Talmud Bavli, Taanit 26b:
FIVE MISFORTUNES BEFELL OUR FATHERS ON THE SEVENTEENTH OF TAMMUZ : THE TABLES [OF THE LAW] WERE SHATTERED, THE DAILY OFFERING WAS DISCONTINUED, A BREACH WAS MADE IN THE CITY AND APOSTOMOS BURNED THE SCROLL OF THE LAW AND PLACED AN IDOL IN THE TEMPLE.
Two days after, along with Jews and Muslims around the world, I dedicated my part in the yearly 17 Tammuz/Ramadan fast as a prayer for peace, I still don’t feel much like eating. Peace appears to be a farther away than ever.
By now, everyone knows that the unconscionable kidnap-murder of three Israeli youths was followed by the equally heinous abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager who was beaten and set on fire while still alive. What is still not so well known is how much the Israeli government knew, when they knew it and to what use they put their knowledge. The Jewish Daily Forward’s Editor-At-Large, JJ Goldberg, makes a solid argument that the Israeli authorities knew in a matter of hours that the kidnapped Israeli youths had been shot and that they prolonged the agony of three families and a nation with a misdirected investigation which provided the excuse for a general crackdown in the West Bank. Goldberg argues further that it was general knowledge that the Hebron clan attached to Hamas, known to go regularly rogue, committed these murders without orders from anyone else. Nevertheless, Goldberg continues, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers contributed to unfocused rhetoric of revenge.
For its part, Hamas utilized the crisis to prop itself up at a time of general dissatisfaction with its misrule. Rocket fire into Israel, which, as Goldberg documents, had abated, escalated until something had to be done. It appears that the government of Israel has decided that ‘something’ means another ground war.
I don’t pretend to know how that will work out, prophecy having been denied our people for generations. I doubt very much if anything but further destruction and enmity will follow.
Let’s remember that Hamas was pretty effectively isolated before Israel launched its invasion, before homes and hospitals and schools were bombed; and four Palestinian youths playing soccer on a beach were shelled to death by Israeli forces—in a second blast after a first had destroyed a structure that, the military said, was being used by Hamas forces. Let’s remember that the Fatah party and the Egyptian government had gone around Hamas entirely to work out a cease fire and that the Palestinian Envoy to the UN Human Rights Council has said publically—yes, in Arabic—that the Hamas rockets fired into Israeli civilian territory constitute war crimes. But now, once again, the death toll in Gaza has passed the 200 mark, and those dead are mostly civilians. In tandem, Hamas and the Netanyahu administration have created a situation in which it will be much less tenable for a Palestinian government to dislodge Hamas and make peace without losing credibility in the Palestinian streets.
On the other hand, let’s also remember that, before this ground campaign got underway, Hamas unveiled its own proposal for a 10 year cease-fire in exchange for prisoner releases, an opening of the Gaza-Israel border to goods and citizens and an international (not Israeli) monitoring of Gaza’s seaport in place of the blockade. That sounds…not insane. Like an opportunity to make a choice, to keep talking and try to turn the momentum toward peace instead of war—or not.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: the “status quo” beloved of those politicians with a settler base can’t go on. The 2.5 million Palestinians who reside in the West Bank cannot live forever under an armed occupation. Not with villages destroyed every year, with military checkpoints undermining their ability to move freely in their land, with shrinking access to water, with crops destroyed with impunity and universities subject to summary closure when they can get to them at all—and all of this at the hands of a government that they did not elect and would not choose.
The Arab citizens and residents of Israel cannot live in a society in which they are not safe in their own shops or even their homes; in which their children can be kidnapped and tortured to death. The residents of Gaza cannot stay forever in 140 square miles inhabited by 1.6 million people who are not allowed to leave, to trade freely, to accept foreign scholarships, to develop those aspirations which would give them a stake in a permanent peace. Yes, the popular decision to elect a Hamas plurality to the parliament in Gaza proved to be a disaster. The blockade has only made it much much worse.
Am I being fair in my focus here? Am I one of those who hold Israel to a “double standard?” Of course I am. Shouldn’t we always hold ourselves and our loved ones to the highest standard of all? Do I love Israel? Of course I do, in that tangled helpless way that one loves family. And I’ll say this too: Israelis can neither live forever with the intermittent threat of rocket fire or bombings over their heads nor with the steady seepage of racism contaminating their society. Two peoples have historic claims to land, and the issue has been decided by brute force. That situation will not hold.
I’m not someone who cares much for emotional appeals devoid of analysis. Has v’halila I should be a “beautiful soul”—that, btw, is, in Israel these days, an epithet one hurls as an insult. (Do they know it came from Hegel, not exactly a friend of the Jews?) I want to endorse some program here, offer solutions if I am going to criticize. But the only solution I could offer would be macro, not micro—if there is to be a basis for healing, for ordinary human life to flourish in Israel/Palestine, the shape and momentum of entire policies need to transform.
On 17 Tammuz, the walls of the city were breached. Earlier in the masekhet, in Taanit 5a, Rabbi Yokhanan teaches that, “The Holy Blessed One said, “I will not enter the heavenly Jerusalem until I can enter the earthly Jerusalem.” Is there then a heavenly Jerusalem? Yes; for it is written, Jerusalem you are built as a city that is knit together. (Psalm 123:3)” Gershom Gorenberg documents how Jerusalem is now ripping apart, divided according to ethnicity into those who can walk the streets safely and those who can’t.
On 17 Tammuz the tablets of the law were shattered.