Thinking about the three Israeli, yeshiva students who were recently kidnapped in the West bank, Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and the controversy surrounding the kidnapping, I am overwhelmed with dissonant and diverse thoughts ranging from parental empathy to disdain for nationalistic sloganism. Concurrent with my thoughts, I hear Pete Seeger singing his ballad for the three murdered civil rights activists, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, Those Three are on My Mind.
In the nationalist sloganism part of my brain, I hear Golda Meir saying, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” I will never forgive Golda for that dehumanizing and harmful quote. How dare she lower the humanity of another people to explain away her inability to reach across borders and end the struggle with our neighbors? Who is she to use her political pulpit to tell our fledgling nation that the Arabs love their children less than they hate us? Do we love our children less than we care about settling occupied land? We certainly feel comfortable sending our boys to face down Palestinian children in the streets of Hebron. What if Abu Mazen were to say to the Palestinians, “We will never have peace until Israelis love their children more than they love land and oppressing us for it.”
I also think of the pictures of Sara Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky holding up signs that say, “bring back our boys,” and the pictures of Palestinians holding up three fingers in support of the kidnappers. What has this on-going conflict done to us when human beings either celebrate the abduction of three children or cynically manipulate their disappearance?
Since the kidnapping was first reported, I have been obsessively reading and posting articles on Facebook about the situation. One of the more interesting stories I read was printed in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal by Shmuel Rosner; The Abducted Teens: Israelis Are Praying (and Bickering). When I posted the article, a friend in Israel commented on Facebook, “Do these children, our children, mean nothing to you?… You are a parent with children these ages. Have compassion!” I thought about this in light of the Sara and Sharansky photos, “#BringBackourboys.” I tried to unpack the meaning of “our boys,” and lots of ideas came to mind.
I have a friend in Tel Aviv whose son recently decided to avoid conscription into the IDF. I was talking about him with another friend, and the response I heard was, “Medinat Tel Aviv.” It is not uncommon parlance in Jewish circles to separate between those who don’t want to participate in the nationalist conflict with the Palestinians from the rest of the Jewish world. Medinat Tel-Aviv is a way that the right wing says, “You are not part of us.” In light of the “our boys” slogans, I find this a curious brand of Bushism, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
How far does “our” stretch? In Moses time, “our” meant that you could live on the other side of the Jordan, as long as you came to our side during times of war (Num.32, 6-7). In the Talmud (Megillah 4:10), the rabbis were so uncomfortable with some of “our” actions that they tell us not to read portions of the Torah from the bima; i.e. when Reuven sleeps with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and the part of the story of the Golden Calf story when Moses reprimands his brother Aaron. They also feel shame from the Davidic dynasty with the rape of Tamar (Shmuel 2:13) and David’s pursuit of Batsheva (Samuel 2:11). In other words, “our” has always had its limits.
The same applies today. Do we feel the same about all people living in the State of Israel? Our citizens are not all equal. If they were, this would not be a concern of newly elected President Rivlin, who, like Menachem Begin before him, to his credit, takes particular concern with the plight of Arab Israelis. And what about Jewish Israelis living on the periphery of the country? Are we as concerned with “our” Israeli citizens, many of whom live below the poverty line, who dwell outside of the center of the country? How much money do we spend on the Israelis who live beyond the Green Line as opposed to those who live within the internationally recognized borders of Israel? Does “our” have special meaning for settlers?
When my Facebook friend said “You are a parent with children these ages. Have compassion!” She was right to suggest that we need compassion, but compassion is not a nationalist emotion nor a one way street. I am a parent with children these ages, and I am full of compassion. That’s why I cried when I read that 15 year old Mohammad Dudin was killed by Israeli forces in a sweep of his West Bank village, Dura, and why I cry for the Palestinian parents whose children are arrested and detained, often without due process for as long as six months, for resisting the occupation, something former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he would be doing if he were Palestinian.
Golda Meir, Ehud Barak’s predecessor, is also shamefully famous for saying, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” Mohammad Dudin was not killed because we were forced to build settlements in the West Bank. We were not forced. This comment of a democratically elected prime minister of Israel is one of the most undemocratic and anti-Zionistic comments to be spoken from our national bima. When the Jewish people chose to conduct their lives as a sovereign country among the comity of nations, we did it in the spirit of Jewish longing and democratic values. Israel was meant to be a refuge from catastrophes and a country ruled “of the people, by the people and for the people,” in the spirit of the Gettysburg Address. Claiming that the Arabs force us to kill their children is utterly preposterous, unJewish and undemocratic. Nobody forces us to kill children. The name for hell in Hebrew, Gehenom, comes from the location of child sacrifice, Guy Ben-Noam, גֵיא בֶן־הִנֹּם. Nobody forces us to kill children.
If we really want to be compassionate and responsible, democratic people, we need to clutter our thoughts with Pete Seeger singing Those Three are on My Mind, and remind ourselves that this is about so much more than three boys. This is about our humanity.