Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

On the Brink of Tears

This is such a rare feeling for me. I feel on the brink of tears almost all the time.

My barely-restrained tears are mostly for the victims and their families of the Hamas massacre and mass kidnapping. I want to cry for the soldiers on the front line and their loved ones waiting for them. I feel deeply for the evacuees who have left their lives and their livelihoods behind and do not know when they will be able to return home. If I look at the destruction of the south, it breaks my heart.

Yet I know that there is more that is upsetting me.

As I write, the nation to which I proudly belong is showing its best face. The level of volunteering, the care for one another, the strength and bravery, the self-sacrifice and the generosity that have been shown here over the last four weeks have exceeded anything that anyone could expect.

Israelis are special. Israel is special.

So why am I so dispirited?

Recently, there has been a spate of uplifting, positive posts, by mainly young olim saying, “We don’t care what the world thinks. We are going to win this war and that’s all there is to it.”

My problem is that I DO care – and I care because I believe that there is no purpose for the existence of the Jewish people except to fulfil the destiny given to Abraham and reiterated through the Prophets. We are supposed to be “a light unto the nations,” which means that we are supposed to find a way to shine and to be recognised, appreciated and emulated.

I have always been quite certain that our coming here was the right thing to do – not just for ourselves but for all Jews.  My attachment to this Land is based on my religious belief in the Covenant between the Creator and the Children of Israel. This Land is an integral part of the very purpose of our creation as a distinct people.

I believe that we do not have a “right” to be here; it is our destiny to be here. Our destiny, as foretold by the Prophets, is to return to this Land. Here is where we are part of Jewish history, not just onlookers.

I believe that the Torah’s “ways are pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” I believe that the call to be a “light unto the nations” is premised on the fact that the Jewish values and way of life taught in the Torah and through its heirs exemplify the best of human behaviour. I believe that the best way of doing that is through fulfilling the Zionist vision of building a society that will be a model of human integrity, morality, compassion and justice.

In the past, my faith has upheld my optimism but it is wavering now.

I have been forced to acknowledge that my fear for the future has been building up for some time. I can’t put my finger on a moment when things changed but I can highlight some possible milestones.

When was it that I first realised that Israeli politics was not so different from politics everywhere, that it was and is a dirty business full of opportunities for corruption, if not actual corruption? Probably many years ago. Mayors have been convicted of accepting bribes; government ministers have been convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. At first, I was proud that we had a system that worked – that no-one was above the law. Slowly, I have come to realise that many people do not consider the legal breaches or even the moral failings of these so-called “leaders” as disqualifying them from leading the State of Israel, the Jewish state.

This is what frightens me. What has happened to our ideals? What happens in other places should not be happening here. We are supposed to be building a model society.

Many of the founders of this State and many who arrived later fled places where they experienced antisemitism. We were not just outraged that we were mistreated, to the extent of attempts at our annihilation culminating in the Shoah. Our call of “never again” was that never again should the world allow genocide; never again should hatred towards the other become the driving force of a society.  Our model society should have been able to demonstrate how we could protect minorities and teach acceptance of the other.

The publication of “Torat haMelekh” in 2010 was a huge shock to me. I was not surprised that there were Jews who hated Arabs, even in religious circles where we are constantly reminded that every human is created in the Divine image; I was surprised how confidently a couple of Rabbis articulated their hatred in a pseudo- Halakhic treatise and how enthusiastically some of their followers defended this hateful approach.

I have watched with increasing horror as some Jews justify attacking Israeli and Palestinian Arabs in unashamed racism. I am horrified by attacks on Christians and Christian places of worship. Aren’t we supposed to show the world how to treat “the stranger within our gates”?

Just as Abraham and Sarah “brought souls with them” (Genesis 12:5), our job in this world is to convince through example. Others are supposed to look at the way the Children of Israel behave and be convinced that they, too, should behave that way. The way we treat others is supposed to be the way we expect to be treated.

The murder of the Dawabshe family in Duma was horrific. It was disappointing at the time that not all the perpetrators received long jail sentences but at least the chief participant in the murder was prosecuted and punished. Then, recently, it became acceptable to call him a “holy righteous man.” How do we reconcile that with Jewish values? It is beyond me!

The way in which some have exploited the war with Hamas, and the irrefutable fact that some Arab Israelis supported their murderous behaviour, to attack any Arab they encounter or to seek out victims to attack has made me feel sick. Of course it did not begin last month or even 2 years ago, with the abhorrent behaviour of Israelis in Bat Yam and elsewhere. The so-called “price tag” movement is nothing more than vigilantes putting themselves above the law. It is our version of the Ku Klux Klan. Could Jews possibly believe that we should learn our behaviour from our enemies? Could be possibly be so weak in our own belief system that we adopt a culture of lynching that the Torah abhors? What happened to the Torah’s insistence on justice and legal procedure?

In the end, with or without peace with our neighbours, the question of our survival as a nation is a question about our destiny, our mission. If Israel is another nation state without a special mission, why do we exist? If the Children of Israel do not reconsider how we manage this State, our priorities, our principles and our purpose, then who are we?

I am not concerned about the ability of our army to win this war. It will be costly but we will do it. I am worried about the psychological effects of this war on all of us. But just as two generations ago, our people recovered from the Shoah enough not just to survive but to thrive, we will do it again because the human spirit is amazing. We will likely rebound as individuals and even as Jews.

However, my real fear is that after this war is over, we will return to where we were before October 7th, and that it will not be enough to save the State.

That is what makes me want to cry.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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