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Questions without answers & Answers without questions

Nobel laureate Isidor Rabi, whose work led to the creation of microwave ovens and MRI tests, once said that he attributed his success to his mother.  “When I came home from school, she would never ask me, ‘What did you learn today?’ Only, ‘Issy, did you ask a good question?’”

Indeed, asking questions is central to Judaism, a religion in which students are encouraged to challenge their teachers with difficult questions, and where the depth of knowledge is endlessly explored. In fact, it has been said that to be Jewish is to ask questions.

President Reagan once quipped, “Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement.” In recent months, question dodging has been anything but a joke. When asked what she thought of the ‘Death to America’ chants on college campuses, Rep. Rashida Tlaib would not provide an answer. This was not a softball question; this was a cotton ball question. That anyone in our country, let alone a member of congress, would refuse to state emphatically that saying ‘Death to America’ is despicable, should be worrisome to all Americans.

On CNN, a reporter asked a campus protestor a series of questions about the war in Gaza, and the protestor answered all of them until the question was, ‘What do you think about what happened on Oct. 7?’ The student just walked away, refusing to acknowledge the horrors of that day. How sad it is that some do not understand that feeling sympathy for the Israeli victims of terror and for Palestinians impacted by the war are not mutually exclusive.

Since the protests began, there have been many videos of people questioning the students to see how much they understand about the topic that has become an obsession for them. When students who were calling for an intifada were asked for a definition of that word, many were unable to answer. Others were unaware that Israel withdrew from Gaza almost two decades ago. Many chant ‘from the river to the sea’ without knowing which river and which sea. Students were unable to answer what Zionism is. One student refused to answer any questions and simply responded that everything she had to say was on the sign she was holding. Apparently, all of her knowledge on the subject could fit on a hand-held sign. Yet the protests abound, and the uninformed protestors do not seem perturbed by their own ignorance.

There is an old joke about two boys who are fighting. The teacher asks one of them how the fight started, and the boy replies, “It all started when he hit me back.” Applying similar illogic, the protestors see Israel’s response to the attack, instead of the attack itself, as the problem.

One Gotcha question that has been asked for years is, “Can you name a Palestinian leader before Yasser Arafat?” Even the greatest historians are unable to answer that question, yet so many still do not realize that throughout history, a country called Palestine never existed.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers.” Sometimes we hear that Israel must stop the war and the answer is to find a peaceful solution. That so-called answer is not an answer, but a remark that leads to another question: How do we find a peaceful solution with people whose mission in life is to kill Jews?

On a recent episode of The View, Bill Maher addressed anti-Israel host, Sunny Hostin, saying, “Do you think Hamas needs to be destroyed? This is the question.” When she grudgingly answered Yes, he stated that he didn’t know how to do that without a war, and she didn’t know how to do it either.

Then there are the obtuse journalists who ask such absurd questions that leave us questioning who hired them. After the recent rescue of four hostages, a BBC reporter asked Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus why the IDF didn’t warn the civilians prior to the raid on the houses where the hostages were held. He replied, “Of course, we can’t anticipate Israel to be warning ahead of a raid to extract or to save hostages because then what the terrorists would do is to kill the hostages, and that would defeat the purpose. The Israeli hostages were held and jailed by Palestinian civilians in a Palestinian civilian area.” In fact, among the “innocent” civilians holding the hostages were a doctor and an Al Jazeera reporter.

Last November there was a deal to release 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were convicted of stabbing or shooting innocent Israelis. Noting the discrepancy between 50 and 150, British journalist Kay Burley asked Israeli Government Spokesman Eylon Levy, “Does Israel not think that Palestinian lives are valued as highly as Israeli lives?”

Most disturbing is the number of answers that we do not hear, because the questions are never asked. Just as we provide an answer at the Passover seder to the son who doesn’t know how to ask a question, we must provide the answers to all important questions that we do not hear.

In a recent Face the Nation interview, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan spoke of her concern for the Gazans and was harshly critical of the United States and Israel, blaming them both for the death toll in Gaza. How unfortunate that journalist Margaret Brennan failed to ask her if she had urged her husband, the King of Jordan, to save the lives of Gazans by granting them asylum in Jordan. Apparently, her “heartfelt” concern stops at the border of her own country.

When countries in the Middle East and Europe have expressed sorrow for the Gazan population, why has no one asked them how many refugees they will take in? So far, the answer to that unasked question has been zero. How many ships could sail to the Gazan coast to evacuate people, if only countries were willing to take in the refugees, even temporarily?

In Ukraine, civilians hide in subways while soldiers fight above ground. In Gaza, Hamas hides in tunnels while civilians face the war above ground. Do people understand how difficult it is to minimize casualties while fighting an enemy who wants its own civilians to be killed?

Given the myriad ways Hamas has violated the international rules of war, isn’t it time to examine the asymmetrical rules that give one side carte blanche, while tying the hands of the other side who is still expected to follow them?

For years, the UN has financially supported the Gazan people, absolving Hamas from that responsibility and enabling Hamas to use its funds for terrorism. When will the UN acknowledge their role in funding terrorism?

When UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the Hamas attack did not happen in a vacuum, I wish someone had asked him whether his organization should be held accountable. Will the UN admit their own wrongdoings overseeing UNRWA, whose schools and textbooks advocate for the killing of Jews? Saudi Arabia recently removed antisemitic and anti-Israel content from its school books. When will UNRWA follow suit?

Will the UN recognize that in the UNRWA summer camps children practice kidnapping soldiers, handling weapons, and burning IDF vehicles? Will the UN concede that before there can be peace, at least one generation must be taught co-existence instead of terrorism?

No, the Hamas attack certainly did not happen in a vacuum. It had much help from the UN.

Why do the media fail to report the ongoing missiles Hamas and Hezbollah are firing into Israel? Why do they focus primarily on the displaced Palestinians? Since Oct. 7, 200,000 Israelis have been evacuated from the Gaza and Lebanon borders, unable to return to their homes.

Why is there no mention of the 1,600 Israeli soldiers, mostly college-aged men and women, who have been killed in combat or by terror in the past year? That number is analogous to 59,000 American soldiers.

Why do the media concentrate only on the Palestinian suffering? Why do we hear so few stories about the Israeli victims of Oct. 7? Just one example is Avida Bachar, a man who lost his wife, his 15-year-old son, and his leg. How many other broken families, and broken bodies have been so easily forgotten?

The World Food Programme (WFP) has blamed Israel for food distribution problems in Rafah. Why do they fail to admit that the deficiency was caused by Egypt’s refusal to allow aid through the Rafah Crossing, by Palestinians’ looting of the trucks before they reached the warehouses, and by the UN’s distribution mismanagement? Throughout the war, Hamas has seized most of the humanitarian aid for themselves or has sold it to civilians at extremely inflated prices.

Why does the U.S. hold Israel to a higher standard than it has historically held itself? In the 1990’s, even after Saddam Hussein was evicted from Kuwait, the U.S. continued to place sanctions on Iraq, and military operations persisted. In a 60 Minutes interview in 1992, Leslie Stahl asked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

A good question for President Biden would be, “Do you think the U.S.’ actions at the time were over the top, as you described Israel’s actions? In addition, why did the iron in your ironclad commitment towards Israel melt as soon as you were faced with declining poll numbers in swing states?”

A few good queries for Ireland, Spain, Norway, and Slovenia, four countries who have recently recognized Palestine as a state, would be, “Do you think it’s fair that after building a country for the past 76 years, Israel is asked to give up land to a people whose leaders, when repeatedly were offered a Palestinian state, pushed it away with both hands? Do you understand that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want a state alongside Israel? They want a state instead of Israel.  Have you forgotten that previous attempts to grant the Palestinians statehood, including the Oslo Accords and the Gaza withdrawal, led to intifadas and the Oct. 7 massacre?”

Today Jordan includes three-quarters of the original British Mandate for Palestine. More than half of the Jordan population call themselves Palestinians. Would Ireland, Spain, Norway, and Slovenia consider the possibility that if there is to be a Palestinian state, it should be Jordan?

A question that comes to mind for the people of Gaza is, “Do you look at your neighbor and see a thriving, innovative country and think: Why is Gaza so primitive and regressive? Do you suppose you failed because of hatred, focusing on tearing down rather than building? Do you wonder what might have been if Hamas had viewed Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza as a winning lottery ticket falling in its lap? Do you wish Hamas hadn’t torn up that lottery ticket, throwing the pieces in the air, turning them into missiles to fire at Israel?”

All of the people who expect Israel to end the war before Hamas is eradicated, should ask themselves if they would feel the same way if there were terrorists living just a few miles away from them. To what length would they expect their government to go if it meant saving their own lives or the lives of their families?

There are times when simply asking the right question is enough. Last November, I received an email from a non-Jewish woman whom I did not know. She had read my article about Oct. 7 and told me that she wanted to express solidarity with her Jewish friends during this difficult time, but struggled with the question of how. She decided to contact her Jewish friends and ask how they were doing. She concluded her email to me by writing one question that was so simple, yet so powerful, asking, “So, Marjorie, how are you doing?”

When will we all seize the moment and ask simple, yet powerful questions? Now is the time for answers that will reveal truth, justice, and understanding.

As Hillel asked, “If not now, when?”

About the Author
Marjorie lives in Providence, RI. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in Computer Science, and is a Senior Database Specialist in a large, international technology company. She is a frequent writer on antisemitism and Israel.
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