Readers respond to Prashad Gaza column: Rabbi Justin David, Avoiding either/or on the Gaza crisis

Last modified: Friday, August 01, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — There are certain incontrovertible realities about the conflict between Israel and Hamas taking place in Gaza, none of which lead to easy conclusions.

Hamas is firing rockets indiscriminately at civilian targets in Israel, for which Israel not only has the right but the obligation to respond in order to protect its citizens. Those rockets, as any number of pictures will demonstrate, are fired from residential districts in Gaza, placing all manner of people and civilian institutions (schools, mosques, hospitals) in danger. In addition to rockets, Hamas has developed a network of tunnels into Israel, making it possible for militants to enter civilian territory.

As of this writing, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, 1,100 Palestinians have been killed and 6,500 wounded, and we can presume that many are civilians of all ages. Fifty-three Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and three Israeli civilians have been killed. Despite polling that shows that Hamas was declining in popularity in Gaza before this conflict, support has swelled.

What should the outcome be? It should be no surprise that Israelis themselves hold a variety of opinions. Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli intelligence chief, wrote in the New York Times that the goal should be to deliver a serious blow to Hamas, which would lead to a Northern Ireland-like situation: a disarmed Hamas that would retain a political wing to govern in Gaza alongside Palestinian moderates.

Taking a different perspective, the Israeli author and peace activist David Grossman advocated that the critical mass of Israelis of all backgrounds, “left and right, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs,” should unite, with no illusions, “around a few points of agreement to resolve the conflict with our neighbors.”

I come at this from a perspective of knowing the Israeli and Jewish narrative, and perhaps that leads me to a certain set of conclusions. But however strong my sympathies, I know that a conflict as complex as this one cannot be reduced to simple formulations or sound bites.

Therefore, I do not sympathize with those who only wish to condemn Israel, as deserving of condemnation some acts may be. I also remain cautious in the face of the words “Free Palestine.” I wonder what people mean when they use those words: are they advocating for a vision of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza living side by side with Israel in peaceful prosperity?

Or are they pressing for the eradication of the State of Israel? Similarly, I stand with Israel, but am wary of getting behind the charge, now popular among the Jewish community, to “Stand With Israel.” All too often, such a united front entails surrendering critical and moral judgment against what we see as wrong.

For this conflict, I want an end that brings about a meaningful ceasefire that can serve as a foundation for lasting peace, with reconstruction and new hope for Palestinians and a sense among the next generation of Israelis that fighting is not inevitable.

I have no idea if this is realistic. Here in Northampton, I would like to see us break out of the kind of either/or thinking that simplifies this conflict and creates division where there should be more of an effort at understanding. Yes, I hate that hundreds of innocent Palestinians have died as the result of Israeli firepower — it causes me great pain.

But instead of holding protests and lifting signs that simply condemn Israel, I would welcome discussion of the points upon which we can agree and create a new kind of discourse. I abhor Hamas — their charter calls for the destruction of Jews, not just Israel — and let’s not forget that their rockets, while inefficient, are fired with deadly intent with no regard for whom they strike. But instead of advocating a no-holds-barred solution against Hamas, I am much more interested in participating in conversations that lead to creative solutions of peaceful coexistence.

Instead of the either/or thinking, I advocate both/and thinking, something that is admittedly difficult to do with this conflict — and something that may not come naturally to us. As human beings, we find comfort and resolve by figuring out who’s right and wrong, praiseworthy and vile, sympathetic and monstrous.

Hence the parades, Facebook posts and editorials that advocate one side or the other, generally leaving out important details or qualifications. This conflict, for all of its suffering, demands we do something more than advocate for the side we want to win.

We may have reasons for sympathizing with Israelis or Palestinians in this conflict. But we live here, at a distance, and so we have the opportunity to achieve what is so rare: an understanding and a discourse that embraces both. And so I propose that, instead of confronting each other on the streets or in cyberspace, let us meet face to face in synagogues, churches and community centers and discuss not who is right or wrong, but how we may promote a vision of peace for people we love in a place that exerts a unique hold on our imagination.

Rabbi Justin David leads the Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton.