War brings out the very greatest and the very worst in people. Throughout history, armed conflict has pushed men and women over their limits. Today, it tests humanity most by testing our moral tenacity. This challenge extends far beyond the battlefield, reaching living rooms and kitchen tables across the world.
I first encountered this when I was about ten years old. Operation Iraqi Freedom was underway. I discussed the issue with my father, but at the time, I didn’t really have much of an opinion to offer. No ten year old should have strong feelings about how to conduct the War on Terror. No ten year old should know what a War on Terror is, let alone what terror means.
My father mentioned a mountain range which was densely populated by terrorists and civilians alike. For some reason, I suggested bombarding the mountain range. I thought myself clever.
My father’s response has remained with me all these years later. “What about the innocent father and son, just like us, having a normal conversation at their dinner table, in the middle of that mountain range? Should we still bomb it?”
I immediately shrank in the shadow of his wisdom.
* * *
It’s that time again for Israel to confront Hamas. Hamas has launched even more rockets at Israeli civilians than usual. It has refused Egypt-brokered cease-fire proposals and threatens suicide bombings throughout the Jewish State. Three Israeli teenagers have been kidnapped and murdered.
And a Palestinian teen was murdered in a disgusting act of retaliation by embarrassing extremists.
Some who know me will call me dovish on Israeli-Palestinian issues, but when innocent children are murdered and rockets rain down, I am filled with unbridled rage. On an emotional level, I am tempted to call for Israeli forces to pound Gaza. We have to secure ourselves, I tell myself. Whatever the cost.
Anger courses through my veins with news of each threatened attack on Israel, each car bomb barely prevented, each terror cell that penetrates Israeli borders via tunnels.
Yet each time my frustration and desire for revenge reaches its hazardous apex, I feel my father’s firm hand on my shoulder and I hear his warm voice. To this day, he repeats his question as the situation in Israel deteriorates. “How about the father and son living in Gaza? They may have nothing to do with Hamas, and may want nothing to do with them. The father just wants to go to work the next day and come home to his son and family. What happens to them when Israel conducts a ground invasion?”
Never have I realized how truly right and just my father was in asking his question.
Compromise is hard. Restraint is harder.
In trying to secure ourselves, which should be our highest priority, we must always lean towards restraint. Even if that means we risk the lives of our own fathers and sons, who we know are innocent. That’s what a true, shining “light unto the nations” strives for and does. It makes the gut-wrenching choice. It lets the bomb-maker or terror cell commander get away, maybe forever, sparing the innocent father and son.
I’m no military expert. I’m not writing this to ask Prime Minister Netanyahu to pursue strategy X or employ tactic Y. I just pray we never forget my father’s question, especially now as boots are on the ground in Gaza.