“You are complicit in the death of the innocent!”
The images call out to me in a personal way. The image of a young dead child being carried by a man near destroyed buildings. Demonstrators in Spain hold up the palms of their hands that they painted red. The images are directed against the silent – against me – screaming that “the blood of innocent is on your hands!”
But, but, but… I can neither dismiss nor accept, with confidence or certainty, the arguments and justifications of Israel’s killing or fighting and the way it is done. A little voice in my head is asking whether these justifications are in fact valid… In fact when I think of most of my Jewish friends or the people I see at shul, I would be reluctant to voice my deep reservations about the justifications. On the other hand, I feel guilty even repeating them privately to myself. It feels like an act of treachery against my Arab friends. “You are defending the indefensible,” one of them said to me some years ago when I publicly repeated some of those arguments at a session with university students.
I am hurting. I feel depressed and heavy. I feel tired and unmotivated.
Accusation. Justification. Refutation. Accusation. Justification. Refutation. Counter-argument. An exhausting dance inside my head.
The Reality in Gaza and Israel
This is bigger than me of course. The question arises in my mind: “You are hurting?!” How dare I be so self-centered. One thousand eight hundred fifty-four lives violently, intentionally cut short! Millions of lives threatened repeatedly. How many more Palestinians or Jews must die as a result of action or inaction?! Right now, many thousands of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters are grieving over the loss of a life precious to them. Dead. Never to be hugged. Never to have a conversation with again. Never to enjoy a meal with, celebrate milestones together, or have mutual support in times of trouble.
The Dead I Will Never Know
One of the victims who will not be forgotten was the Israeli teen Naftali Frenkel, one of “our boys” whose heart-rending funeral I ‘attended’ online. His mother told of how he will never sing again at their Shabbat table. He will long be remembered, as will the other two students killed with him. So it should be. Another death that will be remembered is that of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The names of the other 1,850 plus dead are not widely known. I cannot forget them because I did not know them in the first place. They are mourned by their families – no less dead than Naftali or Mohammed.
Politically “Alive” While Dead
Perhaps the hundreds of people who died without media coverage are more dead than the four “star victims.” Naftali’s dear soul is alive in the hearts of my son’s school whose students are dedicating their performance of mitzvot to him and his two friends. His soul also has the debatable merit of the reported support expressed by 95 percent of Israelis for the current military activity. Mohammed is unable to rest in peace. His death will continue to be exploited to show how superior “we” are to “them.” “Look at us, Public Opinion, we are so good.” We are overflowing with moral outrage about Mohammed. We are good people. It appears that we only condone killing if it is done by men in uniform.
Where To From Here?
I don’t know. Michael Lerner is mourning the loss of compassionate Judaism amid the idol worship of military power. I am afraid for the future of interfaith connections. Can Jews, Muslims, and Christians still come together on common ground? I am afraid about my own self-worth and wellbeing. I choose compassion for self and others. My grappling and pain continue. I pray that my public silence is justified. I pray that the underlying problems at the heart of this Palestinian-Israeli relationship are addressed and for an arrangement, even if imperfect, that maximizes justice, dignity, and peace.
Rabbi Shmuel Chesed is a pseudonym for an ordained Orthodox rabbi functioning within a Jewish community that would pay too high a price were his real name to be published.