Gaza: Can We Possibly Be Right?

As Israel’s war against Hamas continues in its third week and casualties among the Palestinian population of Gaza mount, it is getting awfully difficult to find people outside the Jewish community- except for a select few politicians running for office- who are genuinely supportive of Israel’s cause.

Open any paper, read any news magazine, listen to any newscast if you dare- and Israel is being called some pretty bad names. She is regularly accused of war crimes against innocent women and children, of- my personal favorite- disproportionate violence against Hamas, of utter disregard for the more humane and compassionate will of the world community as articulated by the UN and its officials, a will that loves innocent civilians and seeks only to protect them.

The bombardment of Israel is so all-encompassing that it can make one wonder, “can they really all be wrong, and we alone right?” Is it possible that the way Israel sees its situation is legitimate and valid, and its war against Hamas is valid, and the price of this war- painful though it surely is- is a price that Israel, and the Palestinians, must pay, and the world is just incurably hypocritical in the way it relates to Jews and to Israel?

Yes, I think it’s possible.

I am not, in most cases, a big fan of certainty. I tend to distrust people who are so completely convinced of the rightness of their cause that they are almost clinically incapable of hearing anyone else’s voice or opinion. I am listening closely to what “the world” has to say, and I am reminded of the awful price of war that is too often paid by those who have the great misfortune to be within its reach. Nor do I much care for those voices in the Jewish community who would ridicule this kind of concern. War is an equal opportunity tragedy just waiting to happen.

But that said, if I might paraphrase from another religious tradition, let those who are without sin cast the first stones. How does the UN, which has allowed the genocide in Darfur to continue unabated, suddenly find its moral compass when Israel is involved? Who among our critics has had to worry about his/her loved ones being in the wrong place at the wrong time over many years, when thousands of missiles fired from Gaza were directed towards Israel’s southern population centers? Who has had to endure the psychological wear and tear of living in a war zone without a war being declared? Who has neighbors who are sworn to their destruction, and are willing to sacrifice their own children to further that goal? Did the people or organizations now condemning Israel rise in condemnation of those jihadists who murdered Jewish innocents at so many different places from Ma’alot to Munich to Mumbai? Or, for that matter, in any of the places where Jews were slaughtered in the Shoah?

Is it possible that there’s some hypocrisy at work here? Yes, I think it’s possible.

I would never shut out those voices that force me, or Israel, to constantly re-examine the moral justification for a difficult and costly war. One must allow oneself to hear those voices. But I would wish only for the rest of the world to hear Israel’s voice. And I don’t see that happening now, or any time soon. So we must.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.