Collective Punishment in Hebron – A response to R. Gideon Sylvester

Three teenagers were kidnapped in Israel; thousands of soldiers are on a rescue mission to free the captives.
Finding three Jewish boys that are hidden in some forsaken underground enclosure is not easy, especially when the surrounding neighborhood is hostile to Jews. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, but in this case the haystack is trying to kill you.

Hebron is swarming with terrorists, and has a massive civilian population aiding them in any way possible. Hebron is a big supporter of the “Hamas” terror organization. This was made glaringly obvious in the last elections, and in polls taken in Hebron University. Amin Maqboul, member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the abductions, if the goal is to exchange them for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

It is very hard to find righteous people amongst the Palestinians who will openly condemn and call out for the stopping of all kidnapping or suicide bombing of Jews in Israel.
The open, vocal left wing view amongst Hebron Arabs just doesn’t exist. And when no Arab civilian is willing to stand up in the town square calling out for the release of these boys, then every single family is an accomplice to this great tragedy. Therefore every house should be searched, every stone must be turned in order to find these boys.

Collective punishment is due when the entire Arab civilian population is not willing to say enough is enough to terrorism that targets civilian children.  Not all Rabbis share this view.
Rabbi Gideon Sylvester the head of the “Rabbis for Human Rights” organization is a colleague, and a humanitarian with a heart of gold. His main goal is to ease the suffering of human beings and to advocate for human rights. But in this case I must say, he got it all wrong.

R. Gideon claims in a “Times of Israel” article, that vengeance and collective  punishment is wrong according to Jewish morals and values. He brings three sources to prove his point.
Firstly, Abraham’s plea to G-d not to destroy Sodom & Gomorrah. Abraham cries out “Will the Judge of the whole earth not do justice?”  Rabbi Gideon forgot to mention G-d’s response “I shall not destroy the city for if I find ten righteous people”.
We are still waiting for those ten brave and righteous Palestinians to stand in the town square of Hebron holding up signs saying “Bring back those boys” !! Instead of that we find people in Gaza handing out candy to their friends to celebrate the kidnapping, and young children posting pictures on the web holding up three fingers while smiling at the camera, showing the “success” of the abduction of boys their age.

Secondly, in the case of King Saul.
Rabbi Gideon writes “King Saul begs an innocent local tribe to leave the battlefield in order to protect them from his attacks on the Amalekites. The king was doing all that he could to avoid “innocent collateral damage”. What he forgot to mention is that those people weren’t just local people, they were people who took sides in that war. Here is the full verse: “And Saul said unto the Kenites: ‘Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them; for ye showed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt” (Samuel 1 15 6). You show kindness to someone who shows kindness to you, plain and simple!

Thirdly, he quotes Rav Kook who urges a certain individual who referred to all the Arabs as enemies, to try and “promote the paths of peace and brotherhood”. That might be true, but Rav Kook also said that in times of war “innocent perish without judgment” (Orot Milchama). We are in a time of war now, as the state of Israel declared a war on the “Hamas” terrorist organization residing in Hebron.

We can find many sources that support collective punishment in the bible. The abduction of Abraham’s nephew Lot, and his subsequent rescue. The abduction of Dina by Shechem and her rescue, and in last week’s portion, Chukat, the abduction of one maiden and her rescue and the destruction of entire Canaanites cities by the Israelites.

But we don’t even have to go there. The punishment that is inflicted on today’s enemies of Israel is merely a house search and arrest, the occasional water and electricity shut down, the closure of the city and some roadblocks. Since this is the case we are not talking about vengeance but about a measured method of operation to collect informants, and to get the civilians that advocate and harbor terror to surrender those boys or valuable information that will lead to them. A total shake down is the right Jewish response to this act of war against the Jewish people supported by the civilians of Hebron.

Rabbi Gideon concludes his article by saying   “However decently their search is carried out, the closure of cities and the incursion into Palestinian homes will inevitably cause significant disruption and discomfort to innocent people living in the vicinity”

I think a collective punishment of disruption and discomfort to the lives of the Arab civilians of Hebron is a fair and mild Jewish response to this grave situation.

It is my fervent hope and prayer that until their release, Gilad, Naftali & Eyal are also just experiencing “disruption and discomfort” to their daily lives…


About the Author
Rabbi Oriel Einhorn is an eighth generation Jerusalemite who currently serves as the community of Kfar Shemaryahu. He got his rabbinical degree from the Har Etzion yeshiva, where he learnt for 10 years. He served as community rabbi in Hong Kong, China and Cape Town, South Africa before resettling in Israel and founding Kehillot- an organization which promotes communtiy building between Jews of all stripes. Enjoys gourmet cooking, golfing and extreme adventures.
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