Shabbat Pinchas 5774
I once had a teacher that looked at his students and proclaimed that we were free to agree with his views or, should we so choose, to disagree. What was not allowed was to say “I don’t care.” To agree or to disagree was to forge an opinion, to say I don’t care, to be apathetic is to stand on the sidelines. Perhaps Elie Wiesel said it best:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
In my mind, to be apathetic about Israel, to say “I’m not interested” or “I don’t care.” It is to turn your back on the Jewish People and the Jewish Homeland. If we don’t care, if we are indifferent… My question to you is, who do we expect will care?
Here is the story of what made me care: In the summer of 2004 I started a year long position as a staff member of a program called Nativ. Nativ, as some of you may know, is a gap-year program under the auspices of the Conservative Movement’s Youth Group, USY. Most recently Ari Brodkey participated in this program as did Shira and Liz Feldstern and I have no doubt there are others from Omaha. In 2004 the program began in August in Jerusalem, with students attending either Hebrew University or The Conservative Yeshiva. Then in January students moved to Kibbutz Sa’ad for the remainder of the year. On the Kibbutz, participants would have daily jobs from helping in the kitchen, to milking cows, and everything in-between including working in the carrot factory, which is one thing I do not miss. The Kibbutz became our home for roughly five months. Our home, as some of you may know, is located in a very interesting part of the world, only 5km (essentially 3 miles) down the road due west from a place known as the Gaza Strip. We were close enough that rockets would routinely land in the fields belonging to the Kibbutz and occasionally land on the roof of a kibbutz family’s home. It was close enough that on cloudy nights the teens would sit on the roof of the moadon, listening to sound of Israeli helicopters flying into Gaza. I never believed any of us to be in real danger, nevertheless most participants kept the location to themselves when talking to their mothers.
Yet, what made my time at Sa’ad even more memorable was that in the months leading up to our arrival in Israel, a plan had been proposed by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to unilaterally disengage from the Gaza Strip. In June 2004 this plan was voted on and passed by the Knesset. The disengagement from Gaza, as it was known, was the withdrawal of all Israeli citizens, the Israeli army, as well as the dismantling of all Israeli settlements within the Gaza Strip.
The quick history lesson is that the Gaza Strip was created at the conclusion of the Independence War. The agreement gave the Palestinians right to the land, but it was controlled militarily by Egypt. Then in 1967 during the Six-Day War Israel succeeded in pushing back the Egyptian forces and gained control of Gaza. With the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Palestinian Authority governed the Palestinian population centers while Israel maintained control of the airspace, territorial waters and border crossings with the exception of the land border with Egypt.
While only a tiny strip of land, it held significant strategic importance. The political process leading up to the June 2004 Knesset vote was incredibly contentious and it is important to realize that PM Sharon lost a tremendous amount of support from his own party and those in his own government for proposing the disengagement and seeing it thru. The Prime Minister was, and is still seen, as a hard liner who was in favor of settlement expansion. Oddly enough he garnered support from those on the left as they felt that giving the land back to the Palestinians was the right move. The second point to remember, and this is key, is that the disengagement was unilateral. Nothing was being asked of the Palestinians. To some, both inside and outside of Israel, the fact that the withdrawal was one sided was a huge problem. The fact that it was unilateral meant that the power resided with Israel alone, there was no dialogue, the move essentially sidestepped the peace process. There were others, who believed in disengagement, who felt that the only way for Israel to protect herself is to have definitive borders, and so by withdrawing from Gaza that would be accomplished. Then there we those that simply thought leaving Gaza was the worst possible decision. They hung banners all over Israel saying that, “Jews do no expel Jews.”
Was it the right move? Do you agree with what Israel did? The fact is that Israeli soldiers moved families, synagogues, even cemeteries out of the Jewish communities within Gaza. In 2004, there were roughly 8,500 Israelis living within Gaza, surrounded by 1.3 million Palestinians with the Israeli Army stuck in the middle.
The withdrawal was incredibly difficult for Israel. Israeli soldiers were being told by ultra orthodox rabbis to disobey orders. It would have been easy to become disillusioned. I sometimes wonder had I been in another country would I have cared so much about what was going on. I know the answer is NO. I look back at all of the demonstrations and realize how little I understood about the importance of the events that were taking place right in front of my eyes. What was clear from the start is that no matter what side you are on in the debate, you are doing so for the betterment of The State of Israel. No matter how far to the left or to the right, you came to your opinion out of a love for Israel.
The end of the story is that the full withdrawal of civilians, security personnel and the army was complete by September 2005. Since September 2005 over 8000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. In PM Sharon’s biography, entitled Arik, there is a story told that the reason Sharon wanted to walk away from Gaza was so that the very first time a rocket was fired into Israel he could annihilate the Gaza Strip. In his view, Gaza launching a rocket into Sderot would be analogous to the Canadians shooting a rocket from Toronto into Buffalo. The problem is, was, and will always be, that a democratic state, the Jewish State, must hold itself to a different set of laws than a well financed, well armed, street gang.
Today there are those that find fault with Israel for controlling every entrance and exit into Gaza and the West Bank. They take issue with the fact that Israel continues to build and encourage new communities to take shape in the West Bank. This is an incredibly legitimate position to have. There are others that argue that Israel has given back land at every turn and it has gotten them nowhere. They will tell you that we left Gaza and all we got in return was rocket fire. And still others, people of deep faith, would say that God gave the Jewish People this land and we have the responsibility to defend it at all cost.
The spectrum of thought on Israeli politics is far more vast than what I have laid out. It’s now your job to seek out answers, to come to your own conclusions, to be engaged. Why do I care so much…how could I not?
Two weeks ago I wept as I heard the news that Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel were found murdered. For whom do I find fault…there is blood on both camps. And I mourn the senseless murder of Mohammed Abu Khdair, a Palestinian teen, who was burned alive by Israeli extremists in retaliation. Am I thankful that the PM as well and may high ranking officials and Rabbis have come out denouncing the murder, yes. I recognize as Rabbi Gordis wrote earlier this week that the difference between these two sides is that “we abhor the horror and they celebrate their murderers…that we arrest the perpetrators and they name streets and city squares after them.” [http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/we-have-been-here-before/]
I loathe the Israeli extremists who through their actions undermine what Israel stands for, just as I hope the peace loving Palestinian is disgraced by the actions of Hamas.
This is a debate too important for anyone to sit on the sidelines and the cost of our apathy could be our existence. We fight apathy by being engaged, whether it be by reading an article or watching a news report, going to a lecture, or participating in a conversation, or if you can, going to Israel.
You can choose to agree or disagree with Israel…but from this point forward apathy is not an option!