I recently received a letter from a Jewish student at Duke University in response to a recent article I wrote that was titled, Fearing Our Own Strength.
"I am writing to express to you my disappointment and sadness in response to your latest e-mail, which although claiming to be apolitical, seems to equate Israeli nationalist militancy with the religion of Judaism, which as you know are not necessarily equivalent, and is moreover decidedly political.
"Pictures that show religious Jews devoutly praying next to tanks which are used to kill innocent people, unfortunately equates piety with state terrorism, and is essentially the same type of equivocation that Muslim militants use when they try to justify their murderous ideology with religious ideals.
"Instead, I would call on you as a fellow human being, a religious leader, and worshiper of the One True G-d to a higher discourse that calls for sanity, peace and human compassion in a time filled with insane aggression and hatred - on both sides.
"I am afraid that we are running out of time, dear rabbi, and we cannot afford to actively or tacitly approve of the killing of innocents on any side, be they Muslim or Jewish. Both Islam and Judaism recognize that the state of peace is the ultimate political and religious aim, and that the lives of innocents - be they 'believers' or 'infidels' - are sacred as G-d's creation.
"In the future I would hope to see you address the pressing and deeply religious issue of peace, instead of your consistently "political" focus on Israeli nationalism.
"I pray that you have room in your heart to contemplate in a sincere and deep way what I have thus communicated to you."
The Modern Gospel
These words, no doubt stemming from a sweet soul, must be heard, because they are emblematic of a mind-set embraced by millions of people today. This is the gospel of a confused generation that in the name of goodness and peace is unintentionally assisting the war, bloodshed and senseless death - on both sides.
The prophets of Israel were the first to conceive of peace as an ideal. Isaiah gave voice to the great words engraved in the imagination of the West: "Nation shall not lift up sword against Nation; neither shall they learn war anymore." For millennia, Jews have dreamt of the day when a child will ask, "Mother, what was war?"
In the Jewish tradition, when we meet somebody we greet them with the words Shalom Aleichem," peace unto you, to which they respond, "Aleichem Shalom," unto you peace. The reason for this custom is to foster peace between not only the two people but also the world at large. If there is peace, says the Midrash, there is everything; in the absence of peace, nothing else amounts to anything.
How do we achieve this peace? "I would call on you as a fellow human being, a religious leader, and worshiper of the One True G-d to a higher discourse that calls for sanity, peace and human compassion in a time filled with insane aggression and hatred - on both sides," the college student wrote. This is a beautiful calling I'd love to follow. Yet, my dear student, may I ask you a question?
What if your little brothers were sitting and playing cards on the porch of your home in San Francisco when a group of gangsters kidnapped both of them and killed eight other members of your family. These same gangsters then began launching hundreds of rockets on your neighborhood, killing and maiming children and adults in their homes, in parks, in shops and businesses. What would be the right thing to do? What would be the appropriate response driven by sanity and compassion? What would you expect of your government at such a moment?
Perhaps you'd opt for the choice of sending roses to the launchers of the rockets, to the kidnappers of the youngsters and the killers of your family, with a message of peace. You'd communicate to them how much we would like to reconcile our differences and reach a state of mutual respect.
Now, let's say that following these gestures, including the fulfillment of their demands to redefine your borders, they continue to fire rockets indiscriminately. Innocent people are being buried daily. Your foe insists his goal is to destroy your entire family and annihilate your city. What would you do now?
You may choose to meditate on the higher calling of peace and compassion, and continue to reach out with affection to the launchers of the rockets. But wouldn't you, in effect, be assisting their crimes against humanity, enabling children to be blown to pieces?
If you observed a person about to launch a rocket at a school filled with children, what would be the moral response: to give the launcher an embrace as he shoots the deadly rocket, or to cut him down on the spot and save the lives of the children?
Do you feel that the violent and bloody war against Hitler was also a rejection of the "higher discourse that calls for sanity, peace and human compassion?" I suspect that deep in your heart you know the answer: If the allies had not engaged the Nazi regime in war, you and I, together with millions of other Jews and innocent people would not be here today. Hitler was not stopped through love; he was defeated through aggression.
The Position of the Left
This is why in the present war raging between Israel and Hezbollah, even the Israeli left, usually filled with scorn toward nationalistic militancy, has been fully supportive.
In the past, the Israeli left preached that the Arab aggression toward Israel was a result of its occupation of Arab land. Give up the territories occupied in the 1967 war, the left said, and reconciliation will follow.
In truth, the war of the Palestinians against Israel has as much to do with occupation as Hitler's war against the Jews. A year ago, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza. There was no more occupation in Gaza, not an inch. The result? Increased attacks from unoccupied Gaza targeting Israeli civilians almost on a daily basis.
However, this time around, nobody can claim occupied land is involved. Israel left Lebanon in May 2000. Israel would not touch Hezbollah had it not attacked. Israel seeks to live in peace with its neighbors; Hezbollah and its allies seek to destroy Israel, no matter what Israel does. They are culpable for the fate of the poor Lebanese innocents who they hide among. To define this war as state terrorism and describe it as nationalistic militancy is not only objectively wrong, but also immoral. By demanding of Israel that it not eliminate Hezbollah, you are demanding the country allow its children to be murdered.
Judaism is not political, but our sages have long ago stated that "One who exercises compassion toward the cruel, will end up exercising cruelty toward the compassionate." (Midrash Rabah Koheles 7:15.)
Don't Repeat Jenin
During these challenging days, Israel need not be ashamed to stand tall and not falter nor sway. But tragically, there are signs that Israel may once again fall prey to immoral criticism that undermines its own safety.
On Wednesday, July 26, nine Israeli soldiers died and 27 others were injured as they were searching homes for Hezbollah fighters in the hardest day of fighting in southern Lebanon since the war began two weeks earlier. The Israeli press reported that officers in the Golani and Paratroops Brigades charged that the IDF employed insufficient force before the soldiers were deployed. Once civilians had been told to leave the town, the officers said the army should have regarded Bint Jbail as a battlefield and destroyed from the air any home where Hezbollah guerrillas were suspected of hiding, instead of sending the soldiers into the line of fire.
Remember the Jenin tragedy in April 2002? The hand-to-hand, door-to-door combat among dozens of houses booby-trapped by Palestinian fighters claimed the lives of 23 soldiers. Israel did not want to cause the civilian casualties that come with aerial bombardment, as has happened everywhere from Grozny to Kabul, involving nations from Russia to the United States. Notwithstanding this, Israel was charged with perpetrating a massacre, and, incredibly, was investigated defending itself against massacres that warrant no UN investigation.
Israel should not repeat the same mistake, subjecting its children to death in order to please foolish pacifists who will criticize the Jewish state regardless. Once Israel has given enough time for civilians to leave, it must not hesitate to take the terrorists down in full force, and ultimately save the lives of innocent human beings - on both sides.
E-mail the author at: YYJ@algemeiner.org