Israel, Palestine, and the children in the middle
“I was taught the guiding principle of Judaism – ‘tikkun olam’ – a commitment to ‘repairing the world,’ as exemplified by the tradition of farmers who left the corners of their fields to be harvested by the poor and by the stranger.” (Getty Images)
The long, controversial history of the Arab-Israeli conflict remains so complex that it fuels raw and volatile emotions on both sides.
There is blame everywhere, though in my view voices more often levy subtle or heavy criticism, rightly or wrongly, against Israel. Former President Barack Obama recently referred to the Jewish “occupation.” Other commentators blame the Jews for the deaths of innocent Palestinians, for an “apartheid-style occupation,” for creating an “open-air prison” in Gaza, for a “thirst for revenge,” for not responding “proportionately” to Hamas’ violence.
Israel is blamed for the forced expulsion of Arabs known as the Nakba, for “settler colonialism,” for the border wall, and for treating Arabs within its borders as second-class citizens. At home there has been a notable rise in antisemitic backlash both in the public sphere and on college campuses.
How does a secular Jew like myself make sense of it all?
I’ve visited Israel only once, in the mid-1970s, when I spent time in Kiryat Shmona, a kibbutz on the Lebanese border; there, the danger of gunfire and minefields was ever present. My other connection was through my father’s experience during World War II as a British army major in an anti-artillery division. Under his command were Jewish soldiers who fought Rommel, the “desert fox,” in North Africa. Though dad called his soldiers unruly, undisciplined, and disobedient for refusing to stand at attention in a “proper” salute, he greatly admired their fighting spirit and will to survive.
I was raised in the same spirit of contrariness, of opposition to the status quo, believing that all is subject to debate and open to interpretation. I identified with the joke about the Jewish guy stranded on an island for 20 years who is finally rescued by a team and shows them his makeshift buildings. “There’s the supermarket, bank, and saloon, and over there’s the synagogue where I prayed to be rescued.” When asked about a building farther away, he exclaims disdainfully, “That’s the other synagogue I would never set foot in.” Dissent is intrinsic to life but can make you unpopular.
Though I grew up secular, I was taught the guiding principle of Judaism – “tikkun olam” – a commitment to “repairing the world,” as exemplified by the tradition of farmers who left the corners of their fields to be harvested by the poor and by the stranger. It is well documented today that Israel is committed to helping the world’s humanitarian efforts. Its first initiative to create a governmental arm to assist other nations was in 1957, with the establishment of MASHAV, Israel’s “Agency for International Development Cooperation.” Golda Meir understood that Israel had experience that could be relevant to other developing countries and decided that the government should share its know-how in fields such as education, agriculture, and medicine, and in recent years climate change and food security. MASHAV believes in “training the trainers”; in addition to sending teams around the world, they bring educators to Israel to share valuable knowledge.
My admiration and respect for what the philosophy of “tikkun olam” has accomplished over many years in no way absolves the country of its moral obligation to end hostilities by calling for an immediate ceasefire. The lives of children on both sides are at stake and with a cease fire we honor their collective future.
According to James Baldwin, “It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.”
It is time to lay down our arms and instead open them lovingly to the children of Palestine.
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