The Israel crisis continues and I continue to feel it in my gut and I continue to feel that there really isn’t anything else that I should be writing about. Let me share a miscellany of items that resonate with me at this difficult time. There is so much information “out there” and it’s difficult to know with certainty what is going on and which lead character is doing what (witness the recent Kerry ceasefire proposal which was or wasn’t as disappointing as some claim), so I will stick to what seems indisputable.
About ten days ago Al Jazeera published a list of Gazans who died in the first two weeks of Operation Protective Edge, based on data provided by Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry. Analysis of the data showed that 82% of the dead in Gaza, numbering about 600 at the time, were men, and that 66 percent of the men were between 18 and 38. Women and children are dying, which is very sad regardless of why their lives are being lost, but claims that the IDF is engaged in indiscriminate killing of innocent women and children are just lies which the press doesn’t care to investigate.
At the same time, I read that doctors have been drafted into reserve duty by the IDF. Many orthopedic and other doctors are accompanying Israeli combat units in Gaza, as well as serving in the IDF field hospital on the Israeli-Gaza border. No surprise there. These doctors are also treating wounded Palestinians; the most severely injured are transferred to Israeli hospitals. Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz confirmed reports that the IDF is setting up a field hospital near the Erez Crossing to treat wounded Palestinians. Just imagine the likelihood of something like that happening for Israelis in one of the countries bordering Israel.
We learned about ten days ago that, though there are incredible programs to take care of chayalim bodedim (“Lone Soldiers”), which includes a few grandsons of our members, the truth is that there is no such thing as a lone soldier. Twenty one year old Sgt. Sean Carmeli, a heroic young man from Texas, volunteered to serve in the IDF 6,000 miles from his home. He was tragically killed defending Israel. His favorite Israeli soccer team learned of his death and worried that, given his few connections in Israel, his funeral would be empty. They placed one single post on Facebook and sent a message on What’s App asking people to come to the funeral so it would be dignified. They even provided busses to and from Haifa so people would have no excuse not to come. Imagine how the Carmeli family felt when they arrived at their son’s funeral and expected a handful of people only to discover over 20,000 who had never met Sean but attended his funeral, simply because they felt that we are all brothers and sisters. There is no such thing as a lone soldier; we are all one family.
There is a lot of second guessing about why this war started and whether it (and all the loss of life) could have been avoided. David Brooks had an excellent piece in the Times yesterday which placed the struggle in the broad context of all the dangerous tensions playing out in the Middle East, most of which have nothing to do with Israel – except that attacking Israel always seems to work with the people on the street. This Gaza war, he opines, started not because Israel locked up a few hundred Hamas operatives in the West Bank after the kidnapping of the yeshiva students, or because a lunatic and his cohorts murdered a Palestinian teenager, but because the new Egyptian regime had shut down almost all of the smuggling tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza and that was a big economic problem for Hamas. It seems that Hamas “taxes” on the tunnel smugglers amount to about 40% of its revenue and 20% of Gaza’s GDP. If Hamas could win any kind of victory over Israel, Brooks opines, it would make it hard for Egypt to fight popular sentiment and keep that set of tunnels closed. So, maybe it’s all about the economy once again. Tell that to the families of those who have died.
Speaking of the tunnels, we have learned a lot about the other set, the terror tunnels from Gaza into Israel. Many end up near or under Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which is all of 450 meters from the Gaza border. I have been there, it is just adjacent to Kibbutz Be’eri, where I spent my first days ever in Israel right after college and where my love affair with Israel began. I will show you the orange groves I irrigated someday. It was a somewhat dangerous neighborhood then, with fedayeen (the original terrorists) coming across the unfenced border, but nothing like what we have now with Hamas in charge. A member of the Mahlan reconnaissance unit reported a few days ago, “I have not entered one civilian home that didn’t have weapons, suicide belts, or booby traps in it.”
When people complain about what Israel is doing in Gaza, I always ask them, given all the rockets targeting civilians and given the terror tunnels and the kinds of things found in civilian homes even, what do you think Israel should do? I have yet to hear an answer that is different from the difficult actions Israel is forced to take against an enemy sworn to its destruction that hides its arms and fighters among civilians.
Finally for now, I want to share my experiences talking with a number of Beth El families who had trips to Israel planned at the current time. Some were family trips, some were Bnai Mitzvah family trips including a service at the Kotel, some were Birthright experiences. Most have been cancelled or postponed, and I cannot blame them. Life goes on in Israel, but it’s complicated and the atmosphere tense. I was struck by how our families fought the decision. They felt that Israel needed them there to show support, and that they weren’t going to give Hamas any symbolic victories. They waited as long as possible to confirm their plans, hoping for better news, which of course we are still hoping for. I was so moved by their tenacity and caring. The Talmud says Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh LaZeh/ “all Jews are responsible for one another,”, and we see that before us now, through these families, through your non stop concern, and through the feelings of common destiny that unite us as one in time of need.
Let us hope for better news soon. Have a good Wednesday. Bill Rudolph