By Barry Shrage, CJP President
Like many of you, I have been closely watching events in Israel and Gaza. As I read the news, I recall my visits to the Israeli communities that sit alongside the Gaza Strip. I think of conversations with families that live in fear of the rockets and mortars fired from Gaza that have rained down on their homes for over a decade. They spoke of the terror tunnels stretching from inside Gaza that have been discovered at the doorsteps of their community. They shared their concern for the young men and women in uniform who guard them from the terror on their doorsteps.
In difficult times, I think of the Israeli parents who must send their sons and daughters to protect our precious state. I also think of the families in Gaza and am profoundly saddened by the loss of life.
It wasn’t that long ago that the future looked more promising. In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon oversaw Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, removing over 9,000 Israeli citizens living in 25 settlements (including four in the West Bank). Here was the opportunity for the Palestinian people to build their own society, to develop an economy, and to build security and prosperity in the region. It was not to be. Just two years later, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip — terror has reigned ever since. Today, peace seems a distant dream.
I believe that in these difficult times, we have a responsibility to engage our community in conversations. I believe we must model respectful dialogue so that individuals can ask questions and voice their hopes, concerns, fears, and frustration. These are complicated issues, and they deserve thoughtful exploration.
I have heard conflicting thoughts and emotions. Many, including myself, are deeply distressed by the violence, casualties, and loss of lives. The pain that we feel and complexity of the issues has been extraordinarily well expressed in this article by Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman.
Our conversations are often complicated by the polarized political divides here in the United States. I try hard to separate out my feelings toward the political figures involved and consider the issues themselves — the right of Israel to defend its borders, my profound concern for the State’s security, and the loss of Palestinian lives.
When I read the news, I am angered and dismayed by media coverage that is, by any standard, deeply biased and hypocritical. These same media outlets have largely ignored the indiscriminate murder of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children in Syria, including 4,000 Palestinians. This selective condemnation of Israel’s actions, absent all context and balance, is profoundly wrong.
I will share a few of the most important points that I believe are not being accurately or clearly conveyed (you can see JFNA’s informative fact sheet).
- The violence we are seeing has been orchestrated by Hamas and funded by Iran as part of a weeks-long “March of Return.”
- While some Gazans are interested in protesting peacefully, there are others — including Hamas operatives — that are instigating a dangerous situation. They have burned tires, waved swastikas, and thrown rocks, explosives, and firebombs. Rioters have also sent kites with tails carrying rags soaked in gasoline to ignite the nearby fields of rural Israeli communities.
- Several Hamas agents have attempted — and succeeded — to sabotage the border fence and, in at least two cases, have crossed into Israel, armed with knives and explosives.
- Hamas’s actions pose a serious threat to Israeli security and the lives of Israeli civilians located in communities only meters away from the Gaza border. Israel cannot allow Palestinians, armed or otherwise, to cross the border and attack nearby Israeli communities. Israel has the absolute right and obligation to protect its citizens.
- Hamas is an internationally-recognized terrorist organization that openly declares its intention to destroy the Jewish state. It has orchestrated the recent violence to advance its own nefarious interests at the expense of Palestinian lives.
- I find former Israeli Air Force general Amos Yadlin’s description helpful. He writes, “Hamas aims to place Israel in a dilemma: to protect its sovereignty and border security Israel must neutralize individuals (some armed and others unarmed) attempting to storm the border at the expense of its international image, while failing to defend its boundaries could result in mass border infiltration and many dead on both sides.”
- Hamas has orchestrated a win-win situation for itself. If it succeeds in overwhelming Israeli military forces by breaching the Gaza security fence, it is a win for terror. If Israel prevents Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating and carrying out attacks against Israelis, Hamas is there to photograph the casualties for a willing media. I am dismayed that so many journalists fail to ask why the Hamas leadership is sending Palestinians into harm’s way and instigating events that will inevitably end in the loss of life.
- The deaths at the border with Gaza are tragic, but a mass incursion into Israel by thousands of armed Palestinians would lead to far more casualties on both sides.
- The IDF has acted with tremendous restraint. On Monday, it dropped leaflets urging Gazans to stay away from the security fence. Despite these efforts, Israel has been forced to push back demonstrators who have tried to tear down and breach the fence.
Sixty-two people were killed earlier this week. According to Hamas, the majority were known members of terrorist organizations. This is a public relations victory for Hamas. I pray for the day when Hamas cares more about the future of the Palestinian people than the end of the Jewish state.
About the Author
A passionate advocate for Jews in Greater Boston and around the world, CJP President Barry Shrage has worked tirelessly to create an inclusive community and drive positive change.