Suffering is universal.
Reading from the Book of Lamentations on Tisha b’Av, Monday night, we were confronted with vivid and painful descriptions of the ravages of war and devastation. “Behold and see if there is any pain like my pain, which has been dealt out to me,” writes the Prophet Jeremiah. He is describing the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem centuries ago, but the words and emotions are as timely as today’s headlines. “My children are desolate for the enemy has prevailed.”
We were struck not only with the tragic timeliness of the occasion, with the saddest day of the Jewish calendar falling out on a day of war in Israel, but also with the notion that one could read the passages of Lamentations both through the eyes of a Jew in Israel and a Palestinian in Gaza. The Jew weeps for the dozens of young IDF soldiers taken in the spring of their lives, and for an entire nation targeted by the ongoing and blind hatred of Hamas, whose sole purpose is to destroy Israel and kill Jews. The Palestinian cries for the widespread loss of life, for the innocent women and children who were victims of the reality of war, and a society in chaos.
Yes, suffering is universal. But its causes vary, based on history, morality and worldview. Jewish tradition glorifies life, and its ideal is peace. Palestinian leaders, though, encourage and exalt the death of the “martyr,” those who gladly die in the act of killing Jewish children. For decades those leaders have placed pride and victimization over diplomacy and realism, rejecting Israeli proposals and compromise in countless efforts towards peace. Lost in the media reports on the month-long Gaza war, with its emphasis on “occupation” and “siege,” is that this conflict pre-dates 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in the Six-Day War for survival. (How many remember that the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed in 1964, and that the land it sought to “liberate” was all of Israel?) The bottom line is that the Palestinians don’t accept the reality of a Jewish state in the region.
The tragic irony of this latest and most brutal clash between Hamas and Israel is that the terror group sees itself as better off now than when it started. That’s because it cares less about the loss of life than it does its own status. Its purpose is not to serve its people but to serve them up on the altar of martyrdom. The more dead children, the more world empathy. And it works.
Israel tries mightily to honor its military code of ethics, but its army is unique only in that it is held to a higher standard than any other in the world, and subject to greater scrutiny. How many hundreds of thousands of civilians did the U.S. kill in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade? No one really knows. We saw relatively little of the destruction. And unlike Israel, the American population was not under attack, a country fighting for its survival.
For much of American mainstream media the problem persists in presenting and seemingly equating reports from Hamas, a terror organization unreliable in its information, and Jerusalem, a vital U.S. ally that takes its word seriously.
The analysis of Israel’s actions in this war is only beginning. In its vibrant democratic society there will be commissions and studies, as there should be. Why did the extent of the tunnels come as a surprise? How is it that UN shelters were repeatedly hit? The list goes on. But Israel succeeded in countering Hamas rockets and destroying its deadly tunnels. Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves credit for acting with restraint, accepting cease-fires (rejected by Hamas) and resisting calls from hawks to re-occupy Gaza.
It is too early to tell if this bloody clash with Hamas will result in a longer lull or even in renewed efforts toward a wider peace. The Palestinian Authority has been relatively quiet, no doubt pleased to see its rival taking a beating. And while Netanyahu condemned PA President Abbas for partnering with Hamas several months ago, the Israeli prime minister would be eager to prop him up and have the PA govern Gaza now.
The unity that found more than 90 percent of Israelis supportive of the war effort is sure to dissipate when the fighting stops. Some will say the war proved that it would be foolhardy to risk the compromises needed for a Palestinian state; others will insist the bloodshed proved there is no military solution, only a diplomatic one.
In the meantime, we mourn for the loss of life and for the hope in peace. And we are drawn, once again to the eerily relevant words of Jeremiah, read in the synagogue on Tisha b’Av: “We hoped for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but behold, terror.”