Jews' Next Dor

Congregation Beth David's Young Adult Group for Jewish 20 & 30 Somethings

CyberTorah: Crisis in Gaza

Posted by challahbackgirl on January 9, 2009

Every week Rabbi Booth of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto writes a “Cyber Torah” or drah that is shared with his congregation. In light of the current situtation in Israel and Gaza I thought I’d share this weeks.

CyberTorah: Crisis in Gaza

Several years ago, I heard a fascinating talk about terrorism and its efficacy. Conventional military might has proved useless against Israel and the West more generally. The overwhelming military advantage possessed by the United States, Europe, and Israel means that no state, however committed to the destruction of Israel or the West generally, will attack in a traditional fashion. From the Six Day War to the lightening march of the United States to Bagdad in 2002, Western armies have destroyed conventional forces.

Human ingenuity is a remarkable force, however. This defeat on the conventional field of battle led to a new strategy, namely terrorism unconnected to official state institutions. Terrorism is a remarkably effective technique for two key reasons. First, it has the ability to strike deep into the territory of those the terrorists oppose. Thus, suicide bombers at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv or rockets fired on Tuesday from mobile launchers into the Tel Aviv Suburbs. Where conventional arms could never create the terror and insecurity of such attacks, terrorism’s unconventional nature makes such damage possible.

Second, the means by which terror functions frontally assaults the liberal values of the West. We believe in freedom of religion. Even though the terrorists are largely extremist Muslims, we cannot profile all Muslims lest we lose this key value. Certain segments of Wahhabi Islam are violent and do spread ideologies of hatred. Yet if we allow the terrorists to get us to treat all of Islam as the enemy we only increase the number of our enemies and lose any notion of religious freedom.

Further, terrorists hide themselves in civilian areas. We cannot tell who the enemy is. Some are supporters, as committed to the destruction of Israel as the leaders of Hamas. Others are innocent bystanders. And worst of all, some are Palestinian victims being used as human shields. That means fighting back becomes morally problematic. Israelis cannot allow missiles to be fired with impunity at their homes. They also cannot indiscriminately kill Palestinians and retain any sense of the value of human life.

Terrorism is incredibly effective because it subverts basic moral values that sustain our culture. Successfully fighting against terrorists requires a strong military response. It also requires a new type of war that reflects moral nuance. If Israel just rolls the bulldozers over Gaza we create more enemies than we destroy. If Israel does nothing, the security and integrity of the state will quickly erode away.

I am frightened by this incursion into Gaza. After the debacle of 2006 in Southern Lebanon, the survival of Israel hangs in the balance. Israel must act when cities like Sderot and then Ashkelon and now the outskirts of Tel Aviv are being bombed regularly. Hamas must be stopped. And yet, facing this unconventional enemy, victory is really hard to measure. Victory includes stopping Hamas, taking away their offensive capability. How can this be done when terrorists hide in hospitals, mosques, and schools? I am afraid that this will be the first of many such actions, incurring a greater and greater real and moral cost to Israelis.

Victory also includes creating a viable civil society in Gaza that will at least tolerate Israel. Because, as the failure of the recent cease fire proves, peace is more than the absence of violence. Peace is the presence of something good and sustainable. Gazans chose Hamas in a free election for many complicated reasons. Some of those include Hamas’ ability to offer basic human services to the people of Gaza. Is there a way for Israel to ensure those human services happen outside of the terrorist infrastructure? I am afraid here too, because I can’t imagine how such a civil society can be reconstructed from the ashes of Gaza.

At a time like this, I remind myself of God’s redemptive power. God brought us forth from the darkness of Egypt, a hopelessness of 400 years, into the light of Israel and Torah. So I pray once again that God’s redemptive power will show Israel’s leaders a path towards peace.

May it be God’s will to protect the soldiers who defend the land of Israel. May their hands be guided with precision and mercy. May loss of life for both Israelis and Palestinians be kept to a minimum. And may God guide the hearts of all those involved in this frightening fight towards a real and sustainable peace. A peace with a strong secure Israel and a flourishing peaceful Palestinian entity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Booth

This Shabbat I will explore this issue further by looking at a key text that provides a useful moral calculus when confronting terror. This learning will take place after the Torah service, no earlier than 11:15


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