Free the Kidnapped Israeli Teens
By Rabbi Michael Lerner
Kidnapping anyone, anytime is always a violation of a basic human right. But is even more outrageous when done to children or teens who are particularly vulnerable.
So it is with shock and outrage that we at Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives respond to the kidnapping of 3 Israeli teens who were returning from their study at a yeshiva in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
We demand the immediate release and safe return of those teens to their families!
We were shocked and outraged at the kidnapping of hundreds of Christian girls by Muslim fundamentalists in Africa, with the implied story that these girls would be raped (the functional equivalent of “forced marriages” along with forced conversions to Islam).
We are shocked and outraged when girls are kidnapped (or sold or persuaded by starving parents who see no other way to get money for their remaining starving children) into sexual slavery or forced marriages.
We are shocked and outraged when children or teenagers are forced into armies (whether through a supposedly “legitimate” draft process or through outright kidnapping) where they are forced to kill or be killed.
We reject any attempt to imply that somehow these acts are understandable given the oppressive conditions faced by the perpetrators. In the case of the Israeli teens some commentators have rushed in to remind us that there are thousands of young Palestinians, some of them younger than the teens who were teenagers, who sit in Israeli prisons or “detention camps,” without trials and sometimes for many months. Yes, this is also a human rights violation. But so what? It doesn’t justify or legitimate the crime committed against these Israeli teens.
There are those who have pointed out that the teens were attending a Yeshiva in a right-wing settlement and that that Yeshiva doesn’t teach about the humanity or the suffering of the Palestinian people, but instead justifies and defacto increases that suffering by participating in discriminatory practices that are part of the daily reality of the Occupation. Again, so what? No matter how reactionary the teachings, it is never appropriate to kidnap or inflict pain on others, except possibly in circumstances of immediate self-defense.
And these teens were not the perpetrators or the creators of the Occupation. They were children doing what their parents had brought them up to do and to be.
I’ve recently heard another such ridiculous attempt to “contextualize” this kidnapping. Just as, when Palestinian children have been shot or killed by Israeli forces enforcing the Occupation, some Israelis and American Jews have said (publicly and in a variety of Jewish newspapers) “these Palestinians don’t really care about their children, else they wouldn’t let them participate in activities that are known to be at risk,” so now some are saying that “Israelis don’t really care about their children, else they wouldn’t be sending them to study in a war zone in which violence against Palestinians is sometimes met by violence againstIsraelis—so anyone raising their children in the settlements or sending them to study in the Occupied West Bank really have only themselves to blame for whatever happens to them.” This reasoning is as obnoxious when applied to Israelis as it was when applied to Palestinians (or for that matter, when applied to parents who let their children get drafted into an army). The reality is that most parents whatever their religious, national, ethnic or racial backgrounds care equally and intensely about the well-being of their children, and the reasons that they get convinced to put their kids into situations of danger have little to do with how much they love their kids. When I signed permission for my own son to serve in the Israeli paratroopers, I was terrified and remained so throughout the time he was jumping from airplanes and serving in the Israeli army. I cared deeply for my son’s welfare and loved him intensely, spent all week waiting for him to return to our Jerusalem apartment just before Shabbat so I could wash his clothes and feed him home made Shabbat food. I’m not going to go into all the factors that led me to allow him to serve (“allow” because the Israeli military won’t allow an only child to serve in a combat unit without the signed agreement of their parent), but it certainly wasn’t lack of love. And I’ve spoken to many Palestinians whose children have been wounded or killed and they too care just as much about their children as any Israeli or American or any other parents on the planet.
For those of us who want to see an end to all this kind of suffering, it is appropriate for us to demand an end to all wars and all violence, and to an end of conditions that create this violence, including ending global poverty, ending the xenophobia and racism and homophobia and demeaning of “the other” (whether that other be Jewish Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or whatever), and to urgently seek to end the environmental destructiveness that will soon become the source of more violence between “the haves” and “the have nots.” And it is appropriate to demand an end to the Occupation of the West Bank, to the occupation of Tibet by China and Chechnya by Russia and an end to every other unjust denial of rights to people who want their freedom.
Yet none of this should replace our outrage at the acts of kidnapping that go on “in the meantime.” And that is why we start and finish this note with a demand that whoever has those Israeli teens must return them immediately and safely to their families. And as a rabbi, I add to that demand a prayer for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor, Tikkun magazine and Chair, the (Interfaith and Secular-Humanist-Welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org
P.S. None of our outrage should be taken as legitimation of blaming the entire Palestinian people for this kidnapping or for assaulting the people of Gaza or a renewed military assault by the IDF beyond a narrowly pin-pointed search for the kidnapped teens. Punishing an entire population for the sins of a few was developed by Roman imperialists two thousand years ago and remains a disgusting and God-denying act of brutality that should never be tolerated by any humane society.