by JCRC Director David Cohen
June 2021 Issue of “The Reflector”
When hostilities increase in Israel, our hearts go out to our friends and family who have endured these repeated escalations. We also care deeply for any loss of life in the region and mourn for all those who get caught in the crossfire of this seemingly unending conflict. As of the writing of this article, riots and protests in Israel have grown into what can only be called war between Israel and her immediate enemies in the region - Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian Proxies in Syria. We can only hope that by the time this is published, there has been a cease fire or de-escalation.
If you have been in Israel during a war, as I have, it still really can’t compare to what Israelis are going through and what the innocents in Gaza are experiencing. Remembering my own time in shelters, my time seeing the aftermath, and my experience travelling from the north to the center of the country to evade the daily barrage – it is self-evident that I still cannot understand fully what it means to live with that every-day reality. In 2021, I also have to acknowledge that heading to the center of Israel to avoid bombardment is no longer even possible.
What I just paid homage to does not mean I have given up my right as a Jew to discuss Israel, her policies, and her future. But in the diaspora, while we don’t experience the same horror of war, we do have to confront our own reality of loving and supporting Israel in so many different ways – all the while being challenged at every turn to do that in “the right” way. It does seem that in the current climate, there are more and more critics of Israel who simply do not see any issue with saying that over 1000 rockets (initial salvos) as a response to riots is fine with them.
What we are seeing, feeling, and wrestling with in the face of this new level of disparagement of Israel - is pushing us to our limits. In a recent Newsweek article, author Arash Azizi stated “… given that Palestinians have had to endure the daily humiliation of military occupation in the West Bank, the brutal siege and periodic wars in Gaza, and unequal citizenship in Israel [you should] stand up for the Palestinian cause.”
This was not a random article asking for generic political support. This was a call to support the rain of rockets from Gaza. I have responded to these “justifications” with a few key points. First, all of these issues can certainly be discussed and debated, as they often are even on the streets of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, but not as a justification for a barrage of rockets. Second, you would think that this stalemate - inherited from the aftermath of Oslo - only affects one group. Third, making that justification negates the fact that most Israeli families do not want to send their children into the West Bank for security work and that few Israeli’s ever want to have anything to do with Gaza again.
But more importantly, the statement above refuses to acknowledge one other thing – and that is the work that so many Israelis and Palestinians do on a daily basis to try to gradually move their societies closer together so that their children can get just a glimpse of a two-state solution. While that work is not moving as fast as most would want it to – we know that sociopolitical progress never moves fast enough – for anyone.
Vehement critics of “Israel” likely don’t know my friend Yaron, who works regularly with Palestinian partners as they bring Israeli and Palestinian youth together for coexistence programs. People who posted all over social media this week likely don’t know that for the first time in Israel’s history – an Arab List was about to join the coalition government. As much as checkpoints and extremists are a part of the horrible equation, so too is the positive and the people working for change.
Demonization of Israel confronts the diaspora regularly. Even just by saying “Israel” is this or “Israel” is that – you dehumanize an entire country. Do we say “Hamas” in that same way? Maybe. But we don’t say “Gaza” did this or that – because we know those are two very different things. And despite what is construed as a David and Goliath scenario, I don’t believe Goliath ever called up the Israelites to let them know they would be demolishing the building they were living in because that’s where deadly rockets were coming from. Does that practice justify everything the IDF does? No. But it does show a difference in tactics that matters when the option to do nothing just isn’t viable.
We also hear “Israel has all the power” and “Israel can change everything tomorrow.” Well, that is like ridiculously saying that any global conflict can be solved tomorrow. Any solution to this conflict will need to proceed slowly, just like a delicate operation – where the surgeon needs to work with care and precision to make sure the whole body survives the procedure.
Some may think that because I have spent so much time here speaking on Israeli and Jewish concerns that I am biased. In a way I am because I am seeing Israel given less and less of a fair take by people who don’t know what it is like to live in the Israeli paradox every day. And I should be allowed to say that Israel is being demonized without that diminishing my belief in the Palestinian right to a state of their own. Do I believe more can be done to move Israel closer to an even more just and equitable society? Certainly. But we in the United States don’t know which way is up on that issue, so how on earth is a society constantly in post-traumatic crisis supposed to figure out the best way forward on race and ethnic relations.
The only thing we can really call for with honesty and integrity is for escalations like this to be removed from the equation. As bad as it clearly is for rioters to be punished with violence during the holy time of Ramadan, and as much as the policies of land ownership and evictions need to be closely examined (much of that is said by Israelis themselves) – none of that justifies Hamas’ intervention and incursion – which is exactly what it is – an invasion. As Yossi Klein Halevi recently wrote, Hamas does not need provocation, they just need pretext.
And in America, Jews and all those who support Israel - and a future Palestinian State - will be under verbal and emotional assault because we see a different way forward. We hope and wish for a path that does not include thousands of rockets raining down on a civilian population. We believe that the crises and provocation that served as catalyst and pre-text for those rockets can be dealt with in different ways. And we know that there are so many good people on the ground who are working very hard for change. These amazing people are the ones we want to make sure aren’t lost in all the judgement, acrimony, and accusations. They are just like most Americans who want justice between Israelis and Palestinians, and they do not need your demonization. They need your support now more than ever.