Sunday, March 13, 2011

Moment of Truth

Shabbat, the Sabbath – the day of rest. According to biblical tradition, God created the world in six days and on the seventh day, Shabbat, He rested. From just before sundown on Friday until just after sundown on Saturday, religiously observant Jews take a break from using our phones, computers, televisions and radios. We use the day to focus on family, friends, and community. Besides festive prayer services in the evening and morning, the day is spent eating, sleeping, then eating a some more.

For one family in the settlement of Itamar in Samaria, this Shabbat was horribly different. Five members of the Fogel family were murdered in cold blood by a Palestinian terrorist (or terrorists) as they slept. The victims were the parents and three of their six children, 11 and 4 year-old boys and a 3 month old baby girl.

Obviously, the response in Israel has been one of shock, horror, fury, and most of all, sadness. Many Israelis have posted links to articles, op-eds, and pictures and even more people have mentioned the tragedy in their Facebook status updates. One of the most common comments that I have seen written about the murder is people saying that they are “speechless”, “at a loss for words”.

Not me. I am far from speechless. If anything, I’m going to have a struggle in keeping this blog from going on too long for all that I have to say about this.

The world has reached a proverbial Moment of Truth. All of us. And so far, we have failed miserably.

The Palestinian “leadership”
These are the people responsible for the atmosphere of hate emanating from their people. As usual, they have issued a very bland cover-all “we categorically oppose violence and terror, regardless of victims', perpetrators' identity" – as if the suffering and the level of violence have been equal from both sides.

WHOA!!! Reality check.

The instances of an Israeli randomly killing Palestinians civilians are few and far between. More significantly, when they do happen, the full weight of Israeli law comes down on the perpetrators. Compare that to the response of Palestinian lawmakers, and the general Palestinian public: If the murderer (or murderers) of the Fogel family make it safely to Palestinian Authority territory; they will be regarded as “heroes”. If they are caught by Israeli security forces, they will be “martyrs” who will appear on any and every list of prisoners whose release the Palestinian leadership will demand in the future.

In the rare instances that and Israeli has murdered Palestinian civilians, they were roundly condemned by Israeli society as a whole (with the exception of the very extreme right). Compare that to Gaza today, where candies were handed out to children celebrating the killing in Itamar. (By the way, for anybody trying to justify this based on the enmity between Palestinians and Israelis, please note that this was also the response in the streets of Gaza on 9/11.

It really should come as no surprise how little value these so-called “leaders” have placed on the lives of Israelis. They have shown so little regard for the lives of their own people that how could we possibly expect them to regard lives of people not their own any better? How else can one understand the manner in which martyrdom is encouraged, and even embraced. While many Israelis are willing to fight and to die for that in which we believe, I have never heard an Israeli leader, whether political or religious, encourage anyone to actively martyr themselves. It is simply unheard of. Human life is far too precious for that.

The majority of Palestinian civilians who have been killed by Israeli military operations were killed because the terrorist leaders established their bases in the center of civilian enclaves. They have essentially used their own people as human shields knowing that Israel had to choose between not responding to attacks on her citizens and attacking the terror leaders at the risk of civilians being caught in the crossfire. When Israel has no real choice but to retaliate the Palestinians have all of the PR material they could possibly hope for – the world is outraged at the powerful IDF attacking a building where innocent families live. Never mind that the same building also houses the masterminds behind ruthless attacks on Israelis. Only Israel is to be held accountable.

Now is the time for somebody - anybody within the Palestinian corridors of leadership to stand up and decide that human life is a higher value than any land, more precious than any historical “rights” (which may or may not be based on reality or accuracy).

Israeli leaders have already taken this step. They have pulled the IDF out of 97% of the land in the “West Bank” where Palestinians live, and have risked Israeli civil war by completely pulling out of Gaza in the hope of some kind of peaceful reality. Moreover, whenever Israel has been forced to launch counter-attacks against Palestinian terrorist leaders, they have made every effort to minimize civilian casualties – sometimes with more success, other times with less. But the efforts have been made. The statement of the value being placed upon human life is clear.

The World Media, the UN, and world governments
One of Israel’s responses to the terror attack was to approve building more housing in the area commonly known as The West Bank. I could probably write an entire blog (or three) on the pros and cons of this move, and I have a lot of mixed feelings about the decision – but as a response to a cowardly terror attack, there certainly is a logic to it.

This evning, I looked at three international news web pages – CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Every one of them had a headline about the”approval of new settler homes”. Only by reading the articles themselves can you learn that the decision was made as a response to Friday’s terror attack. Of course, God Forbid that the terror attack itself would warrant a front-page headline (but let one Palestinian youth be killed by Israeli security forces, and that will be on the front pages for a week!)

Even worse - the CNN article referred to the incident as a “terror attack” – with the quotation marks. It’s as though it’s not a real terror attack, except in the eyes of us paranoid Israelis.

The UN has typically declared that Israel’s new building proposal "is not conducive to efforts to renew negotiations and achieve a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Really??? Building houses is what stands in the way of peace negotiations? In my naïve ignorance, I would have thought that the wanton and intentional murder of civilians and the celebration over the killing of children in cold blood was more of a roadblock to successful negotiations and peaceful coexistence. Apparently I was mistaken – that’s only the “natural” reaction of people who haven’t gotten everything they want.

Now is the time for the world media, the governments and the UN to acknowledge that no matter what the political and historical ramifications of the land dispute in the Middle East, absolutely nothing can ever justify the murder of civilians, particularly of children, and even less can ever justify the celebration over such murders.

The Israeli Left
So far there have been several left-wing organizations, bodies and individuals who have condemned the attack, but there are far too many who have remained silent.

The left wing in the country is in a very precarious position. They are Zionists (contrary to what many on the right would have us believe) and they do believe in the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State. They have a different idea of how that State should look and what should be the place and the relationship of Palestinians visa-vis the State, but whether I agree with them or not, I do not call into question their love of Israel or their hopes for a State based upon Jewish ideals.

The left has been known for vigils, protests, meetings – you name it, to protest the deaths of Palestinians and the continued building of homes in the settlements. Would it really be too much to expect a similar reaction to the murder of the Fogel children? Can the left possibly see this as any less horrendous as they see anything done by Israel against the Palestinians?

This is the chance for the left to show the rest of Israeli society that their beliefs, their hearts and their values do lie in the same place as the Right. Their vision of the relationship between the peoples may be different, and their ideas as to how to achieve the final status may be as well, but as Israelis who do care about the land and it’s people - ALL of its people, this is the time for them to stand up.

The Israeli Right
In many ways the Right has the biggest challenge of all. They have to hold on to their humanity in the face of the inhumanity which has been perpetrated against us.

It is very easy, perhaps even natural to respond to cowardly terror attacks such as this as representative of all Palestinians. To many folks this is typical of how all Palestinians see us, and our response needs to be against all Palestinians. There have been reports of Jews attacking Arab villages today (nothing like the scale of the murder of the Fogels, but randomly attacking, all the same), and I have seen and heard many Israelis express satisfaction and justification for those attacks.

This bothers me. More than that, it scares the hell out of me. I have often written within my blog that I believe we must distinguish between the Palestinian so-called “leadership” and the Palestinian people themselves. Yes, I know that the people themselves are the ones we see celebrating the murder of Jews, and yes, I also know that the people themselves have shown an overwhelming support in surveys justifying violence against Israelis. But I firmly believe that they – and their racist, hateful views – are a product of the atmosphere which their leaders have created. These people have been kept down by the very leaders supposedly responsible for their well-being and they have been blinded and brain-washed into seeing Israel as the source of their wretchedness.

Any of these individuals who actively try to kill Israelis deserve to be fought and killed to prevent them from succeeding, but attacking people for their beliefs when they have not acted upon them, smacks of a modern-day McCarthyism. And collective punishment against an entire nation for the actions of individuals hits much too close to what has been done to Jews for centuries.

The Right needs to hold on to their humanity, to their value of human life. The Torah teaches us that if a person rises up to kill us, we are completely justified, even obligated to kill him first. It is absolutely crucial that keep sight of the boundary between self-defense and wide scale demonization. Our immediate enemies are those actively rising up to kill us. Our long-term enemies are the “leaders” who enable the immediate enemies to commit their heinous crimes. Our responsibility – for ourselves, for our children and for our people is recognize those enemies for who they are, and to focus on erasing their threat to our existence.

In doing so, we would be doing our best to make sure that something positive can come out of the pain and the sorrow of this past Shabbat.

May the memories of the Fogels – Udi (age 36), Ruth (35), Yoav (11), Elad (4) and 3-month-old Hadas – always be a blessing. And may God, and all of Israel, watch over the 3 orphaned children who were spared one tragedy but now face a lifetime of another one.

And may we somehow, someday merit seeing a true peace in our land.

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