More than 30 years ago, as a far-too-strident college kid, I gravely offended my relatives at a Passover Seder by pointing out the irony of celebrating freedom of the Jews while Israel was suppressing the freedom of others. My family's response consisted of silence, throat-clearing, dirty looks and from one great uncle, a grudge that he carried against me for years. I would like to think that in the decades since I have gained some sense of humility, a less Manichean world view, and a more nuanced perspective of the Middle East.
But even a nuanced discussion about Israel is rarely easy, and when people are getting bombed and killed it seems near impossible. Moreover, I don't pretend to having anywhere near a full grasp on the complicated history of the region -- modern or Biblical -- or on the myriad interests that continue to weigh down any hope of peace. At the same time, I feel strongly that it is not as simple as the equation I have been taught since my youth: the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust and the fact that Israel is surrounded by enemies bent on its destruction means Israel can do no wrong in protecting itself.
So, at the risk of again causing offense to loved ones once, I feel the need to acknowledge what I believe are truths about the current situation
First, of course, I acknowledge that Hamas is a repugnant terrorist organization that doesn't believe in Israel's right to exist, and that its firing of rockets indiscriminately into Israel and using civilians as human shields are inexcusable war crimes. I also acknowledge the disturbing undercurrent of anti-semitism, particularly in Europe, that has frighteningly risen to the surface, sometimes violently, during the current crisis.
But I also must acknowledge that Israel is an occupying power whose blockade and restriction of rights in Gaza have caused enormous hardship, poverty and despair; that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people; and that Benjamin Netanyahu's government has pursued policies that have undermined Palestinian moderates and the possibility of negotiating for a two-state solution -- which I believe is the only long-term chance for peace. I must also acknowledge that the use of collective punishment and the launching of attacks with the likelihood of causing a high number of civilian casualties -- including children -- violate human rights, international law and a sense of decency regardless of whether many of the victims are being used as human shields.
What follows are excerpts from some powerful, eloquent Jewish voices, many of them Israeli, that have resonated with me over these tragic weeks-- although I don't agree with everything they say. Click on the links to read them in full. While provocative and perhaps causing offense, my hope is that they can be part of the discussion. My hope is that there can be a discussion.
There are only two sides, and they are not Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. They are moderates and the extremists. I belong to the moderates, wherever they are. Noa
Operation Protective Edge is a product of tunnel vision, prompted not only by the single-minded Hamas stockpiling of sophisticated rockets and construction of offensive tunnels while its people have been drowning in dire poverty and hopelessness, but also by the reluctance of Israel’s current leadership to look beyond the here and now and offer workable options to ongoing conflict and strife. Naomi Chazan
It’s an awful thing to make a truly tragic mistake, one that costs many lives. It’s worse to make that same mistake over and over again. Four operations in Gaza, an immense number of Israeli and Palestinian hearts that have stopped beating, and we keep ending up in the same place. Etgar Keret
The infrastructure for terror is the occupation. We consider ourselves a nation of peace seekers who just want to be allowed to live in peace, and I believe that no Israeli wants to kill or be killed. But it’s about time we understood that the Palestinians live in a constant state of war – whether it be the siege of Gaza or military rule in the West Bank. . . The entire world understands the connection between the occupation and terror. It’s only us who don’t. Only we feed ourselves stories of global Jihad and anti-Semitism being the root of the problem, while the most simple explanation is right in front of us. World history makes it clear: Either the occupied minority are made citizens of the occupying state, or it is granted independence. There are no other nations stuck in this kind of limbo, without citizenship and without a state, like the Palestinians. And there are certainly no other nations that would tolerate it. Noam Sheizaf
Nothing would weaken Hamas more than growing Palestinian faith that through nonviolence and mutual recognition, they can win the basic rights they’ve been denied for almost half a century. Israel’s best long-term strategy against Palestinian violence is Palestinian hope. Unfortunately, as effective as Benjamin Netanyahu has been at destroying Palestinian rockets, he’s been even more effective at destroying that. Peter Beinart
A war against Hamas is not an unjust war. Hamas has been a failure at everything except murder. Its strategy is the targeting of civilians, those of its enemy and (since the brutal response of its enemy is an important element of its the-worse-the-better calculus) of its own . . . These are monsters. But the population of Gaza are not monsters and the Palestinian people are not monsters; and I will confess that I have found myself unable to be satisfied, in the analysis of responsibility in this war, by the assertion, which is incontrovertible, that the killing of non-combatant Palestinians by Israel in Gaza is one of Hamas’s war aims, and so Israel is completely absolved if it obliges. A provocation does not relieve one of accountability for how one responds to it . . . . Israel has a strategy for war, but it does not have a strategy for peace. Leon Wieseltier
When the guns go silent, we’re going need to renew a vision that blends resolve with tolerance, strength with utter decency, individual freedom coupled with a sense of serving something greater than ourselves. Can we pull it off? The ground is shaking here, and it’s not only because of the rockets. When the guns fall silent, this society had better be prepared to start talking. Daniel Gordis
I will tell you what my hope and prayer for the future of Israel is. I would like to see Israel removed once and for all from the front pages of all the newspapers in the world and instead conquer, occupy and build settlements in the literary, arts, music and architecture supplements. This is my dream for the future. Amos Oz