Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Eyeless in Gaza

Palestinian protesters chant slogans as they burn tires during a protest on the Gaza Strip's border with Israel on May 14, 2018. Thousands of Palestinians are protesting near Gaza's border with Israel, as Israel prepared for the festive inauguration of a new U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The quote refers to Samson — the powerful Israelite judge, whose strength lay in his unshorn hair — whose eyes were put out by the Philistines, and who pulled the temple of Dagan down upon his captors, and upon himself.

Ever since those distant biblical days, Gaza has been a place that has teased people into blindness.

The Palestinians. You would think that, by now, they would have gotten the blood-stained memo: your so-called leaders whip you into a frenzy; they send you into battle; you (and, horrifically, your children) die. Your leaders have done nothing to help you; you are simply fodder for their fantasies.

To the Palestinians of Gaza: You realize, don’t you, that there are many Israelis and Jews around the world who sympathize and empathize with your suffering; that there are many Israelis and Jews around the world who, like you, long for a two state solution to the morass in  which we find ourselves.

You realize, don’t you, that the more your leaders push you into violent confrontation with Israel; the more you speak of killing Jews — the less comfortable with a two state solution some of those sympathizers are becoming.

As Yossi Klein Halevi writes in his stunning new book, Letters To My Palestinian Neighbor (which will be the best book about Israel that you will read this year):

We need to challenge the stories we tell about each other, which have taken hold in our societies. We have imposed our worst historical nightmares on the other. To you we are colonialists, Crusaders. And to us you are the latest genocidal enemy seeking to destroy the Jewish people.

Can we, instead, see each other as two traumatized peoples, each clinging to the same sliver of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, neither of whom will find peace or justice until we make our peace with the other’s claim to justice? I don’t believe that peace without at least some attempt at mutual understanding can endure…

What right do I have as a conqueror to ask you for a reciprocal gesture of recognition? Perhaps because I am a peculiar conqueror: I fear that withdrawal to the nine-mile-wide borders that defined Israel before the 1967 war could fatally undermine my ability to defend myself in a disintegrating Middle East. I fear that withdrawal might not merely diminish but destroy me.

The Palestinians are blind to the effects of their behavior, and their leaders’ manipulations.

Israel. My file folders are bulging with articles that illustrate this cruel, cynical pattern of Israeli history: Israel’s incursions in Lebanon. Past incursions into Gaza. Israel’s incursions into problematic areas in the West Bank.

Here is the pattern. The Palestinians provoke Israel. Israel fights back. When insurgents threaten your citizenry, there is very little time to make sure that the response is proportionate — though that is precisely what the ethics code of the Israel Defense Forces demands.

And then, the hasbara (PR, interpretation) machine kicks in. The same old lines — from the same old battles, repeated over and over again.

Then, comes the predictable War of Rabbinic Quotes.

  • The left throws out the one about God rebuking the angels, who are singing as the Egyptians are drowning in the sea (be compassionate towards our enemies).
  • The right hits back with: If someone comes to kill you, kill them first (don’t be a sucker regarding your enemies).

Yes, Israel needs to fight back against such an incursion from hostile neighbors.

And yes, I wish that there was a better way for Israel to do so.

Israel seems blind to how its actions appear to the world.

Ah, but truly — perhaps it is time for just a little bit of humility.

Like my friend and teacher, Donniel Hartman, I am forced into an uncharacteristic silence.

Gaza paralyzes me into silence, for I am like most Israelis. I am not only saddened by the choices they have made and by the paths that they have chosen not to take, I am angry.

I am a devout two-statist, who believes in the right of the Palestinian people to sovereignty in their own state, living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security for both of us.

I am angry, because I believe that the hatred and violence spewing out of Gaza has possibly buried Israelis’ belief in the viability of the two-state solution in our lifetime. Any discourse about a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria is immediately rejected under the counter-argument: “It will just become another Gaza.”

And this Gaza will be able to shut down all of Israel with mere mortar fire.

The world is blind as well. The world refuses to see what is happening, because it has a vested interest in its blindness.

US News got it right:

May 14 is the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel in the western calendar. The following day is when Palestinians traditionally commemorate the events of 1948 as the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were dispossessed.

The protest campaign, dubbed The Great March of Return, began on March 30 and has revived a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their former towns and villages.

Get it? These are people — many of them Hamas, others along for the deadly ride — who are marching into Israel are not demonstrating. Well, yes, they are demonstrating — their hatred for Israel; their eagerness to kill Israelis; their willingness to send fiery kites into Israel to burn crops and fields.

They want the land back.

This is not about the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967.

This is about turning the historical clock back — to 1948, to the very dawn of Israel’s history.

Israel is the only country in the world — whose very birth is still being debated.

Back to blindness.

Somewhere, in rabbinic literature, there is a list of types of people who were ineligible to bring a sacrifice to the ancient Temple.

Among them, the person who is blind in one eye.

Because that person can only see part of the reality.

May it not be too late. May it not be too late for our eyes to be opened.

May it not be too late for us to utter the blessing:

“Blessed are You, God, Who opens the eyes of the blind.”

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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