If you’re a person who can hear stories about soldiers who enter a village and throw babies into a bonfire, or rape all the women, or herd families into huts and burn them alive, and then shrug your shoulders and say, “well, that’s just the way things are,” this article has little to offer you. You can save your time and stop reading now.
But if you’re the type of person who hears of atrocities humans commit against other humans, and feels a deep sense of empathy, and a compelling urge to do something, please read on, because I have some good, if difficult, news for you.
In my experience, that urge to help is usually accompanied by a sense of tremendous frustration and powerlessness. What can I possibly do to help? Donate some money? Like and share? The impact of my arm-chair activism is so dwarfed by the enormity of the destruction that I ask myself whether it might be better to do nothing. Should I advocate for governmental intervention? In some cases, that is certainly appropriate, but in many cases, it’s not clear whether active intervention in conflicts by foreign governments has made the situation better or worse.
Just at the time I was experiencing this frustration over the latest round of atrocities in Syria, I learned that there is something simple that I, as an Israeli citizen, can do, and must do. I discovered, to my horror, that in many places where human atrocities are taking place, the question is not, how can Israel get involved. Israel is involved…in supporting those committing these atrocities with weapons sales and training. And so the question became, how can I stop Israel’s involvement?
This discovery was a bitter pill to swallow. I am a Zionist educator. I made the decision, with my family, to make Aliyah, out of a belief in and commitment to the Zionist project. And I know that Israel itself is constantly being falsely accused of similar atrocities. Israel does not commit genocide, and to the extent that there are violations of human rights, as there are in all countries, these are vigorously examined by the government, the army, the courts, the press, and numerous NGOs. The same cannot be said of many of the clients of Israel’s weapons industry, like Myanmar, South Sudan, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and many others. The fact that Israel permits arms sales to these countries is incontrovertible, despite her best efforts to hide it. The attempts, once this fact has been established, to offer justifications for our support of mass murderers, are pathetically embarrassing.
“The weapons industry employs and supports thousands of employees.”
“We need all the friends in the world we can get.”
“We have security interests in supporting these governments.”
“If we don’t sell to them, someone else will.”
Would we accept any of these as moral justification for Iranian support of world terror? National interest justifies actions in self-defense, but self-defense cannot include acting against innocent and unrelated individuals.
In Jewish tradition, this moral principle is crystal clear. If you are told to save your life by taking the life of another, innocent third party, you are obligated to give your own life. The rabbis of the Talmud do not search for a biblical source for this principle, because it’s unnecessary. It’s simple logic, they say- who says that your blood is redder than his?
So the first thing required of every Israeli citizen who wanted to act when they heard about Syria, or Burma, or Darfur, is to do everything we can to change this reality. And it is possible, and incredibly straightforward. There is a law which has been proposed by Hilik Bar which would go a long way to fixing this situation, making it illegal for Israel to issue weapons export licenses to countries committing gross violations of human rights.
The law really only needs one thing to pass: massive public support. Of course, there are powerful interests with limitless financial resources who want to maintain the status quo, who will do everything to prevent any limitations being placed on their ability to make millions of dollars on these deals. But, just as significant reforms were instituted as a result of American pressure, massive public pressure could make a difference as well. All it will take is to put our cynicism aside, and to act.
Get on the phone and let ministers know that you expect them to support this law. Follow the facebook page- facebook.com/pikuachneshek. Come to protests. Tell your friends. We need every single person who is troubled by these atrocities to make it clear: Israel must stop supporting these regimes, now.
Avidan Freedman is a rabbi, educator, and citizen who can’t live with the fact that Israel supports governments committing the most awful violations of human rights.