thereby justify our actions.
Those of us Israelis who remain silent when Israel goes beyond the biblical dictum of an "eye for an eye" and a "tooth for a tooth," thus rendering Palestinians blind and toothless, are complicit partners in affixing to Israel "the mark of Cain." The razing of Palestinian homes in Rafah, as well as in the East Jerusalem suburb of Isawiya, is a classic example of a government that has lost its moral compass.
If we adopt the ways of our enemies, will we not soon look like them? Will we not see ourselves haunting our own worst nightmares, of those who dealt so cruelly with us over the centuries? Jewish national identity was forged on the anvil of the Egyptian experience of slavery. It was against this background of collective suffering that we were born as a people, charged with becoming a "holy nation." Our wanderings in the desert were to teach us that the maintenance of our freedom would be dependent upon the definitive rejection of the social model of power and its abuse, as symbolized by ancient Egypt. Did we return to our ancestral homeland only to become like the ancient Egyptians?
It has been proffered by some that we have to be careful in our criticism of Israel's behavior, lest we undermine the state. But what could undermine the state more than actions that are devoid of any moral considerations? Once we blot out the ethical and moral code that both defines us as a religion and as a people, we will risk being able to call ourselves Jews, let alone refer to Israel as a Jewish state.
There are those who claim that Israel's survival is dependent upon it being 5 percent more moral than other countries, but its destruction will come about if it strives to be 10 percent more moral. The premise is that we can afford to be morally self-critical up to a point, but must not become "holier than thou" apostles, otherwise we will endanger our own survival. Such reasoning is both illogical and morally unacceptable. What will eventually ensure our destruction is if we are not just 10 percent more moral, but if we are not 100 percent more moral. This despite the world's hypocritical application of double standards when judging Israel.
The destruction of Palestinian homes that leave Palestinians without a roof over their head is heartless. It is a retaliatory act for its own cruel sake. It has nothing to do with deterrence, with security or apprehending, for example, the Palestinians who recently killed Israeli Bedouin soldiers. Indeed, a moral response on the part of Israel's government to that event would have been to relate to the Bedouins, and other minorities in the country, with dignity and respect. As the parents of those fallen soldiers said themselves: They did not want their sons to be remembered by such a dreadful act. It is not enough that we, the living, are being morally compromised day in and day out by such exaggerated actions, but so, too, are the dead.
I could care little whether Arafat, whose hands are drenched in blood and mouth is awash with hypocrisy, calls on the world to accuse Israel of war crimes because of what it did in Rafah. It is we, the Jewish people, whether we reside in Israel or in the Diaspora, who should be ashamed of the recent activities of the Israeli army. What is done in Israel is done in the name of the Jewish people, which explains why the perception of Judaism and the image of the Jew are determined by what we Jews do here in this land. And so, it is before a Jewish tribunal that we should call Ariel Sharon and all his accomplices -- and that means Shimon Peres, too -- to account.
But the blame ultimately rests with us, for our leaders and government sadly reflect the will of the people. And we have remained silent too long. In the words of the great Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel: "If we are not all guilty, we are all responsible." The Talmud tells us: "Whosoever has the capacity to prevent his household from committing a crime, and does not, he is accountable for the sins of the entire household." (Shabbat 54b).
If we do not stand up and say, "enough," then we are all guilty of this morally shameful chapter.