By RABBI BARRY COHEN
Can we hold these two truths at the same time? It is true that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas, AND it is true that we can feel compassion for the innocent Palestinians that get caught in the crossfire.
Whenever we talk about Israel, we find ourselves in a political-religious-cultural minefield. Inevitably, we will trip some wires.
Too many of us think in binary terms. Choose one side. It can only be “either-or.” Subtlety and nuance are not allowed.
Just look at the rhetoric. Israel’s critics accuse them of setting up an apartheid state, of committing genocide against the Palestinians and of being colonizers. Those who support Hamas call for the destruction not only of Israel (claiming that the land is theirs, “from the river to the sea), but of Jews worldwide themselves (posters calling for the “gassing” of the Israelis).
This dredges up memories of the Yom Kippur War, the Six Day War, the War of Independence and of course, the Holocaust. How can the Jewish community respond to such incendiary claims and hateful rhetoric after Hamas massacred 1400 innocent Israelis and kidnapped more than 200 people from Israel and other nations, including the United States?
The intensity of this war is clearly ramping up. Who knows what will have happened by the time this column goes to press. How many more soldiers and civilians will have died?
I write these words at my own risk. Some may chastise me: Stay in your lane. Who are you to enter this conflict and share a contrarian opinion?
But don’t we all have an obligation to enter this conflict? I can state that I definitely stand with Israel AND that my heart breaks for the innocents who will be injured and killed, both Palestinians and Israelis.
The overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians just want to live their lives, send their kids to school, go to work and enjoy discretionary time with family and friends.
But Hamas clearly has a different, zero-sum agenda. They fervently believe that Israel has no right to exist. One cannot negotiate with such an enemy. Iranian leaders clearly have a different agenda. They continue to arm Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, provide them with intelligence and let them do the dirty work and pay the price of Israel’s justified response.
I shudder when I think of how this conflict will proceed. How much more will the kidnap victims suffer? How many Israeli soldiers will be wounded or die? What pain and grief will their spouses, children, siblings, grandparents and extended families feel?
How many more innocent Palestinians will suffer and die because they had no control over being in the wrong place at the wrong time? How will their family and friends grieve, and how will they respond? Will animosity and hatred against Israel be passed to yet another generation?
Moreover, will this part of the world ever know true and lasting peace?
For decades, peace between Israel and Arab nations was a dream. But then Egypt’s and Israel’s respective leaders signed a peace treaty. Later, Jordanian leaders did the same. And recently, Israel made peace with the United Arab Emirates and with Bahrain.
Behind the scenes, Israel and Saudi Arabia had been getting close to normalizing relations. But Hamas’ barbaric actions put that on hold. However, it appears that talks will continue when the war between Israel and Hamas ends. And incredibly, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has welcomed ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and called for their immediate release.
As all this transpires, our local Jewish community will continue to offer various ways for us to navigate the Israel-Hamas war. We will encourage emotionally safe ways for us to interact friend to friend, professional to professional, parent to child, teacher to student, clergy to congregant and therapist to client.
In the coming weeks and months, I encourage all of us to embrace nuance and accept multiple truths. We can find a way simultaneously to stand with Israel wholeheartedly AND offer compassion to innocent Palestinians whose lives have been shattered.
After all, Jewish wisdom instructs us to recognize “the other” as fellow human beings, united in how we are all created in the image of God.