When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.(Leviticus 19:33-34)
Israel’s Defense Forces went on the offensive for three days this week in the refugee camp of the Palestinian city of Jenin in the northern part of the West Bank. They attacked the city with massive force, including weapons from the air. When it was over, they claimed “victory” as if they were fighting another army in another major war.
What did they accomplish? Was it worth it? Did they put an end to terrorist attacks from Jenin and the West Bank against settlers and against civilians in Israel? Or did this military “operation” make matters worse, displacing thousands of Palestinians, thus creating more refugees, more humiliation, more anger, more desire for revenge and therefore more terrorism, making the whole offensive counter-productive and wasteful?
Also, was this military incursion, with more than 1000 soldiers into the heart of the refugee camp in Jenin, just a show of force so that Bibi could appease his extreme-right flank in his pro-war anti-democratic government led by the super-fanatics, Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich? A show of force to demonstrate who is the boss? A machoistic maneuver of power and testosterone to keep his fanatical right-wing flank in this government, the most extreme one in the history of the modern state of Israel?
While the army —and the other security forces—were doing this, did they forget about their responsibility to arrest, detain, indict and bring to justice some of the hundreds of Jewish terrorists, the so-called “hilltop youth” who have been rampaging in Palestinian villages and committing pernicious pogroms in recent weeks? These terrorists are well known to the “Jewish unit” in Israel’s security services, but somehow, they are not being pursued with much seriousness. Perhaps they forgot about this since it was old news (a week or two ago)? Or perhaps Smotrich (a second minister in the Defense ministry, in charge of the uncivil “civil administration” in the West Bank) and Ben Gvir (minister of “Internal Security” who has been totally unsuccessful in providing security for Israel’s citizens since he has been in power —are not interested in prosecuting their voters, who are regarded as persistent pests (like he was for many years until he went into politics) rather than hard core violent criminals?
Moreover, do their messianic annexationist intentions provide the real backdrop for this recent unnecessary invasion? Is their real goal full annexation of the West Bank, despite what the American government and the international community and half the sane citizens of Israel think?
Also, what about the pro-democracy protests in Israel? Is this at all on their radar screen? Were they paying any attention to the incursion in the West Bank while they were demonstrating via important civil disobedience at Israel’s airport? Or, for all too many of these protestors, democracy in Israel is desired but occupation—with virtually no civil or human rights for the millions of Palestinians who live in the West Bank — is somehow OK? Or they just don’t know what to say about it? Or do they place all the blame for the ongoing conflict on the other side, on Hamas, on the Palestinian Authority, on Iran, on whomever?
The state of Israel is at a critical juncture at this time. More than half of the sane citizens of this country are very upset, even enraged, at the policies and actions of the current government. They see it as an existential crisis. I am one of them. I would like this government to magically disappear, to be destroyed in a plague like Korach and his rebels in the Bible (we read about them recently in the Torah portion of the week).
I have been at many demonstrations against this government during the last six months. In particular, at the Jerusalem demonstrations that I have attended I have almost always been greeted by a group of demonstrators with signs that say: “There is no democracy with Occupation.” This is a fact, but it is one which is unfortunately ignored by the majority of demonstrators, who are in denial or who simply don’t know what to do about it.
I believe that the Occupation has to end, but only with a real peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, to prevent further violence. I still support the two-state solution, as does most of the international community and many people in the peacebuilding community in Israel and Palestine. However, the current policies of the government of Israel, including expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, is making this possibility much more problematic.
In the meantime, however, until we get new leadership on both sides of the conflict who will seek to return to negotiations for peace, the Israel government needs to be pressured by the Americans and everyone else to stop fomenting terrorism. Not only were Smotrich and Ben Gvir not invited to the July 4th party at the ambassador’s house, but they –and their policies—should be repudiated by the leaders of all normal Western (and other) countries, and their acts of violence should be denounced at every possible turn. Moreover, the citizens of Israel need to come out of their denial, and realize that the current policies of their government and the IDF in the West Bank do not increase security. The opposite is clearly the case, as evidenced by facts on the ground this week and in recent weeks.
In the Torah, we read the verses “Treat the stranger fairly, for you have been strangers in the land of Egypt.”. Have we forgotten this biblical imperative completely?
It is time that we took this to heart, by creating policies and practices that treat the Palestinians inside Israel and in the West Bank fairly, with respect and dignity for their rights as human beings. Without doubt, this approach will reduce “terror” more than massive military incursions into Palestinian refugee camps.