On Gaza, blame, and responsibility

In light of the recent events in Gaza, some thoughts about blame and responsibility:

The situation in Gaza is so incredibly painful for me not only because of its horrific impact on the people living there but because of what it is doing to my country and my people. I can’t imagine how terrifying and stressful it was for our soldiers to be on the Gaza border last Friday. I can’t imagine how scared the residents of Israeli communities next to Gaza feel when an event like that is taking place. I do know exactly what it’s like when a rocket siren goes off and you have to grab your sweet, innocent, sleeping children and race for shelter; my eight year old still carries trauma from the sirens of 2014. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have just 15 seconds to reach shelter instead of the leisurely 1+ minutes we in Jerusalem had.  No one should ever have to live this way.

Prime Minister Netanyahu famously stated in 2015 that we will “forever live by the sword.” Perhaps he is right, and our hands are tied, our reality inescapable, our destiny predetermined by the evil we face. But I refuse to accept all of this as normal, necessary, inevitable. I refuse to resign myself and my children to living by the sword forever.

Many people have responded to my recent post saying that Hamas is entirely to blame for the situation in Gaza, and therefore my sentiments are misdirected.

So let me be very clear: Hamas bears tremendous responsibility for the appalling situation in Gaza. I understand and relate to the burning desire to blame them, to condemn them, to ascribe guilt, and to make that the focus of our fury at what is taking place in Gaza, now and for far too many years. I too feel so much anger toward them for what they’ve done to my people and to their own. Should they choose to, they could make a huge difference in the lives of the people living there and to ours, and of course – of course! – I wish with all my heart that they would.

But to put it mildly, what Hamas does is not a sphere in which I have much influence. If there is anything I can do to transform the status quo, it will be by focusing my energies on places where I, and my community, can have an impact. It will be by acting in pursuit of that which is within our control – shifting our emphasis away from blame and toward responsibility for our own actions and our own agency, both individual and collective.

Many may think I am naive or deluded to believe we can change the situation for the better. I reject that accusation. It is far more naive to think that reality will change if we sit back and wait patiently for it to do so. There is tremendous power and potential in civil society, both Israeli and Palestinian. I am blessed to know many extraordinary Palestinians and Israelis doing critically important work on the ground to secure a better future for all people living in this land. One of the most critical pieces of this work is encountering the other, trying to understand their lives, their stories, their perspectives, even when we disagree; cultivating empathy for all people suffering from the neverending conflict and violence in this region; moving past the mentality of a zero sum game to realize that none of us will win unless we all win.

Perhaps most importantly I don’t believe we have the luxury of waiting for others – whether Hamas, or the PA, or Egypt – to take the lead in bringing about change. My eldest son will be drafted in six short years, and the other two shortly thereafter. I can’t conscience continuing to raise him and my other sons here in Israel without doing everything in my power, and encouraging my community and my government to do everything in their power, to at the very least ask these questions: what is our responsibility here? What IS within our control? What can we do to transform this utterly unacceptable status quo so that the next generation of both Palestinians and Israelis does not have to live by the sword forever?

About the Author
Leah Solomon is Chief Education Officer of Encounter, a nonpartisan educational organization cultivating more informed, courageous, and resilient Jewish leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She holds an AB from Harvard University and is a Schusterman Senior Fellow. Leah has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential pluralistic Jewish education, most recently as Associate Director of the Nesiya Institute. An L.A native, she moved to Jerusalem in 1999 where she lives with her family.