This is essentially the question that my Jerusalem neighbor and colleague Leah Solomon recently posed in a Times of Israel piece: what, as a true Jew and human being would I do if I, or my relatives, lived in Gaza? Would I fight? Would I be willing to risk life and limb like the people who charged towards the border fence last Friday knowing full well that Israeli soldiers would defend it?
And, I would. I would fight with courage and determination. But I also know what I would not do. I would not be kind of leader that Hamas is to its people. I would not have the cowardice to throw the weakest and most desperate among my people onto the front lines, while I sat safely at home. I would not intentionally create conditions that made the lives of my people even more wretched, so that the world would feel more sorry for us and would come to hate my enemies.
Make no mistake, this has long been the strategy of the most irresponsible leaders among the Palestinians. It is why — so many years after the post-colonial war that (among the many such wars fought in Israel, India and elsewhere in the few years after WWII) shifted populations and borders — so many Palestinians still live in refugee camps. These irresponsible leaders use their people’s misery, and even lives, as a propaganda weapon in an effort to rally allies around them. It nearly worked in the late 60s and early 70s when the surrounding Arab nations were willing to rally their armies around to destroy Israel, but Israel found a way to survive despite having less soldiers and less natural resources.
Finding a way. I recently bought Fiddler on the Roof after not watching it for many years; I thought my 2-year old would like the songs and scenes of Tevye ‘pontificating’ loudly with hands gesticulating around as her Abba does sometimes. Once, many Jews — including my grandparents as little children in Russian and Romania — lived in situations as deprived and desperate as the people of Gaza. Life was hard, as Tevye says. But they found a way to live. And when things got even worse — with pogroms and evictions — they also found a way. Many left for the States. But others fought where they were, taking up arms with one socialist group or the other. But none of them intentionally starved their own people or made human shields out of them.
I hope that I would fight if I was a Gazan. I hope that I would find the courage to fight the murderous people of Hamas who are bringing misery upon their own people’s heads with their stubborn and absurd dreams of wiping Israel off the map. I would be risking my life every day — every moment — if I did so, but I hope I would.
And I hope I would also be a true warrior for peace. Because we can find a way. It might seem so far off when you see scenes on your television of bodies being carted away, but the basic elements of a final status agreement have been in place since the summer of 2000 before another irresponsible leader — Yasser Arafat — turned his back on the Oslo accords and lit the match underneath the Second Intifada. The leaders in charge in the rest of the Arab world are sick of the distraction of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a time when they see Iran as the real enemy. And, in the States, there’s a president who may become increasingly desperate to get some positive mark on his resume before the special counsel investigation takes him down; he has the power to pressure the likes of Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman into a deal.
In this Passover season, may it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that all people should know freedom — and peace and prosperity — especially from the oppressive Pharaohs among them.