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Jewish Journal

There Was A Choice?  Then This Is Wrong.

by Rabbi Robin Podolsky

November 15, 2012 | 6:45 pm

No, nobody is obliged to put up with rocket barrages aimed randomly at civilians.  Nobody could watch as their children are traumatized daily, or live with one’s own growing anger and anxiety when just commuting to work or going to the store becomes an act of steely resolve, and not demand concrete action to make it stop.


That bit of obviousness doesn’t license the current Israeli government to be irresponsibly callous about the loss of human life.  Haaretz has reported that, before the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, there was a clear opportunity for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.   Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin says, “I think that they have made a strategic mistake…which will cost the lives of quite a number of innocent people on both sides…This blood could have been spared. Those who made the decision must be judged by the voters, but to my regret they will get more votes because of this.”


This is something of a pattern with Likud.  Their alliance with Yisrael Beiteinu, whose Avigdor Lieberman makes no secret of his racism and contempt for Arab human rights, might win them an election, but it also is a signal that they don’t take Palestinian statehood seriously and would rather play to their ultra-nationalist base.  Haaretz Editor Aluf Benn reminds us that, like Operation Cast Lead which also preceded elections, choosing war among other available options is an old electoral strategy in Israel. (Sorry couldn’t find a translation, and this is beyond what I could do quickly.)


The residents of Sdorot and Tel Aviv are indeed right to call for action.  But what action?  If, as reports now indicate, there was a credible chance for a cease-fire to stop the rockets, and to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza, then this is a war of choice.  A grossly irresponsible and immoral choice.  Is southern Israel secure today?  Will the Gazan child injured in this bombing feel obliged to forgive as an adult?  Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, Israel teaches from Mishnah Avot 5:8, “The sword comes into the world because of the suppression of justice and the perversion of justice, and those who misinterpret Torah.”  He further teaches that, “Our task as rabbis and Israeli human rights activists must be first and foremost to hold our own government to the most basic principle in international law and in the Jewish tradition:  We have a right and responsibility to defend ourselves, but we cannot harm civilians, even in the name of self-defense.  As I have taught in the past, Tractate Sanhedrin 74 teaches this principle and the principle of minimum necessary force.  Somebody who kills a pursuer to prevent him/her from killing when s/he could have stopped him/her by other means is seen as a murderer.  The Talmudic sage Raba teaches that we can kill the person coming to kill us, but cannot kill an innocent third person even to save our own life.”


Perhaps this would be a good time to admit that, if the blockade was supposed to make Israel safe from attack, while it might mitigate the rocket fire, it’s not working as a long-term solution.  It is creating generations raised in bitterness.  The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem documents the economic devastation in Gaza—and, yes the misrule of Hamas only makes it worse, but that doesn’t lessen Israeli responsibility.  Rabbi Ascherman argues, “Our message can not be to ignore the rockets on our fellow Israelis.  However, when we hear "There would be no attacks on Gaza if their would be no rockets on the Western Negev,” we must both join the demand that the rockets stop and remind our fellow Israelis that we can best help ourselves if we stop using our overwhelming power to make life miserable for most Gazans.  With our greater power comes greater responsibility.”


Reminders that life for most Gazans has not deteriorated into outright starvation ignore the effect of grinding hardship on bodies, hearts and minds.  The situation will not change for the better until there is a truce and, in the longer term, a peace agreement.  Right now, it seems as though Israel’s current government has chosen to escalate hostilities when it had other options.  This means that people on both sides will die who might have lived.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Rabbi Robin Podolsky is an Educator at Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock.  Before she became a rabbi, she worked as a press secretary to an elected official, a...

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