Obligations to Palestinians: Part IIIb – The Outraged Prophet (continued)
Yesterday I set down the depiction of the situation that Michael Lerner believed to be the case in Gaza that led him to having his heart broken and declaiming that Israel had become the cause of the destruction of Judaism as a compassionate religion. Today I continue that analysis of gross factual and interpretive distortion and go on to analyze his outrage at most Jews for making Israel into an idol. Points 1-7 are really points 14-20 as a continuation.
1. The Ground Attack by Israel was the Epiphany that finally Broke Lerner’s Heart
2. Though Israel claimed to be Destroying Tunnels, It was Deliberately Targeting Civilians
This is a libelous charged and not born out at all by any fair reading of the statistics. If Israel were deliberately targeting civilians, the percentage of civilian deaths would have been much higher. According to the IDF, approximately 50% of the death toll was made up of civilians whereas civilians constituted almost 99% of the 1.54 million Palestinians living in Gaza. Using Gazan Health Ministry statistics instead of IDF figures and without taking into account the repetition of names in the total of the 1865 claimed death toll during the period of the violent conflict, children 14 and under make up 42.9% of the population of Gaza. 40% of those killed included not only children but women and the elderly. Over 800 of the deaths should have been children 14 and under if civilians were indiscriminately targeted. There would have been a much higher total than the 243 reported deaths of women aged 18-60. According to Gazan Ministry of Health figures, 429 children died during the period of the violent conflict and evidently these were aged 16 and under rather than 14 and under. Also, the normal mortality of children in Gaza 14 and under during a non-violent period would have been about 200. Further, we also know that numbers of children died from stray Hamas rockets, premature explosions in booby-trapped houses and friendly fire as in the case of the IDF casualties. However, even if 200 had been killed by IDF firepower, this would be 200 too many. But the statistics do not bear out the charge that the death toll was a result of Israel either deliberately targeting civilians or even of indiscriminate use of firepower.
3. Lerner endorsed the Findings of the UN Human Rights Commission That Hamas Did Not Use Civilians as Human Shields
The charge of the EU that Hamas uses civilians as human shields does not literally mean that Hamas militants put civilians between the militants and Israeli soldiers, a claim which Hamas adamantly and justifiably denies. The charge is that Hamas fires its rockets from domestic areas to reduce the incentives of Israel to launch reprisal attacks which would not be the case if Hamas used the open areas of Gaza. Further, the rocketeers can easily flee into the surrounding residential area after firing a rocket. Hamas itself has justified firing rockets from residential areas for these reasons and has used mosques and UNRWA schools to hide and store its rockets. For example, Peter Stefanovic from Channel Nine News in Australia tweeted that Hamas rockets had been launched virtually “next door”: “Hamas rockets just launched over our hotel from a site about two hundred metres away.” John Reed, Jerusalem Bureau Chief of the Financial Times reported that, “two rockets fired toward Israel from near al-Shifa hospital.” Finnish, Portugese and other reporters have provided more extensive reports along the same lines but only after they left Gaza.
4. Hundreds of children have been killed by Israel’s Indiscriminate Destructiveness
I have already commented upon this point but would add another – children are often used as spotters and runners by Palestinian militants in Gaza and this too helps account for a higher death toll among children. Nevertheless, of the 459 civilians killed mostly by IDF firepower when families at home lost their lives, about 200 of them were children. One need only read the list to recognize how horrific it has been in Gaza.
1. Hamd Family in Beit Hanoun – 6 martyrs.
2. Kaware’ Family in Khan Yunis – 8 martyrs.
3. Al Manasra Family in Central Gaza – 4 martyrs.
4. Al Hajj Family in Khan Yunis – 8 martyrs.
5. Abu Jame’ Family in Khan Yunis – 2 martyrs.
6. Abd Al Ghafour Family in Khan Yunis – 2 martyrs.
7. Ghanaam Family in Rafah – 4 martyrs.
8. Al Arja Family in Rafah – 2 martyrs.
9. Al Astal Family in Khan Yunis – 3 martyrs.
10. Al Sawali Family in Khan Yunis – 2 martyrs.
11. Al Batsh Family in Gaza – 17 martyrs.
12. Sheikh El-Eid Family in Rafah – 3 martyrs
13. Abu Daqqa Family in Khan Younes – 3 martyrs
14. Bakr Family in Gaza City – 4 martyrs, all children
15. Zo’rob Family in Khan Younes – 3 martyrs
16. Al Astal Family in Khan Younes – 4 martyrs
17. Shehaibar Family in Sabra, Gaza City – 3 martyrs, all children
18. Abu Musnina Family in North Gaza – 3 martyrs, all children
19. Abu Jarad Family in North Gaza – 8 martyrs
20. Shaat Family in Khan Younes – 4 martyrs, all children
21. Nateez Family in Gaza – 3 martyrs, 2 children
22. Radwan Family in Khan Younes – 4 martyrs
23. Abu Mussallam Family in North Gaza – 3 martyrs, all children
24. Zweidy Family in Beit Hanoun – 5 martyrs
25. Zabout Family in Zaitoun – 2 martyrs
26. Salhiya Family in Khan Younes – 4 martyrs
27. Rahd Family in Beit Lahiya – 2 martyrs
28. Hamouda Family in Beit Lahiya – 2 martyrs
29. Isleem family in Shajaia – 5 martyrs
30. Alshaer Family in Khan Younes – 4 martyrs
31. Alhaia Family in Shajaia – 4 martyrs
32. Ziadah Family in Bureij – 3 martyrs
33. Ayaad Family in Shajaia – 10 martyrs
34. Ridwan Family in Khan Younes – 4 martyrs
35. Abu Moammer Family in Khan Younes/Rafah – 6 martyrs
36. Siam Family in Rafah – 11 martyrs
37. Abu Jana’a Family in Rafah – 26 martyrs
38. Bre’em Family in Deir Al Balah – 3 martyrs
39. Yazji Family in North Gaza – 5 martyrs
40. Halaaq Family in Gaza – 7 martyrs
41. Hamdiyeh Family in Gaza – 4 martyrs
42. Al Kilani Family in Gaza – 7 martyrs
43. Hajjaj Family in Gaza – 4 martyrs
44. Al Radiyah Family in North Gaza – 3 martyrs
45. Al Moqta’a Family in Middle Gaza – 2 martyrs
46. Al Ska’afi Family in Shujeiyah – 4 martyrs
47. Al Shinbari Family in Beit Hanoun – 7 martyrs
48. Al Najar Family in Khan Younis – 5 martyrs
49. Abdel Alnaby Family in North Gaza – 3 martyrs
50. Abu Aitah Family in North Gaza – 4 martyrs
51. Abu Jazar Family in Khan Younis – 3 martyrs
52. Abu Hassanein Family in Rafah – 4 martyrs
53. Al Helou Family in Shujeiyah – 11 martyrs
54. Abu Shahl Family in Khan Younis – 4 martyrs
55. Al Najarr Family in Khan Younis – 13 martyrs
56. Al Agha Family in Khan Younis – 11 martyrs
57. Abu Jabar Family Maghazi – 15 martyrs
58, Abu Khosah Family Bureij – 5 martyrs
59. Abu Zaid Family in Rafah – 6 martyrs
60. Hashash Family in Rafah – 5 martyrs
61. Al Samiry Family in Middle Gaza – 3 martyrs
62. Al Far Family in Maghazi – 5 martyrs
63. Al Najjar Family in Khan Younis – 22 martyrs
64. Brikeh Family in Khan Younis – 7 martyrs
65. Abu Amer Family in Khan Younis – 21
66. Khalili Family in Gaza – 6
67. Balata Family in North Gaza – 8
68. Hamoudah Family in North Gaza – 4
69. Salman Family in North Gaza – 5
70. Allouh Family in Middle Gaza – 4
71. Najjar Family in Khan Younis –
72. Wahdan Family in North Gaza – 10
73. Najen Family in North Gaza – 10
74. Ghoul Family in Rafah – 10
75. Khatab Family in Middle Gaza – 7
76. Al Najdalawi Family in North Gaza – 6
77. Abu Jazer Family in Rafah – 4
5. Israel Deliberately Targeted UN Schools, Gaza’s Water and Electricity Facilities that will bring untold hunger and diseases to Gazans.
Gazans have not suffered from “untold hunger”. Though disease does increase during the violent conflict, the greatest health risk in addition to physical wounds and an increase in infectious diseases, has been psychological. But overall, the health of Gazans has improved significantly even under the blockade. According to the Gazan Health Ministry, “the mortality level is relatively low compared with the current mortality rates in the Arab countries” having declined to 4.0 per thousand. “This indicates improvement in the quality of life, opportunities for receiving medical services, improvement in health awareness among the population and improvement in health services.”
Three UNRWA schools have been hit ostensibly by Israeli fire and in two, casualties can be linked to Israeli missiles. 9 killed in the Rafah school (including 4 children) and 13 killed in Beit Hanoun. The 15 killed in in Jabila (including 6 children) were evidently killed by a Hamas rocket that went astray. However, since 138 schools, including 89 UNRWA schools, were damaged or destroyed in the recent Israeli assault, if it were not for the fact that school was out, there would have been many more casualties. It appears that Israel did target schools deliberately on the basis that they were being used by militants to hide or launch rockets. However, the attacks on the two UNRWA schools holding displaced people from other areas seem to have been inadvertent, though they may have been the result of criminal negligence.
6. Destroying Tunnels is Acceptable but Destroying Houses, Schools and Hospitals is a Crime Against Humanity
Destroying houses, schools and even hospitals is NOT a crime against humanity; targeting houses, schools and hospitals without a military objective is. When houses are targeted for military reasons, whether or not it is a crime depends on the military objective and the degree of collateral damage considered reasonable and acceptable to achieve the military purpose. This may be immoral but it is part of the laws of war. Civilian targets should NOT be struck unless they can be said to be military targets or hitting them must be risked because of the importance of a military target.
7. Israel Rivals Some of the Most Oppressive and Brutal Regimes in the World
This charge is blatantly outrageous. To equate Israel with the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Darfur by the Sudanese government or the 170,000 that have died thus far in the Syrian civil war, many by gas and the use of barrel bombs on civilian apartment blocks, the systematic murder of its own citizens by the North Korean government, the persecution of Baha’is by the Iranian government, is too heinous a charge to take seriously anything that Michael Lerner writes or says.
What about Lerner’s charge that if Israel’s sins are egregious, Jews around the world are equally complicit for turning Israel into an idol as evidenced by the following:
1 Branding Jews who do not support the state of Israel as a self-hating Jews.
Certainly some defenders and militant right wing Israelis do this, but this is not the norm
2. Jews believing that the IDF is the most moral army in the world as they remain blind to the IDF’s senseless murder of civilians.
I am not blind to the killing of defenceless civilians by the IDF and certainly not blind when I find it to be senseless and the result of negligence. Nevertheless I believe the IDF is a highly moral army but have not examined the morality of all armies in the world to assess its standing. However, the IDF is one of the few armies in the world that assigns ethical officers to military units to advise on the ethics of targeting. The vast majority of armies do very little even to educate their troops on the ethics of war.
3. Judaism has been turned into an auxiliary of ultra-nationalist blindness.
This may be true of many synagogues but I am not qualified to judge. However, when blatantly anti-Semitic ultra-nationalists hold a rally in a former synagogue in Hungary, it seems weird and almost obscene to equate the activities of these ultra-nationalist anti-Semites with the behavior of rabbis and Jews in synagogues around the world. A review of the characteristics associated with ultra-nationalism and hatred of the other in the scholarly literature would appear to belie such an accusation. For one, with the revisionist historians and the wider acceptance of some of their conclusions, writing heroic history in Israel seems to have become a motif of the past rather than the present. History books are not being written to glorify the past but to deconstruct it. Nor is there any effort to exclude dissenters from the body politic of Israel. To the extent that Israel does discriminate against its Arab citizens, the trend line has been to decrease that discrimination rather than instilling in the school curriculum lessons that portray Arabs as inferior or to assert that Jewish values are distinct from universal values of human rights for example. The Knesset is not passing laws to deprive the Palestinian population of Israel of their basic rights nor are military leaders extremists in their social and religious values. Israel does not foster racism or the political goal of hegemony in the Middle East. Israeli soldiers are indeed honoured but they are not conditioned to engage in suicide missions. When a group of Israelis seized an Arab teenager and burned him to death in an act of revenge, the vast majority of Israeli citizens were appalled and ashamed. However, there are a few worrisome signs. There is insufficient critical examination up to this time at the misuse of the kidnapping and killing of the three Yeshiva boys to blame Hamas in general when Hamas did not take any credit for the action as it usually does. On the other hand, evidence has emerged suggesting Hamas in Gaza funded the operation but the validity of this evidence still needs to be determined. The government does blame its enemies – Hamas in particular – as the exclusive player at fault without recognizing and accepting its role in the current impasse Israeli ultra-nationalists did threaten Haaretz writer Gideon Levy and did try to intimidate Orna Banai, an entertainer, for criticizing the war.
4. In synagogues around the world Jews pray for the well-being of Israel but not for their Arab cousins, especially the welfare of Palestinians.
Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prayed together with a Christian pope for peace. Jews and Muslims prayed for the 17 year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the boy abducted, brutally tortured and burned to death by Jewish zealots. Nevertheless, on this issue Lerner has a point. The indifference towards the enemy, but particularly the citizens of Gaza, is often palpable. As Jews, we must not adopt an Arab saying to “Let a hundred mothers weep as long as mine does not.” Instead, we must remain angry at Hamas for requiring the sons and daughters of Israel to kill Palestinians in order to defend themselves. Though it is natural and even right to cry first for your own and those closest to oneself, this should not displace the compassion we should feel for the suffering of others, particularly those for whom we share in a direct responsibility for that suffering. Palestinians have suffered inordinately in the last three wars in Gaza and it is incumbent upon ALL Jews to understand and feel that suffering and to do as much as possible to relieve it and prevent its future recurrence. But this does not mean we need to engage in an orgy of self-flagellation when enemies lead their people with policies that ensure future suffering. Certainly, we must never rejoice at such suffering and when a Jew does rejoice it should pain all of us. Further, Jews should consider adopting Peter Beinart and Joe Settler’s suggestion that we name and pray for those Palestinians who died in Gaza in our synagogues as well as the Israeli soldiers and civilians who lost their lives.
5. If they would choose to pray for Palestinians, they would be labelled a self-hating Jew.
Peres and the Jews who went to the home of Muhammad Abu Khdeir were not called self-hating Jews to the best of my knowledge. See the many images of Jews praying for Palestinians on the internet. (https://www.google.ca/search?q=Jews+praying+for+Palestinians&client=firefox-a&hs=YtS&rls=org.mozilla:enUS:official&channel=np&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=NXviU8e1AsqmyASd_IDIBg&ved=0CFEQsAQ&biw=834&bihIt)
6. Judaism came into existence to challenge the ethics of power.
This is one interpretation of the origins of Judaism. It is not mine
7. In contrast to Hobbesian realists or many evolutionary psychologists who believe that humans are driven by either fear that results in responses of either flight or fight, Lerner contends that humans have a choice where their behavior can be dictated by compassion and love for the other or fear and hatred and demeaning of the other, Judaism has chosen the former as its fundamental premise.
Rabbi Gunther Plaut used to tell us that the commandment to love the stranger and treat him or her with respect was the most repeated commandment in the Torah. Benevolence and compassion for the suffering are indeed fundamental themes in Judaism. But so are distrust, wariness of enemies and self-protection. The two can be complementary and not disjunctive.
8. Hitler has won a posthumous victory in instilling in most Jews a belief that we cannot trust our fellow humans and must rely on power and military might instead of embracing a worldview premised on hope and possibility.
9. The young generation of Jews is growing up indifferent to Israel.
A large proportion of young Jews is growing up indifferent to Judaism more than to Israel. They are often conflicted over the latter because they are ignorant of both their Judaism and the Middle East. Lerner’s screed has not helped at all in that educational task.
10. In the age of the internet, Lerner is reduced to using “non-Jewish” sources to promulgate his message.
Is Tikkun a non-Jewish source?
Oudet Basharat, from whom I borrowed the Arab saying above, published an essay yesterday entitled, “Is this what morality looks like?” In it he asked the question that if the Arab leaders of his people killed 1600 Jewish citizens in metropolitan Tel Aviv and wounded another 10,000 while turning over 3,000 homes to rubble, he would be too ashamed to look his Jewish friend in the eye. I am not ashamed at what happened but I am very pained. Is this because Arabs live primarily in a shame culture whereas Jews live primarily in a culture of guilt that requires assessing degrees of responsibility?
Basharat went on to write that if my own leaders were to commit such an evil, “I would cry out against the way they do not bat an eyelash after perpetrating all these atrocities, and then I’d place the blame on the Zionist leadership, which situated its military headquarters near Ichilov Hospital and in the heart of a residential neighborhood.” Further, the issue was not that you should not direct the majority of your compassion to your own, but that your passion directed to your own and to the other should be proportionate to the suffering and not to the proximity of the other to oneself. Most of all, hatred should NOT be directed towards the suffering Palestinians in Gaza.
I end this blog with a poem by Rabbi Tamara Cohen entitled “No Pain Like My Pain”.
No Pain Like My Pain (Lamentations 1:12) – for Tisha b’Av 5774/ 2014 by Rabbi Tamara Cohen
That’s how it feels Dear God.
That’s how it felt to the lamenters exiled and Temple-shorn.
That’s how it feels to each grief-wracked mother, father, sister, son, family, nation.
הביטו וראו אם יש מכאוב כמכאובי
“Look carefully and see if there could possibly be pain like my pain, like the one bestowed by You upon me.”
No pain like my pain,
no exile like my exile,
No land my land,
No desolate city like my desolate city.
No heart like my own aching heart.
No fear like the fear of my people.
No genocide like our genocide.
No humanity like our humanity.
No right like our right.
No wrong like their wrong.
No rage like my rage.
No pain like my pain,
immediate and raw and righteous,
ancient and true and etched in our genes by history’s injustices.
Dear God, help us look, look closer so that we may see
our children in their children.
You, in the bleary eyes of each orphan, each grieving childless mother,
each masked and camouflaged fighter for his people’s dignity.
Dear God, Divine Exiled and Crying One,
Loosen our claim to our own uniqueness.
Soften this hold on our exclusive right — to pain, to compassion, to justice.
May your children, all of us unique and in Your image,
come to know the quiet truths of shared pain,
In Sh’Allah. Ken yehi Ratzon.
May it be Your will.
And own own.