Those of us who are critical of Israeli treatment of Palestinians must from time to time remind our communities that the dictators of Gaza, the Hamas group of Islamic extremists including the group Islamic Jihad, are as distorted and immoral in their way as Israel has been toward the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza.
There is no ethical excuse for Hamas bombing a school yard, thankfully a short while before the kindergarten children and staff arrived, as they did on Wednesday May 30. It is no excuse to say that Israel has done far worse toward Gaza. Yes, it has–but that doesn’t provide an argument for why Hamas should target civilians. Israel’s evil deeds in killing unarmed demonstrators last week at the Gaza fence does not make Hamas’ activity legitimate.
What we have de facto is a perfect alliance between Netanyahu and the even more extreme elements in Israel on the one hand, and Hamas and other Islamic extremists on the other hand. Both act in ways that reinforce the arguments of the other side that there is no solution to the legitimate needs of each side except more violence.
Hamas continues to make it clear that it does not want Palestinians to live in peace with Israel, but rather to destroy Israel entirely. Though this desire is pure fantasy, it gives the Israeli right-wing the justification to ignore the suffering that Israel imposes on the Palestinian people, and particularly those living in Gaza. Israel’s blockade is not a legitimate self-defense tactic, and causes immense suffering. Not only do Gazans have almost no electricity to run their own refrigerators and hospitals, and no clean water (causing sickness and death to many children), but they will not let Gazans out of this open-air prison. Not even to get medical help. So, the day before Hamas’ attack, some Gazans wounded by Israeli sharpshooters the week before tried to launch a flotilla to take them to a hospital in Cyprus for badly needed treatment.
This is inhumane and a violation of international laws. But aiming bombs at kindergarten students is no legitimate response–it only reinforces the Israeli right’s disgusting and racist claim that the Palestinians are “animals.” It is this kind of thinking on both sides that makes peace and reconciliation impossible to achieve in the foreseeable future. Hamas is Netanyahu’s best ally and Netanyahu is Hamas’ best ally. And the people who suffer are mostly the Palestinians, because Israel has the far superior military capabilities whereas Hamas has some bombs that (thankfully) miss their targets or are shot down by the Israeli defense shield. Yet Hamas’ attacks remind Israelis that there are people on their border who want to see them dead, so many respond by saying that in self-defense they must keep those people in an open-air prison.
Oy. It may take a new generation in both Israel and Gaza before this cycle of violence and inhumanity can be transcended. But in the meantime, it is important for people of conscience to challenge every immoral act so that the ethical sensibilities of the world are not drowned in cynicism and the vision of peace and reconciliation is totally abandoned.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine.
He is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-without-walls based in Berkeley, California.