In November, Temple Tmunah’s Israel Action Committee will present an Israel Synaplex Shabbat where special guests include Dr. Tamar Elram, Israeli Obstetrician and current Wexner Fellow, and two of JCRC’s 2010 Interfaith clergy tour participants– Reverend Bryan Wilkerson, Senior Pastor of Grace Chapel, Reverend Paul Shupe Sr. Minister of Hancock Church. This sermon by Rabbi Lerner was inspired, in part, by that JCRC trip experience.
Israel: Challenges and Hope
sermon by Rabbi David Lerner
Dipping into Political Waters
Beyond the interfaith sharing and the havershaft, there were presentations from different political perspectives. We heard from a diverse group of professors, journalists, and leaders. We met everyone – Israeli Jews on the left, right and center, Israeli Arabs citizens – both Muslims and Christians – as well as Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. These people came from all backgrounds – 11th generation Jerusalemites and new immigrants from Ethiopia.
So, what did I learn? Well, now I am going to dip into the political waters – something that is not so simple in our community which has diverse perspectives on Israel, but that is what makes our community so rich….
First, as I knew, but saw again, Israel does not treat its Israeli Arab population equally. While Arab Druze and some Arab Bedouin who serve in the Israeli military get better treatment, most Israeli Arabs do not. It’s clear that Israel must do a better job in this area.
We met Nadia Ismail, an Israeli Muslim, in her home in a small village in the Galilee. In a program supported by the Abraham Fund she works with Arab women to help them develop business skills. She shared the story of the way Israel has discriminated against her village – with land expropriated and few services such as police or fire. It was uncomfortable and painful to listen to her stories of ill treatment.
But history is complex. While Ms. Ismail learned that Jews entered Palestine and stole Palestinian land, it turns out that in the first half of the 20th century the JNF and other Jewish organizations often bought land from wealthy Arab landlords, land that was often squatted on by poor Arabs. So sometimes the Arab land was not taken but sold out from under the poorer Arabs by the wealthier owners. I sympathize with her plight, but understand that there are deeply complicated narratives here.
We heard all voices. One fascinating perspective was provided by Aryeh from Kibbutz Misgav Am, right on the Lebanon border; in fact, the road up to the Kibbutz was the border road; we were meters from the fence. A 70 year old Israeli Jew originally from Cleveland, he was packing a pistol and showed us the gorgeous view, as well as the enemies that surround Israel. He told us of the four wars in which he fought and how the kibbutz’s children house was attacked and three children murdered.
He showed us a Hezbollah village a mile away. He asked us to look at the buildings – nothing unusual, just normal apartments in an Arab village. He told us to look closer. Then I noticed it – there were windows in these buildings, but there was no glass in any of them!
Well, because they are not only apartments, but also missile launching sites and sniper lookouts. That message was driven home to us a week later when the IDF went to cut down a tree interfering with the Border Fence right next to Misgav Am. Sure enough, a Lebanese sniper shot and killed an Israeli commander. This is the neighborhood that Israel lives in.
We also spent time with a Palestinian who lived in Gaza during the 2008/9 war and suffered as Israel attacked. He and his family had to flee their home due to the Israeli shelling and it was hard to know where to go for safety. Hearing his narrative was painful – his suffering was terrible. This was devastating for him and many Palestinians who were trapped during that time.
But as horrible as war is and it was horrible, I believe that this war was just.
When I first moved here to Emunah, there were many political discussions about the Gaza withdrawal. While I believed that an Israeli withdrawal from the entire Gaza strip would bring peace, a few of you told me it was a mistake, that it would bring more terrorism and missiles—not peace. But, I said, if Israel pulls out and is attacked, then it can fight a real war and the whole world will defend Israel.
Well, I have to eat my words on that one: Israel did pull out in 2005; Hamas took over in 2007, creating a terrorist state supported by Iran on Israel’s front door. Thousands and thousands of rockets kept coming; Israel finally said dayeinu, enough is enough and fought back in the Gaza War. Trying to fight morally against a Hamas that was embedded in the civilian population, Israel sent leaflets, phone calls and text messages warning Palestinians to leave areas of conflict. Instead of the world defending Israel and praising them for fighting in a more moral manner than even the American army fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, they criticized Israel culminating in the infamous Goldstone report, which basically denies Israel’s right to defend herself.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Israel is not perfect and it makes mistakes: sending soldiers with paintball guns onto a flotilla ship filled with armed terrorist sympathizers, not smart. And just like any army, its soldiers make mistakes – and they are punished. But let’s face it – the world is judged on one standard and Israel another.
Our group visited Sderot and saw a small town filled with bomb shelters – they were everywhere; a playground filled with swings and shelters, bus shelters are bomb shelters and almost every home has an extra bomb-proof room added on.
We met Laura Bialis, a young filmmaker from California who is making a documentary about Sderot. She originally came to film a piece about the phenomenal music scene – a big deal in this small town of rock bands and wonderful music groups, when she fell in love with a musician, made aliyah and married him. She talked about the sirens that go off so frequently. You have 15 seconds to get to a shelter before impact. When Israel detects a missile launch from Gaza, there is a click of the microphone over the warning system, followed by a calm woman’s voice saying “Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom – Code Red, Code Red.” It just went off two nights ago as Sderot was attacked yet again from Gaza. Last year when Laura was visiting family in California, she went to a supermarket where she heard the loudspeaker click before announcing the week’s specials, she immediately hit the floor.
I cannot imagine the trauma of Code Red all the time: kids cannot sleep, the whole city suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Our group drove to a border lookout where we could see Gaza and the Mediterranean, along with the Refugee Camps that Egypt and UN built after 1948, we saw wealthier areas by the sea, we saw the area where Hamas terrorist kidnapped Gilad Shalit, who remains held in captivity with NO contact with the outside world for over four years….something that is simply incomprehensible to me…
We heard every perspective – we visited Bethlehem and met with the mayor, a Fatah elected/appointed leader. He presented the Palestinian Authority’s perspective about the settlements and the separation wall. Clearly, the wall did cause his people hardship, but that was not the full story. The separation wall has stopped countless terrorists and saved many Israeli lives.
Since I was wearing a kippah, he turned to me and said: Israel should dismantle more checkpoints. I responded that Israel needs them for security. He said that there is no reason anymore, because it is now safe and the Palestinians can prevent attacks. As we saw last week, that is simply not true.
Even if you believe that Israeli Jews should not have the right to live near Hevron, they do have the right to live; last week, four were murdered on their way home. Six more orphans as Israel tries to make peace…
When we went into Bethlehem we were entering Palestinian Authority territory, so we had to switch buses and guides. Israel does not allow Israeli buses and guides there because they are afraid the bus will be stolen or the Israelis will be kidnapped and then they will have to give chase into the Palestinian area, escalating the situation. So our Israeli bus dropped us in no man’s land between the two sides and we picked up a Palestinian bus and guide on the other side. On our way back, the Israeli army decided not to let our bus pick us up there, so we were stuck at one of those infamous checkpoints. We hear about them all the time, read letters to the editor about them, but rarely have these people actually experienced one.
So what was it like? Well, it was a bit scary. We were in this intimidating building without our guides. Our group found itself surrounded by Palestinians who had permits to enter Israel – they were used to this process and looked at ease. It was not fun; we waited in a line, before a large metal gate with a green and red light on top of it. The light was usually red, but every minute or so, it turned green and the gate (like a large, old subway turnstile) could be moved and three people could go through into an area with airport like security – a metal detector and metal body scanner, but there were no Israeli soldiers. Suddenly, I heard a voice giving us instructions in Hebrew from somewhere, but I set off the detector with something that then fell onto the floor. I felt embarrassed and could see how a Palestinian could feel somewhat humiliated by all this.
But then I looked behind a three inch thick glass window at two young Israeli women – they must have been about 19. I could imagine my own daughter sitting there serving at that checkpoint, or my cousins. Imagine your daughter there. Would you want her exposed to a terrorist attack at the checkpoint – something that has happened numerous times?
Why are there checkpoints? Because of terror. End the terrorism, and the checkpoints, the roadblocks can be removed.endure.
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