Despite its many fault lines, the international Jewish community stands united, and shoulder to shoulder with Israel, in its struggle to bring Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel safely home. There are no equivocations to be argued, no moral equivalences to be drawn with Israel’s continued presence in the territories, no discussion of housing starts in disputed areas … nothing. This is, simply, a terrorist act by a terrorist organization. If you have to struggle to be appalled by it, well, shame on you.
I am trying, very hard, not to draw broad brushstroke conclusions about the entire Palestinian community based on this heinous act, but I have to admit that it is becoming increasingly difficult. It’s bad enough that there is a concerted Palestinian campaign on social media to celebrate this atrocity – pictures of adults and, most disturbingly, young children – smiling as they show a hand with three fingers raised. “Three Shalits,” the campaign says proudly, referring, of course, to Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier who was held in captivity for five years by Hamas, which was recently welcomed back into the Palestinian government.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, under tremendous pressure from virtually every quarter, has denounced the kidnappings and called for the teens’ immediate release. I have heard no voices from the alleged “silent majority” of Palestinians protesting this terrorist act. Where are their voices? The silence is deafening.
I am trying not to "go there,” but everything about this kidnapping resonates with me as reflecting an Amalekite lack of basic human values. The Torah makes clear what Amalek did to our ancestors as they were leaving Egypt. We are told that they attacked those in the rear of the Israelite camp, women and children non-combatants, as opposed to the men who had been mustered for battle. Amalek has always, for Jews, been the symbol of inhumanity, a total and systemic lack of human kindness. When Palestinian parents were sending their children off to be suicide bombers, we struggled to comprehend their values. And now, when Palestinian children are made to pose for cameras dressed in battle fatigues, holding guns and three fingers aloft, it is very hard not to make this comparison.
We all, of course, join with Israel in praying for the safe return of these boys. There have been voices raised in criticism of their yeshiva for allowing them to hitchhike home at night, unescorted and unarmed, in that area. There is a point to be made there. But that is for later, not now. Now, it’s all about getting them home.
I am hoping against hope that by the time this article is published, the three teens will have been released, but I am sad to say that I am not optimistic. Hamas knows that Israel will go to extraordinary lengths to save even a single life – a single soldier like Gilad Shalit, or three Yeshiva students – because that is Israel’s nature, and Judaism’s nature. It is who and what Israel is. Whether it is expressed in the military doctrine of “lo mafkirim chayyal bashetach,” you don’t leave a fellow soldier stranded in the field, or in the Mishnah in Sanhedrin, where the rabbis famously taught that saving a single life is considered to be like saving the entire world, this is the value that drives Israel’s leaders and citizens at a time like this.
Did you notice that when Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier, was recently redeemed from captivity, five hardened terrorists were set free in order to secure his release. President Barack Obama invoked the exact same doctrine that I quoted earlier: “We don’t leave a soldier in the field.” Granted, there is more than a little speculation about how Sgt. Bergdahl came to be captured by the Taliban, but still, it was hard to miss the loud voices from Congress that questioned whether or not securing Bergdahl’s freedom justified releasing five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. We're talking about five prisoners to redeeom one American. Compare that with the thousands of prisoners, many of them “with blood on their hands,” who were freed from Israeli prisons to secure Gilad Shalit’s release, or even to make progress in the peace process. Five prisoners. Israel, with the appropriate concerns and misgivings, has gone so much further to secure the freedom of its soldiers and civilians.
Hamas knows this, and so do all the splinter groups that are single-mindedly dedicated to tormenting Israel and her citizens. And that cannot help but lead to a very painful reality.
As long as Israel loves and reveres every individual life it as much as these terrorists glorify mass death for their cause, and are willing to sacrifice their children towards that end, Israel will always be vulnerable to these kinds of attacks. We must add our voices in prayer that the brave soldiers of the IDF will find a way to rescue the boys and bring them home. And, simultaneously, we must do all we can to pressure decision makers here to abandon support of a Palestinian government that includes terrorists.
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.