Not by Might, and not by Power

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Posted Dec 29, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
Bookmark and Share

Not by Might, and not by Power

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Rabbi Waskow sent out this message about the bombing of Gaza on Saturday


Today the starkest choice of values and visions of the future was laid before the Jewish people throughout the world.

On the one hand, Jews throughout the world were reading in synagogue the Prophetic vision of Zechariah, no stranger to exile and humiliation, writing from the midst of the Babylonian Captivity 2500 years ago   and looking forward to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the relighting of its Menorah—- both of which had been destroyed by Babylonian militarism. 

This rebuilding and relighting, Zechariah proclaimed, must be achieved not by mobilizing might and power against Babylonia but by drawing on the Infinite Spirit, God’s power.  A vision reinforced by the Rabbis who chose the passage to be read on the holy day that might easily fall into a celebration of the military might and power of the Maccabees.

On the other hand —-  on the very same day!!—at least 225 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombs in one more attempt to quell by might and power the use of violence (on a much smaller scale) by Hamas, in what Hamas sees as itself a retaliation against the Israeli blockade and semi-starvation of the people of Gaza.

There is plenty to bewail and plenty to examine in the details of this crossroads-moment in the history between our two Families of Abraham. Tonight (Saturday night) I cannot gather the strength to do this—having just, after a pleasant Shabbat of synagogue and family dreidling, discovered this crushing news.  We will look more deeeply together into these choices, in the next several days.

But what I can do now is simply ask us all to face the choices, to experience the deadly vertigo of choice between these choices.

A hard but necessary moment to send you the blessings of shalom, salaam, peace.

Today he has added an update


I’ve received a number of brickbats responding to my anguished letter about the message of Hanukkah and the violence in Gaza; a number of thanks and blessings; and one calm question:

What’s your alternative?

That question is perfectly reasonable, and here’s my answer:

The UN Security Council (with no US veto interposed) has called for an immediate end to all violence into and from Gaza. So have J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace Jewish lobby, and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.  This call makes sense, and should be applied with equal and immediate insistence and enforcement to the Hamas rockets against Israel, the Israeli bombing of Gaza, Israeli interference with shipments of food and medicine and fuel to Gaza, and Egyptian violence against Palestinians trying to flee the bombs of Gaza.

But this is a palliative, not an alternative. 

The alternative for Hamas would have been to multiply the approach of the nonviolent boatloads of people who were bringing supplies to Gaza, ignoring or violating the Israeli blockade. This approach was building support in much of the world. Of course it was not enough to feed the whole people or heal them of disease, but it was pointing out the injustice and violence of the blockade. Instead of canceling the cease-fire and aiming rockets once again, they could have turned those boats into a multitude.

(A message to those who blindly support whatever Hamas does because they are the underdog: The teaching of the Prophet Zechariah, “Not by might and not by power, but by My breathing-spirit, says YHWH Infinite,”— is not just for Jews.  It is about self-restraint when you have greater power, and it is about nonviolence—also a form of self-restraint—when you have lesser power.) 

The alternative for the Israeli govt would be to say, Instead of scornfully rejecting the Saudi/ Arab League proposal for a region-wide peace settlement,  among Israel, all Arab states, and a viable Palestinian state,  we encourage it, and encourage its proponents to press Hamas to join in, while making clear that for us the deal must include only very small symbolic numbers of Palestinian refugees returning to Israel itself, and control of the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.  And we encourage, instead of blocking, a Palestinian govt of national unity, including Hamas as well as Fatah. 

And meanwhile, we seek as much peace as possible with Hamas— if not full recognition, then a 50-year truce (as one Hamas leader had proposed.) .  We negotiate openly with Hamas toward ending the blockade, encouraging economic development inside Gaza, welcoming European and Egyptian aid and investment, releasing the members of their parliament we are holding in jail, and in exchange,  get an end to the rocket attacks by Hamas and their acceptance of governmental responsibility to control other groups that may try to continue.  We use the checkpoints to prevent terrorist incursions into Israel, rather than preventing delivery of food and medicine to Gaza. 

And the alternative for the US govt would be to use the disaster of this attack to call for all the above: To insist on a regional Middle East peace conference, to insist that even a Netanyahu govt and even a Hamas leadership take part and accept a decent deal.