As the sun rose on the morning of July 13, each side's body count, since the discovery of the corpses of the kidnapped boys, was accounted for: dead Palestinians, 140 plus; dead Israelis, 0. Saturday’s targets in Gaza included a mosque, a home for the disabled and the police chief’s house, where the Israeli strike killed about 18, including all his children.
From Gaza, Hamas has continued to fire hundreds of rockets into Israeli cities, while Israel responds, it says, by “targeting” the homes of “suspected terrorists” and demolishing them from the air. Sometimes the Israelis will phone the targeted house and warn the women and children to leave; but sometimes they kill the whole family, in one instance blowing away close to a dozen children. They offer no evidence that the dead were “terrorists”; Saturday’s news featured a video of a Palestinian father weeping as he clutches the body of his 4-year-old son.
Recently Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the Knesset in which, sarcastically, he thanked the operatives of Hamas because their tactics had, as never before, united the Jewish people “like one person with one heart.” They stole three of “our most precious children,” he said, and “slaughtered them in cold blood.” Searching for 18 days brought the “nation together as never before in prayer, in hopes, in mutual support.” (According to the Forward, Netanyahu’s government knew the boys were dead the day after they disappeared, but they withheld the information so anger would build as they planned their retaliation against Gaza.)
Far from being unified in grief, Israeli citizens split in anger and in shame. Bold rabbis warned their congregations that the Torah does not allow revenge, while the young military recruits doffed their shirts to show off their “hate Arabs” tattoos. Then, in an apparent revenges attack, a Gaza teenager was kidnapped by young Israelis and burned to death, so his young face could not be mourned in the funeral procession. In the Independent, veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writes: “In the end—speak it not today—it’s all about land. It’s about the colonies which Israel is building against international law on Arab land—and colonies for Jews and Jews only—on the very-occupied West Bank in which the 3 Jewish teenagers were killed, traveling to see their families in the very illegal colonies which are destroying the peace. No, this does not justify their deaths. Their murder was vicious, cruel and unforgivable. Their families do not deserve this grief. Justice should be done. Justice. And that means murderers on trial. And land unthieved. But first . . .More blood.”
How do we react?
What business of this is ours? We have an obligation to Israel, as a home of the Jewish people, on three levels. Personal: As my brother Dave and I were growing up, our family’s best friend was Lester Block, who served in the Navy in World War I and, with my father, established the Trenton branch of the American Legion. He represented Judaism to us. He loved us, and we him. I still have his WWI Navy sweater in my trunk. I joined a Jewish scout troop at the synagogue across the street from our church. My literary and journalism role models, in addition to my father, were Daniel Aaron and Anthony Lewis.
Political: the United States gives Israel over 2 billion dollars a year. If they are using our money to support an unjust cause—including new settlements on the West Bank or a third invasion of Gaza—we should pull it back. If Israel represents a true democracy to the emerging countries in the Middle East, we should support it; but the Separation Wall, Arabs as second-class citizens, the highways on which only Jews may drive spell apartheid, not democracy.
Religious: Judaism is the basis of Christianity. No Judaism, no Jesus. On major issues, Jewish and Catholic principles of social justice support one another. Peter Beinart in Haaretz (7/3) argues that this generation of Jews must convince the coming generation that what happens in Israel now will affect their lives in ways that other events will not. If Israel collapses as a democratic project it will affect what being Jewish means. In short, those who love Israel must save it from itself.
And, since the two-state solution seems to be getting nowhere, it may be time for Israel and Palestine to become one state, a multicultural society like the United States where all have the same rights as citizens and access to the same resources—water, farmland, beaches, roads, military service, parks and higher education. Since the Jewish people have thrived so well in the United States with only 3 percent of the population, it is hard to imagine them as overwhelmed in a united Israel-Palestine. Please allow me to repeat a story I told some years ago when I was in Israel and swam in the Dead Sea: Two young men saw that I had a camera and asked me to take their picture. I took several shots and promised to send them to them; but I asked, “Are you Jewish or Arabs?
“What difference does that make?” they replied. “We are all brothers.”