Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A First Blog: Security for Israel, States for Two Peoples

Greetings to you, dear reader, on this secular New Year’s Day! May the events in our lives, and those of all our friends and relatives, lead us to better understandings and to peace!

This new secular year finds the Middle East in turmoil. It would not have been my desire to make my first entry on this new rabbinic blog a response to the current situation, but I must certainly address what is happening in Israel, Gaza, and the Middle East.

First, don’t take my word for it. At a minimum, dear reader, please stay abreast of the news. Know what’s going on. Read newspapers, websites, magazines and other resources: Look at
www.haaretz.com, www.nytimes.com, www.ynetnews.com, and others of your choosing. And support Israel with your love, your tzedakah contributions, and your concern.

The opinions below reflect only my own in consideration of Jewish teachings and tradition, as well as current thinking and analysis. But my voice is one amid the 14 million Jews around the world who have a very real stake in the future of the state of Israel.

In my mind there is no question that Israel has the right and responsibility to defend and protect her population, especially the 800,000 Israelis who now live within the apparent range of Hamas missiles, which can now reach Beer Sheva and Ashdod, 30 miles from Gaza. No nation in the world would or should surrender its duty to ensure its citizens’ safety. The fact that, over the last eight years, 8,000 missiles have landed on the Israeli cities and towns that surround the Gaza Strip is justification enough that Israel has an obligation to firmly establish a defensive shield. Operation Cast Lead says that “enough is enough.”

I must also mourn the loss of innocent life. There is no place for their families to turn for solace and comfort, except to those who placed them in harms’ way: Hamas and its agents.

There is the problem of what some call “proportionality,” that is, some would say that Israel’s response is out of proportion to the pain it received. But I think I agree with Alan M. Dershowitz of Harvard University, who said this early in 2008, in response to earlier rocket attacks on the population of southwestern Israel: “Proportion must be defined by reference to the threat posed by the enemy and not by the harm it has produced. No nation need allow its enemies to play Russian Roulette with its children.” In other words, the 8,000 rockets that landed on Israeli soil since 2000 could have each killed and maimed a score or more individuals. And every time a rocket hurdles its way toward some target, such is the assumption of the intention that must be made.

Israel is not looking to find a balance of wounded and killed. She simply wants to protect her citizens.

That Hamas would compel Israel to defend its land and citizens in this way has again proven the observation made famous by Abba Eban a generation ago. When asked about Yasser Arafat’s tendency to disregard openings of diplomacy, Eban is believed to have said that Arafat “never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

In relationship to the current predicament in Gaza, Hamas has tried to seize the opportunity to make their case to the international community about the impoverished conditions in the Gaza Strip.

However, they miss the opportunity – yet again! – truly to help their people achieve better days in the near term, and a potential for a better future. Not only do they miss these opportunities, they bear the complete responsibility for the bloodshed and the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza.

By turning the civilians of Gaza into human shields, and by storing weapons in mosques and forcing Israel to target houses of worship, Hamas reveals itself again as an inhumane, manipulative and blasphemous gang of thugs.

And by unilaterally canceling the six-month old cease-fire with Israel and returning to lob barrages of rockets that have terrorized southern Israel for eight years, they forfeit their sanction – if they truly ever had it – to govern their people in their best interests. The introduction of needed humanitarian supplies is further delayed, and Palestinians suffer at the hands of those whom they chose to lead them.

It is my hope that the daily lobbing of missiles and the retaliatory air strikes will soon end, and that the parties will engage diplomatically instead of militarily. Each people connected to the conflict – Israeli and Palestinian – deserve to live in their own states in peace, security, and health, and with the knowledge that their leaders are acting in the peoples’ best interests. Let us pray for cooler heads to prevail.