It is hard today to escape news of the escalating conflict in Palestine and the violence, suffering, and deaths that it has caused. As a Jew, I watch with growing trepidation and disgust. Once again, I see the Israeli people, a people with whom I share a distinct ethnic and cultural heritage, engaged in acts of war. Hearing about the brutality of this war, I once again feel ashamed.
The Judaism I know is about selflessness, about charity, about empathy. Why do we fail to exhibit these core values in the case of the Palestinians? The ancient Israelis and Jews of recent times have been forced from their lands and homes. Through the building of settlements and claiming of land, so too have the Palestinian people. Jews have long suffered from discrimination and inequality. In this occupation environment, so too do the Palestinians. Jews have been the targets of uneven aggression and violence. Considering the nature of this recent Israeli offensive, so too are the Palestinian people.
Where is the empathy? Where is the charity? Why does my people respond with missiles, bombs, and bullets to a people decrying unfair treatment? Why do many Jews not see that we are building the same history for the Palestinian people that others built for us? It is because, I believe, a moral blindness has afflicted the Israeli people, and by extension, Jews worldwide. It is a blindness born from fear and anxiety.
The overriding narrative in Jewish history is about being the absolute victim. No doubt, there is a large degree of truth to this view. The Jewish people and identity have been molded by a history of oppression and discrimination. We had been driven from our lands, we had been forced to live in horrid environments, we had been the targets of intense hatred. With such a history, Israel offered the hope of a Jewish state and homeland, a place where Jews could live in peace.
Significantly, the state of Israel gave the Jewish people power, and this power became the linchpin of our security. Without it, we are again defenseless to hatred. Without it, there is no sure place Jews can go to escape discrimination, to openly embrace and revel in their culture. The Palestinian people, because of their claims to the land, because of the threat they pose to the nature of the Israeli state, represent a direct challenge to that power. The Palestinians create an existential anxiety for the Jewish people. It seems that, in fear of losing what we now have, after so long of not having it, we will do anything to hold on. We will resort to violence and oppression, breeding hatred and distrust. We will forget our history, our roots. We will ignore the very core values that make us Jewish.
What can be done to change this reality? Undoubtedly, the Jewish people must truly embrace the values of empathy and charity which underlies their heritage. That embrace must extend even to those who we fear or who we hate. Perhaps we need to reinterpret our historical narrative. It seems we believe that our victimized history now gives us special privilege. I feel we should instead think that our history now gives us a special moral obligation to fight for and uphold the fundamental rights and decency of humankind.
We musn’t forget that being victimized does not make us incapable of creating new victims. Despite being targets of extremism, we are not immune to it on our part, either. Religious, political, and state-sponsored violence and terror can occur in any religion or people, and this conflict aptly demonstrates that it does. We must honestly acknowledge this unfortunate part of the human character, and take care to avoid and fight against it. Doing so is, I believe, part of being Jewish.
So I wonder again, why do we respond with bullets instead of food aid? Why do we respond we respond with occupation instead of economic assistance? Why do we respond with thoughts of hate and fear instead of thoughts of forgiveness and tolerance? For, fundamentally, much of the conflict is rooted around issues of economic depravity and underdevelopment, inequality, and perceptions of unfair treatment in Palestine. By solving those problems, the road to peace can be constructed. Bombs do nothing but destroy it.
I do not doubt that this period of Jewish history will one day be a reason for reflection. I hope that my people will see it as a bump in our road to maturity. We are new to our freedoms, to our powers, to this nature of our existence. We need to learn to use them responsibly. Or could it be that we were like an abused child growing to be an abusive parent?I hope that my people can change this characterization in the present, to prevent even more suffering in the future.