By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
November 23, 2012
What a week this has been for all those living in Israel and Gaza. In a short space of time great destruction has been wrought and a ceasefire to end it has been brokered that does very little to change the status quo.
Since Israel began its retaliation to the continuous and escalating rocket attacks over the past year and in particular in October and November, the total number of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip was 1,506. 5 Israelis were killed and 240 injured. Israel launched around 1,550 air, tank and naval strikes on targets that included according to Israeli figures: “19 senior command centers, operational control centers and Hamas’ senior-rank headquarters, 30 senior operatives, damaging Hamas’ command and control, hundreds of underground rocket launchers, 140 smuggling tunnels, 66 terror tunnels, dozens of Hamas operation rooms and bases, 26 weapon manufacturing and storage facilities and dozens of long-range rocket launchers and launch sites.” 158 Gazans were killed, 102 civilians, 55 militants and one policeman. 8 others were summarily executed by Hamas as traitors. Beyond these figures are hundreds of thousands of traumatised Gazans and Israelis.
There is no nuance provided by these numbers.
If we are so minded, we can point to some Gazans who explain away death of innocents by their martyrdom and promise of heaven, who place their own people, even their children as human shields and who celebrate the loss of Israeli lives and the indiscriminate nature of their rockets, a tenth of which fell on Gazan land. We could point out that the IDF used precision bombing and issued pre-emptive warnings to Gazan civilians: dropping leaflets, phoning residents and missing targets on the first strike to allow civilians to vacate the area, even aborting some missions because of a civilian presence. Rabbis quote Talmudic passages that justify the defence of their people.
If we are otherwise minded, we might point to the injustice of a people not allowed free movement for themselves or their goods; people who are refugees in their own land, many of whom live in poverty. We can point to the number of babies and children who were killed. We can focus on the overwhelming power that the IDF can wield to create immense damage to infrastructure & livelihoods, the control of supplies and the damage caused to lines of communication that were once open between Israel and Hamas. Rabbis quote Talmudic passages that teach that we can kill the person coming to kill us, but can not kill an innocent third person even to save our own life.
All of these are facts. Yet depending on the narrative one might choose to invoke, one lot of fact is forgotten and others are imagined, as mythology takes precedent. If one is pessimistic as the majority on all sides are, then the status quo has been maintained and whilst there might be a few years of relative calm, the situation will flare up once more. If one is an optimist then we might point to the seeming reinforcement of the relationship between Egypt and the United States and the pressure that the latter was able to bear on Israel to exercise restraint and accept compromise.
Yet nothing will change unless we all change our approach: The Israelis and Palestinian leaders, and all those who say that they want peace. Most say that they want peace but take a side, accept one narrative over the other. We will have to accept that both narratives of this conflict and those that underpin this seemingly intractable conflict are right.
In the words of Amos Oz, “The Palestinians are in Palestine because Palestine is the homeland and the only homeland of the Palestinian people…The Israeli Jews are in Israel because there is no other country in the world which the Jews, as a people, as a nation, could ever call home.” As he acknowledges, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Wild West movie. It is not a struggle between good and evil; rather it is a tragedy in the ancient and most precise sense of the word: a clash between right and right, a clash between one very powerful, deep and convincing claim and another very different but no less convincing, no less powerful, no less humane claim.”
There are no easy answers to this tragedy: there are likely to be more tragic moments as there already have been today. Yet I urge us to engage in a horrendously difficult task. If we as yet hold one narrative as the only truth, let us not only consume media and literature that reinforces our position. Let us also explore that which exposes us to the other narrative. Let us engage in the sacred task of putting ourselves in the other person’s position.
Some media do not make this an easy task. I am afraid that the relatively balanced and nuanced reporting of the opening days of this current conflict has not endured. Too many news agencies have let themselves down by eschewing intellectually sound analysis for popularist accounts of individual horror and victimhood. We should challenge them and make complaints when appropriate especially when they are from a public broadcaster. Yet I believe we should listen to what is hard for us to hear until we can acknowledge and argue for right and right.
Lest I leave you feeling downhearted or oppressed by that task, let me leave you an interesting nuance pointed out by Avi Issacharoff in Haaretz. He noted the “metamorphosis of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, described during the Egyptian presidential election campaign as the man who "would liberate Gaza and turn Jerusalem into the capital of the united Arab nations," into the President who “let this country's name escape his lips a few days ago, during a joint press conference…While it isn't clear whether Morsi referred to the contacts between "the Palestinian side and the Israeli side" by accident or on purpose, in these crazy days it's no small thing.”
Let us pray for many small things, like being able to say each others name, like having a dialogue rather than receiving or delivering a diatribe, like a good night’s sleep and a day without anxiety, like still holding onto the hope for peace.