by Rabbi Shelton Donnell
November 19, 2012 ▪ 5 Kislev 5773
It has been almost a week since the present conflict began called Operation Pillar of Defense (Pillar of Cloud in Hebrew, hearkening to the image in the Book of Exodus). It has been years now that Israelis in the south have had to endure the debilitating, grinding psychological terror wrought by the rockets and missiles launched from Gaza. One million citizens of Israel, nearly one-seventh of our population, has been held in a deadly trap, waiting for the red-alert to sound sending them scurrying for the nearest bomb shelter or minimal cover. For years now children have awaken in the night crying in fear, wetting their beds, afraid to go to school. Why is it, President Peres asked rhetorically, that the rockets so often fall in the morning when the children go off to school?
Last Friday as the quietude of Shabbat was settling in, the conflict was brought home to us in Jerusalem. Moments before we were about to leave for the synagogue, just as my wife Wendy was about to light the Shabbat candles, we heard the air-raid siren. Impossible, not in Jerusalem! We turned on the news. It was true, this was not one of the many drills that we have experienced, this was not a delayed announcement of the advent of the holy day no this was the most profane herald of an incoming missile according to the news reporter. Moments later we heard a distant boom – the fallen missile? We went for our safe room and closed the steal shutters that are supposed to protect us from shrapnel. We waited the recommended ten minutes and then headed back to the television; it was to be the locus of our prayers for the evening. We gave up on shul, but not on Shabbat. Our guests were still coming to dinner and Shabbat would proceed with or without missiles. It proved to be the only alert for the night indeed, so far. Evidently even Hamas is not so crazy as to risk destroying their own holy places – Al Aksa and the Dome of the Rock – with an errant missile.
The next day, we held our regularly scheduled service at Hebrew Union College led by the students. They all showed up and it was wonderful. Life, even in trying times, goes on and Shabbat reminds us of that in so many profound ways.
Tel Aviv has been targeted as well as other sites in the previously unreachable central part of the country. Not since the first Gulf War did the people of Tel Aviv feel vulnerable. The bubble of security has been burst. But, thankfully through all this, through literally hundreds and hundreds of rocket and missile attacks (now putting some three million Israelis at risk) one thing has kept casualties at a minimum on Israel’s side – the new Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. It reputedly has an 80% effectiveness rate, and the three fatalities in Kiriyat Malachi were the result in a (so far rare) malfunction in the system, according to media reports here.
And on the Palestinian side? Israel has carried out almost 1,500 strikes in Gaza so far, and 95 Palestinians have been killed according to reports from within Gaza itself. The majority of the casualties have been military and there are varying reports on the number of civilian deaths, most sources putting the number around 30. But, though tragic, consider how incredible that number is when you consider that Hamas and its allies intentionally position their military infrastructure including underground launch sites and munitions caches within population centers. The reason why there are so few casualties is that the IDF through meticulous intelligence and precision weaponry (much of which is developed in Israel) is able to strike at targets limiting collateral damage in order to protect civilians caught up in the conflict. Can the same be said about any other military in the world?
Reading the print and on-line media and listening to radio and television news it is at the very least disheartening when reports issue from America and Europe describing the “disproportionality” in this conflict because more Palestinians die than Israelis. In fact, there is a disproportionality here, a moral one. Israel and the IDF do everything possible to protect civilians in this conflict. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their cohorts specifically target innocent civilians and launch their rockets toward population centers. Were it not for Iron Dome, we would see much higher numbers of Israeli fatalities. Is that what the world wants? Is that what it takes to justify a response to the rockets that have fallen upon our citizens for far, far too long? That is not a price that we are willing to pay.
Unlike Hamas, we do not intentionally place our homefront in jeopardy to win the world’s sympathy. Is the world too naïve, too blind, or just too biased to see that?
This is not a partisan political position. We live in a country that is politically deeply divided (just like the United States). With elections due to take place on January 22nd, there is little consensus among Israelis and we are diverse in our opinions regarding social and foreign policy as well as military issues. I myself will most likely be voting for one of the left-wing parties, probably Labor. But a recent poll taken by the Ha’artez news agency showed that 84% of Israelis (and over 90% of the Jewish population) are solidly in support of Operation Pillar of Defense.
No country in the world would endure what Israel endures without a response. Speaking as an advocate for peace and advancing negotiations, it must be stated that this is not simply about seeking peace with the Palestinians. Let’s be clear, no one prays for peace more than we do. But Gaza is not the West Bank. Hamas is not the Palestinian Authority. Haniyah is not Abbas. The missiles have to stop. Period.
Thank God for the Iron Dome, but it is not the answer to this problem. I pray that the people of Gaza will some day (soon) come to realize that Hamas is not the source of their salvation but of their woes. When that day comes perhaps we won’t need Iron Domes or blockades to keep us safe.
We pray for peace. Shalom from Jerusalem.
Thank you very much, Shelly, for your deeply profound and insightful letter to all of us. Steve and I, as many from our congregation have been thinking of both you and Wendy, along with many of our own family and friends who live thoughout Israel. We know, clearly, that the world could not exist without Israel on its map. The history, the people, the humanity, and all.
Life is so precious, we only wish others saw it this way, too. May you have peace. You are in our hearts.
Dear Rabbi Donnell,
Since I was just in the Old City, I can visualize what you are talking about. I pray for you and Wendy and all Israelis. Today we read of the bus casualties from the terrorist bomb and my heart is hurting for those injured. Stay safe and God willing, we’ll see you in January.