(May 12, 2019 / Jewish Journal) It’s important to get one thing out of the way: Firing rockets at civilians with the intent to maim and kill is not an act of “resistance.” It is a vile, evil, cowardly act.
Never mind “Startup Nation”—Israel is the “Shelter Nation.” One thing that struck me on my recent visit there is that bomb shelters are literally everywhere. When the bombs start falling and sirens start shrieking, Israelis know exactly how many seconds they have to reach their shelter. A combination of sirens, shelters and the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system is what minimizes casualties.
The nearly 700 rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired at Israel over one ghastly weekend aimed to kill as many Jews as possible. The fact that four Israelis were killed instead of hundreds or even thousands is not a function of enemy restraint, but of Israelis’ brilliance at protecting and defending themselves.
For those of us in America who are not used to running to bomb shelters, what is an appropriate response? What should we do when our brethren in Israel are terrorized around the clock, even if for only a few days? Should we focus on their suffering or try to be more even-handed?
Here was one response, from the Jewish activist group IfNotNow:
“18 Palestinians, 4 Israelis dead. In the last 48 hours. While Israelis run to bomb shelters, Palestinians have nowhere to run or hide, trapped in the open air prison of Gaza. We pray for the safety of Israeli & Palestinian civilians, whose leaders treat their lives as expendable. We cannot look at this in isolation. This latest flare-up is the result of years of deliberate Israeli political decisions to keep Gaza on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. The indifference of Israelis, Americans—Jews and non-Jews alike—to this is appalling.”
This response is perhaps more than “even-handed,” as Israel seems to be held responsible for Palestinians having “nowhere to run or hide” and for putting Gaza “on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.”
Another attempt at an even-handed response came from Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who runs T’ruah (the rabbinic call for human rights):
“Came out of Shabbat to more news of needless loss of life. Praying for the families of the Israelis and the Palestinians killed today, and for political leadership with the courage to seek political, not military solutions. … Hamas has actually proven able and willing to negotiate and maintain ceasefires in the past. Unfortunately, they’ve learned that rocket fire is the best way to get concessions from Israel.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, chose a different direction and unequivocally condemned the bombings:
“Shabbat ends in the U.S. with news of hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas into Israel leaving 1 dead and scores injured. This indiscriminate firing at a civilian population is inexcusable and must be immediately condemned by the international community.”
I understand the Jewish instinct to appear even-handed. It feels less tribal, more complex, more elevated. But let’s imagine that Israel’s security precautions had been less effective and, instead of four casualties, hundreds of Israelis had died. Faced with such horror, would it still be appropriate to appear even-handed and explain that terrorists have learned that “rocket fire is the best way to get concessions from Israel”?
Of course, because Israel is so good at defending itself and Hamas couldn’t care less about protecting its people, casualty figures will always be higher on the Palestinian side. Activists who bash Israel because of those figures ignore the fact that they’re a direct result of Israel being attacked and forced to defend itself.
The reality is, we are slaves to our narratives. Groups like IfNotNow are invested in the belief that Israel is the prime culprit in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No fact can change that narrative. Any event that comes along—even indiscriminate bombing of Israeli civilians—is an opportunity to strengthen the narrative.
When I saw the unrelenting rocket fire from Gaza, I had only one narrative in mind. It was neither tribal nor elevated, but simply common sense: If terrorists fire rockets with the intent to murder people, they deserve no even-handedness.
When a neo-Nazi commits mass murder in America, we don’t try to be even-handed or nuanced. We are firm and unequivocal in our condemnation. The corrupt Palestinian terrorists who have betrayed their own people while firing rockets at Israeli civilians deserve no less.
David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared on the Jewish Journal website.