Being in Jerusalem right now is an experience of incongruence. My kids swim at the local public pool. They feed the goats and ducks at their idyllic day camp in the city limits yet somehow in a remote, natural wonderland. At night we walk in the cool Jerusalem breezes sipping sweet drinks and eating heartily at restaurants that are filled with laughter and relaxed chatter. There is no obvious sign of the conflict unfolding only a few miles down the hills to the west.
Yet this is a time of conflict. Israel is at war. A war to protect the citizens near Gaza who have been under rocket barrages on and off for the past ten years. A war to defend nearly every inch of this country, where at least some of these thousand plus rockets have been targeted. A war to end the need for nursery schools and hospitals to be protected; the need for the elderly to flee, at a moment's notice, to a bomb shelter- in 90, or 30, or 15 seconds. A war to destroy the 30 tunnels (and counting) that have been discovered. Burrowing from the Gaza Strip into Israel, mere yards from Israeli communities, these tunnels have been employed to attack the innocents nearby with murder and capture. They were constructed, it is presumed today, to launch an all-out surprise land assault on Israel when the time was right. Thank God they are being eliminated. And let's pray that they will not be able to be reconstructed.
But the incongruence does not end there. My peaceful summer stands in unimaginable contrast to the human suffering in Gaza itself. Yes, this suffering is the responsibility of the absolute rulers of the region, Hamas. They do in fact pursue an evil, pointless policy intended to effectuate sympathy and support, but never national success. They do not hope to build a state or improve the lives of their people. They hope only to gain more funds from Qatar, where the top Hamas leadership can be found today. They seek more symbolic victories. (Look! Ben Gurion airport was nearly closed for 30 hours!) But they have no strategy worthy of the term. Their own innocents are the greatest victims of their choices. By placing rockets and munitions in hospitals, in UN schools and mosques; by shooting rockets from apartment buildings; and by making flight from the most dangerous locations difficult or impossible - they have guaranteed the humanitarian disaster that is Gaza today.
For all of these reasons I feel, as do Jews everywhere, a sense of grief for the Palestinian suffering. But, not so much grief that I cannot see the need for my own community to defend itself.
Yet, the incongruence does not end there. Because as much as the strategy of Hamas is horrific and irrational- I fear that our strategy is unclear as well. In fact this week, as I participated in a Rabbinical Assembly solidarity mission, I heard the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, say that it is difficult to say exactly what our strategy is. Because after you blow up their rockets and tunnels, after you do the defensive work that is required, we will eventually leave Gaza. And without a local authority that is committed to peaceful coexistence, we know that these tunnels will be re-dug and the rockets re-launched. Even toppling Hamas, if it is possible at all, is unappealing because we are not guaranteed anyone more committed to peace. (Did you notice that Iraq has not exactly been working out as planned lately?) And even as we can claim the moral high ground, war inevitably leads to acts of violence that are hard, or impossible to defend. Why kill a Palestinian spokesman for Islamic Jihad? Did we do enough to protect the members of entire families that were wiped out by one of our missile attacks? And in a time of relative security in Israel, (thanks to the Iron Dome system), when we can bomb everywhere we choose at any time - when are we called upon to exercise restraint, even in the face of evil?
This week, as part of the solidarity mission, I got a glimpse for a moment of pure clarity. Without any feelings of incongruence or uncertainty, I was blessed to hear personally from Rachel Frenkel, the mother of the murdered yeshiva boy Naftali. This remarkable woman spoke with hope and love. She was somehow able to move beyond her personal sense of endless loss to give the gathered strangers a kind of support and guidance we could not have imagined. She said, as awful as her experience was, it was a time, as is this war, when the people of Israel have felt united. We have felt like one people, grieving with strangers in their homes and coming together in bomb shelters. As one people, with "one heart," we can take comfort even in our pain. This oneness now must point us to respecting one another even in times without conflict. It must remind us that we are always one family. But Rachel's sense of Jewish oneness, unlike so many others', does not exclude the humanity even of the community which produced her son's killers. She told us how she reminded her 4 year old last week, that there are good Arabs and human beings everywhere. That God's will is for all of us must somehow find a way to live with mutual respect. That was why she reached out to the family of the murdered Arab boy, Muhammed Abu Khdeir, seeking to share a common horror, and a common hope. She offered us this breathtaking vision based upon her experience: "Loss is endless. But also love is endless. Acts of Hesed (Loving-kindness) can redeem." All we could say was, Amen.
That is what I feel as Shabbat approaches Jerusalem. With love and hope in retreat, now is the time we need it so much more. With hearts united, with all Jews, and with all human beings, I pray for Shalom.
R. Ron Fish