Monday, January 05, 2009

Reflections on Gaza

Micah is a leader in our city.

He is a person of great insight, compassion, vision and wisdom.

He is the Sr. Rabbi of Temple Israel.

He is also my friend.

I've had the privilege to cultivate a relationship with him over my time at Saint John's. We have lunch together with a few like minded clergy monthly. Together with our spouses, we have joined with a coalition of clergy committed to relationship beyond our roles -just children of God, in whatever way we understand the Divine. We've enjoyed dinner in each other's homes over the past year--a true means of grace for us all.
It is that coalition that came together after the Lester Street tragedy to put the service of healing for the city together.

I trust him. I value him.
And when I get something from him I read it. Always.
I received this Sunday morning. It has to do with the current conflict in Gaza. Other than the news we haven't much to go on when trying to figure out the how? and why? of something like this.

Micah's reflections may not answer or explain everything--but it certainly helped me, and I hope it does you.

Little could I know in planning Temple Israel’s December 21-January 2 journey to Israel that our Memphis delegation would be there for the outbreak of another war.

Our scheduled visit to schoolchildren in Memphis’ sister city - located less than three miles from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – was canceled due to 60 missile hits on Sederot on December 24th alone.

By way of background, Israel gave back the Gaza Strip unilaterally in 2005 to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, but within months, Arafat’s more moderate Fatah was overtaken in a bloodbath by a group whose very name - “Hamas” - means “violent crime.” Beyond butchering fellow Palestinians, Hamas has been wreaking havoc on Israel’s western border ever since.

Since we were unable to enter the city, area leaders met with us just beyond Hamas’ missile range at an absorption center for some of Israel’s 30,000 Jewish Ethiopian immigrants. Throughout our journey, we heard the pain Israelis feel for the desperate plight of so many Palestinians. An overwhelming majority of Israelis clearly favor a Palestinian State and giving back even more land for peace. The problem is that the only ones on the other side still standing politically are radical Muslim extremists. Moderate leaders in the Palestinian world are either killed off or too weak to stand up to Hamas who are the real war criminals in this conflict.

Hamas was founded on the principle of three “no’s.” No recognition of Israel’s right to exist; no negotiations with Israel; and no peace.” It is true that with the money received from Iran, Hamas provides some social services and humanitarian relief, but the very existence of Hamas is based on an unmitigated hatred of Israel.

Hamas uses children as human shields and hides its Iranian-supplied weapons in schools, hospitals, and mosques. The newest stockpiles of rockets used when we were there have such long-range capabilities that the number of Israelis in harm’s way has increased from 200,000 to over 750,000 Israeli residents.

With the exception of America – which reacted to Israel’s Gaza operation by labeling Hamas leaders “thugs” who “use terrorism to ignite violence” - international reaction has either been about condemnation or hopelessly na├»ve.

How should Israel deal with Hamas’ logic of hate? What would any of us do if a terror-based group like Hamas bombarded 4,000 missiles on random residents, including 60 in one day alone?!

The leaders of the Western Negev we met with shared the horror of a completely traumatized community. Once a city of 33,000, the 5,000 Sederot residents able to afford a different life have moved out, leaving behind the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community, especially new immigrants and the elderly.

In these towns bordering the Gaza Strip, residents have only fifteen seconds to find shelter when the sirens go off. Businesses can’t operate. Children are not able to play outdoors. Couples can’t sleep safely in bedrooms and over 80% of the population have post-traumatic stress disorder – from teens who are now wetting their beds from fear, to elderly women who faint each time a siren goes off because of the terror these seniors have witnessed firsthand.

We were in Israel when a senior officer in the air force called the Palestinian residents of a housing complex where advanced weaponry and rocket launchers had been intentionally placed by Hamas. The Israeli commander ordered everyone to leave so that no civilians would get hurt. What did the men in the house do? They called Hamas and moved more mothers and children into the house because they know the kind of society Israel fosters will not target innocent civilians.

Hamas, on the other hand, targets Israeli civilians while hiding behind their own children as human shields.

When a group bent on Israel’s destruction hates other people’s children more than it loves its own, you either allow the cult of death and fear to spread, or you do your best to stop it.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing we witnessed in Israel during wartime was its commitment to glorify life in response to Hamas’ glorification of death.

Reverence for life has always been the Jewish way. When the Nazis decimated 1/3 of the Jewish people, the Jewish response was to make more babies and embrace life. In fact, at the end of World War II, the highest birthrate in the world was in the detention camps where the emaciated survivors of the Holocaust managed to escape the Nazi death machine. In response to Nazi brutality, the Israelis built one of the most advanced democracies in the world, one with no parallel in the Arab world.

We arrived not only in time for Israel’s quest for peace, quiet, and calm; we also witnessed the celebration of Chanukah, which commemorates the miracle of the Jewish people’s survival against all odds. My hope and prayer for 2009 is that the survival of this tiny state the size of New Jersey, with the veneration of life shared by all Americans, will somehow prevail over the regime of death and martyrdom in Gaza.

I also pray that people of all faiths – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or any other holy path – will unite to bring about the sanity, civility, acceptance and peace emblematic of the One in whose image we were all created.

Me too, brother.
Me, too.

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