From War & Massacre, Cleansing and Renewing the Blood Stream of Torah

From War & Massacre, Cleansing and Renewing the Blood Stream of Torah

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Blood on the streets, fear in many homes, shame in many hearts. How do we assess what has happened these last few weeks between Israel and Palestine, and what needs to happen now?

Some supporters of the Israeli attack on Gaza cite the Talmud’s teaching that if someone is about to kill you, kill him first. They don’t mention that the Talmud adds —  If without killing the would-be killer you can prevent him from harming you, but you kill him anyway, you are a murderer.

And none of this applies to killing hundreds of people, including children and babies, who were doing nothing to endanger you, especially when you have refused offers to negotiate toward peace that would protect you from those who do wish to harm you.


While indeed the Government of Israel is not only entitled but obligated to protect its citizens against rockets, there are many ways to have done so. For two years Hamas fired no rockets —  and that truce could have been greatly furthered, precisely now.

For the best defense against rockets would have been making peace. Hamas had agreed to support  (without even being allowed a Cabinet position) a Palestinian Government of National Unity that reaffirmed its commitment to recognize Israel and eschew violence.

Hamas on its own had refused to recognize or make peace with Israel. That refusal was a betrayal of Quran and international law. Yet its support for the National Unity Government pointed in a new direction, and Hamas leaders have said that if a Palestinian referendum supported a two-state peace, it would accept that decision.

 Even its rejectionist stance was no worse, no more unethical, than the sworn commitment of Beiteinu and other parties that actually sit in the Israeli Cabinet never to countenance the existence of a Palestinian state.  Most recently, P.M. Netanyahu took the same stance. Just the mirror image of Hamas about Israel.

The US, Israel’s closest ally, was ready to work with the new unity Government. That’s what freaked Netanyahu out — because that pathway indeed would lead to a two-state peace and the end of Israeli settlements in the territory of the new Palestine.

Also freaked out for the mirror-image reason was an anti-peace Palestinian ultranationalist rogue outfit in Hebron, semi-connected with Hamas but not obedient to its orders, which did the kidnapping/murder of the 3 Israeli teen-agers — an abominable and successful attempt to sabotage a possible peace negotiation..

Hamas then committed a serious ethical failure by approving instead of condemning the kidnappings. Then Netanyahu acted in a much more unethical way: Knowing the Hamas leadership had not authorized the kidnappings, he nevertheless took the opportunity to blame all of Hamas for the kidnapping/ murders and arrested dozens or hundreds of its activists,  then assassinated one of its leaders in Gaza, thereby breaking the two-year truce. During that truce, Hamas had fired no rockets at all at Israel, and had smothered all but a very few rocket attempts by rogue outfits within Gaza.

Then came Hamas’ second ethical and practical mistake: Instead of urging & organizing mass nonviolent civil disobedience among all Palestinians, inside Israel as well as outside, to protest this all-out attack on an important Palestinian political force, they tried flinging rockets at Israel.  Because the US had helped Israel acquire Iron Dome anti-rocket missiles  and build air raid shelters – the Hamas rocket attacks were almost totally physically ineffective, though very scary and disruptive.

 At that point, it would still have been possible for the Israeli goverment to take into account that the rocket attacks were causing very little damage, and to have limited any countering of those attacks to minimal strikes. And — more important — it could have agreed to a cease-fire that  included a commitment to end the blockade of Gaza, with  provisions for international supervision of imports to Gaza to make sure no weapons were being imported.

Instead,  Netanyahu began the atrocious bombing of everything in sight in Gaza, and used the excuse of the tunnels to start the invasion (though the Israeli Government had known about them for years but decided they were not dangerous in part because Hamas had not used them to attack [as one Israeli leading former security chief said publicly this past week]).    Then Hamas did use the tunnels to attack – aiming at Israeli army posts.

Both governments behaved unethically, in violation of Torah and Quran as well as international law. But Netanyahu had far far more military power — defensive as well as aggressive — and therefore his atrocious behavior resulted in more than a thousand deaths — very heavily civilian, including many children.  Hamas’, attacks resulted in very few deaths, almost entirely of soldiers.

And then came the Israeli Army’s attacks on the only electric power plant in Gaza and on the UN schools where hundreds of Palestinians had fled from their homes and neighborhoods under attack..

 According to the NY Times, the electric power plant runs the water & sewage systems of Gaza. Destroying it means high danger of typhoid epidemic, of babies dying of dysentery. These were no longer by any stretch of ethical wishfulness aiming at Hamas:

Besides & because of what this act, piled on top of all the others,  does to the Palestinian people, I think it poisons the bloodstream of Torah, dirties the name of the Jewish people, is a true chillul Hashem. (That term means pretending to act in the Name of God while actually hollowing out the life-juice from the Tree of Life.)
For a moment on Friday morning there was a cease-fire. Why? It seems connected to the fact that at last the US government for the first time had said one specific attack by the IDF on Gaza was “indefensible” — the attack on the UN school where civilians had fled from attacks on their homes and neighborhoods.

At the political level, that willingness by the US to at last respond to death and danger for civilians on BOTH sides of the border is crucial to getting past the killing.

But then came the attack on Israeli soldiers on Friday morning. It has beeen described not only by the Israeli government but by the UN as coming after the cease-fire time. Even if it came from a rogue outfit or by fighters exhausted and enraged beyond paying attention to the time, Hamas — by claiming to be the givernment of Gaza — makes itself responsible. If it had acted responsibly, it would have repudiated the attack, apologized to the families of the dead, and offered some repair in money and in public honoring of the dead and punishment of the killers.

Now there is in place the Tisha B’Av Ceasefire, for three days that will take us to the edge of Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort and consolation after disaster.

What should happen now? It seems clear that these two traumatized, frightened, enraged, and hate-infested  nations will need a calming, insistent outside force to make steps toward peace both possible and necessary. Already the Foreign Minister of France has proposed that the international community impose a twostate peace. But only the USA has the power to make this happen.

What should the USA be doing?

  • It should be insisting on an  end to the blockade of Gaza (substituting an international regime for preventing import of weapons to Gaza and iinternational funding for the rebuilding of Gaza’s shattered infrastructure), and release of the West Bank Palestinian activists that Israek rearrested during the weeks just before the invasion. 
  • It should be recognizing, and insisting Israel recognize,  a new Palestinian Government of National Unity (including support from Hamas) so long as it is committed to recognizing Israel and eschewing violence against Israel while being free to oppose the Occupation by all nonviolent means.
  • It should be saying that the US is committed to achieving the solution proposed 12 years ago by the Arab League for a full regional peace treaty among Israel, all the Arab states, and a new Palestine on the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, with a negotiated agreement (acceptable to Israel) about how to deal with Palestinian refugees. 
  • It should be ready to use all its influence and diplomatic/ economic power to achieve that result.

To achieve that response from the US government will, at the political level, require getting much stronger support — and much stronger pressure — from a well-organized grass-roots part of the Jewish community –— a factor that not even J Street, Tikkun, Jewish Voice for Peace, Partners for a Pogressive Israel, and Americans for Peace Now have so far been able to create. Perhaps after the shock of this war, that kind of organizing may be easier — though it is also possible that open-minded Jews will simply shrug in disgust and walk away from the Jewish community altogether.

Such a fuller political change needs to be spiritually rooted.  We need to catch our breaths, to again become aware that YHWH, the Interbreathing of all life, connects all of us, willy-nilly.

Maybe we can grow a rebirth out of this disaster. Jewish tradition teaches that Mashiach (Messiah) is born on Tisha B’Av, the day the Temple was destroyed.  Active change springs from hitting rock bottom.                              

Oseh shalom bimromav hu yaaseh — hi taaseh — shalom alenu v’al kol yisrael v’al kol yishmael v’al kol yoshvei tevel.

 May You Who make harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe teach us to make peace within ourselves, among each other, with all the Godwrestling folk, with our cousins the children of Yishmael / “Whom God Hears,” and with all beings who dwell on Earth.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow is the Director of The Shalom Center The Shalom Center / web: theshalomcenter.org / email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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