Demonizing in Israel-Gaza conflict won’t bring peace

August 13, 2018 GMT

Imagine you live in Huntington. Then imagine that a mile away, West Huntington is shooting rockets in your general direction. Fortunately, there are air raid sirens to give you warning when a rocket is launched, and you have 5 seconds to find shelter. You never know when this is going to happen, so every conceivable shelter is a bomb shelter: bus stops, parts of the playground, and of course every building.

However, a walk along Four Pole Creek would be foolhardy. There is also a fence between us, but the people on the other side build tunnels under the fence and periodically try to break through with the stated aim of getting rid of Huntingtonians. Fortunately — from one point of view at least — the National Guard is on this side and bombs the other side during especially difficult times.

A visitor to Sederot, an Israeli town less than a mile from Gaza City, will find that this is the very situation in which these Israelis live. There is a certain toll that comes from living under constant threat. The children have the most difficulty. There is a special counseling center there which offers them therapy, assisted by caring for small animals: rabbits, birds and guinea pigs.

“What about the children of Gaza,” we hope you ask. A former mayor of Sederot said, “I feel bad for the children that live here in Sederot, but I also feel pain for the children that live on the other side... This situation is because of the behavior of the leaders of the terror organizations.”

We rabbis are moved to write this as a response to a book review published in The Herald-Dispatch on Thursday, Aug. 2. It was incredibly one-sided, myopic and simplistic — blaming Israel for every hardship. Israel is not blameless in the tragedy of the Palestinian people, but neither is it solely responsible. We could respond to every point but will content ourselves with just one.

The author describes Israelis as “paranoid.” Those of us with an eye toward history will remember that when Israel declared its independence in 1948, all five of its neighbors invaded with the goal to drive the Jews into the sea. By some amazing set of circumstances, Israel survived that onslaught. Golda Meir described the reason: “We have nowhere else to go.”

In the intervening years, Palestinians with explosive devices strapped to themselves have murdered and maimed Israeli civilians. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, there was a hope that the Gazans would build a life for themselves. Instead, they declared victory and started firing rockets on Sederot and other nearby Israeli towns. Their rockets can reach at least as far as Tel Aviv — in our imaginary West Virginia scenario, that would mean our West Huntingtonians’ rockets could reach all the way to Charleston. Fortunately, Israel has developed a missile defense system and is able to destroy most of the rockets before they hit their objective.

The Gazans are not just a lonely people fighting for their rights. They are financially supported by many European Union countries as well as the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Japan. Most are trying to support the general population, not Hamas the terrorist organization that rules Gaza. The eternal problem of sending humanitarian aid to a beleaguered region is ensuring that it gets to those in need of it, instead of being diverted by those in power.

The latest charter of Hamas says it doesn’t hate Jews, only Zionists — in other words, only Jews that live in Israel. Their goal remains to retake all of the land. Some of the concrete sent into Gaza to build schools and hospitals has been used to build tunnels to invade Israel. Military supplies are being sent in as well. It makes Israelis feel — and it is not a “paranoid” fear — that Gaza is the tip of a spear, which must be deflected.

We can all agree there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. It would be better for everyone involved if living conditions in Gaza improved. We are not sure, however, that everyone agrees that Israel has a right to exist. With each passing year we become more convinced that the one thing that will NOT be effective in bringing peace to the Mideast is to demonize one side and whitewash the other.

We are praying and working for peace in our homes, community, the Mideast, and the world.

Rabbi Jean E. Eglinton and Rabbi Emeritus Davfd E. Wucher are with the B’nal Sholom Congregation in Huntington.