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In the face of famine in Gaza, our leaders must think differently

Not to improve Israel's global reputation, not to avoid the accusation of war crimes, but because it is a Jewish precept
Displaced Palestinians collect food donated by a charity before an iftar meal, on the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, on March 11, 2024. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinians collect food donated by a charity before an iftar meal, on the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, on March 11, 2024. (AFP)

The October 7th attack against Israel was inexcusable, heinous and barbaric. In its aftermath, we as the Jewish people face some important imperatives. We mourn for those we have lost and remember every day those who are still held hostage, demanding they be immediately returned. We are dutybound to seek the end of Hamas and to pacify the northern border. No government can abstain from the fundamental duty to provide security to its people.

We must face down the unprecedented international campaign of delegitimization by proudly asserting our historic connection to this Land and our rights to self-determine within it as the indigenous people of the land. We must never again lose sight of the fundamental requirement for national unity.

However, we must also remember who we are and what we stand for. Judaism stands at the intersection of particularism and universalism, it is a marriage between the two. We are concerned not only with our rights and interests but also those of others, of humanity at large.

Nowhere is this message more clearly spelled out in Torah than Exodus 23:5 – ‘if you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help along with him’.

Talmud (Baba Metzia 32b), noting a parallel commandment in Deuteronomy 22:4 to help ‘your brother’ in a similar predicament, rules that if both your enemy and your brother need help, you must first help your enemy.

We can debate exactly which part of Palestinian society is our enemy and which is not. We can also debate whose fault it is for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and exactly how severe it is. But both Torah and Talmud render these debates moot.

Our hostage brothers and sisters right now urgently require being rescued from Hamas. Our brothers and sisters displaced from their homes near Gaza and in the north near Lebanon right now urgently need to be provided with sufficient security to return home. Our brothers and sisters across the whole country need to be confident that 7th October can never happen again.

However, Gazan Palestinians, both those who are our enemy and those who are not, those who have caused the humanitarian crisis and those who have not, also need our help. And, whether we like it or not, this now comes first. Not because we should be concerned about our image in the international media. Not because we might be accused of war crimes if we do not. Not because it will give us an advantage to destroy Hamas later on or strengthen alliances with Arab countries in the region. But rather because our Torah itself commands us to help our enemies, even ahead of our brothers.

There is one proviso, however. The Torah says, ‘along with him’ – i.e. we help our enemy only if they are willing to help themselves. So we must rethink our strategy and approach in the conflict with Hamas to do everything possible so that we do not sin as a nation by allowing a famine to happen in Gaza under our watch. And we must find a way to do it ‘along with them’ – the Palestinians.

Why? Says Rabbi Sacks: “In speaking about enemies, the Torah is realistic rather than utopian. It does not say: ‘Love your enemies’. Saints apart, we cannot love our enemies, and if we try to, we will eventually pay a high psychological price: we will eventually hate those who ought to be our friends. What the Torah says instead is: when your enemy is in trouble, come to his assistance. That way, part of the hatred will be dissipated. Who knows whether help given may not turn hostility to gratitude and from there to friendship.”

About the Author
Adam Gross is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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