Reflections From During the Crises with Gaza

So I am speaking with Claire from ARZA Tours in Jerusalem. ARZA World Tours is coordinating the land arrangements for the upcoming Greensboro Interfaith Clergy trip to Israel in February. We had just begun our conversation, when for the first time, sirens go off in Jerusalem. Jerusalem? The holy city? Home to Jews and Arabs? Site of Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places? Given the inaccuracy of the rockets from Gaza, the chances of rockets hitting an Arab section of town are great. Jerusalem?

Claire says: “A siren just went off! I need to go! Bye!” I did not expect to hear from her again that day but a few hours later, she called to say that she was fine but that she simply was too upset to continue working. She needed to go home and be with her family. I totally understood.

It’s seven in the morning. We are awakened by a call from our son Ilan who is in Tel Aviv. Ilan tells us that he is fine and not to worry. If he is at home and a siren goes off, he goes to the basement. If at work, he and his coworkers go to the center of the building.

I am driving to work listening to CNN. A Hamas spokesman is speaking. He tells the interviewer that the firing of rockets at Israel is the result of more than six decades of occupation. Six decades? That is as old as Israel is! He did not imply since 1967 (when Israel, fighting for survival, took control of the West Bank and Gaza), but since 1948 (the year Israel declared independence.) I wonder how many people actually understood that what he was saying is that Israel has no right to exist. The Hamas charter itself says: “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement (aka Hamas). For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion.” Will there ever be peace with such an organization?

Seventy protestors gathered in Greensboro to protest Israel’s genocide in Gaza. In Operation Pillar of Defense 177 Gazans have been killed. Of the 170, 120+ were combatants. Where were these protestors when the Syrians were murdering 30,000 of their own people?

By the way in 2005, Israel withdrew from every square inch of Gaza. As such, Gaza is not “occupied territory” in any sense of the word.

In the midst of all of this, the Israel Defense Forces continue to coordinate the transfer of goods and gas into the Gaza Strip. Truckloads of supplies are entering Gaza daily. Incredible!

The Iron Dome system seems to be intercepting some 80% of the rockets fired towards civilian areas. I am amazed at the Israeli technology which led to this incredible advancement which has saved so many lives. I am also grateful to the support of the American government in helping Israel to develop Iron Dome. Shooting down a rocket travelling at 1800 miles per hour is quite a feat!

From January though the end of October, there were 586 rocket attacks from Gaza and 113 mortar shells fired. From Nov 1-12, 138 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. Some criticize Israel for its response but I ask: At what point would it be justified for Israel to respond to the almost daily barrage of rockets? If 724 rockets from Jan 1 to Nov 12 is not enough, then what number would be enough?

The Fajr 5 rockets which can hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are Iranian made. I cannot imagine a nuclear Iran and what sort of damage it could cause, not only to Israel, but to the free world.

Last Sunday, Harper Weissburg one of our students and a senior at Greensboro Day School, gave our teens a briefing about the situation. Harper has been an officer in BBYO, a madricha at our religious school, an intern at Stand With Us (a pro-Israel advocacy group) and an AIPAC activist. This was the first time that neither rabbi gave such a briefing. She was terrific! I am so proud of her. Empowering young people to become pro-Israeli activists once they go to college has always been a goal of mine. In Harper, that goal, that dream, has come true!

I can only hope and pray that the cease fire that was established will hold. Nevertheless, the struggle will continue as long as there are those who feel that they can destroy Israel. As long as there are not direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians and as long as Hamas is unwilling to accept past agreements with Israel, to stop the rocket fire and to accept Israel’s right to exist, a peaceful two state solution seems very far away.

Hanukah is approaching. More than 2,000 years ago, our people faced threats not dissimilar to those Israel faces today. In that time, our people fought and regained our national independence. There was very little media coverage of this event. If there had been, would the world have been any less critical of Jews defending themselves and their right to exist? I doubt it!

After the victory however, the rabbinical sages chose to emphasize the miracle of the oil. The military victory was not celebrated, but the people’s dedication to God would be. As we light the Hanukah candles this year, let us be grateful that Israel is strong and able to defend itself. However, let us continue to pray and hope for what seems like a far away peace, an Israel at peace with its neighbors, its sons and daughters competing on soccer fields instead of battlefields.

Rabbi Fred Guttman is a member of the Commission on Social Action and is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, NC.