Friday November 24, 2023 יב כסלו תשפ״ד פרשת ויצא
Caring About The Enemy
A facebook slogan that has been somewhat viral goes, “I can feel heartbroken for two peoples at the same time”. Among friends and colleagues, especially those of us who are politically progressive, spiritually and emotionally sensitive, and morally conscientious there has been this debate of late: “Is it ok to care about your own people more than you care about your enemy”? Many have said that we can and should care about the other side as much as we do for ours, if not more. Not unlike Jesus’ teaching, when slapped on one cheek turn around and offer the other cheek. Or Gandhi’s approach of nonviolent resistance. Parenthetically, this approach is rooted in the Torah “…love your fellow as yourself, I am BEING” (Leviticus 19:18).
I must admit that personally, I am not at an emotional place where I care about the other side equal to my own. Generally speaking, I always care for the other side, as I care for all humanity. I am a humanist, a sensitive soul, and filled with love for all human beings as well as for all animals. But right now it is different for me. Why? Because on a daily basis, here in Israel, we are hearing more and more stories of what had happened to the residents of the south of Israel on the Dark Shabbat of October 7th.
1200 people murdered in one day, many in their bedrooms as they were waking up in the morning. Many burned, many raped, many mutilated. Not pretty. They weren’t bombed from a distance. They weren’t hit by mistake. They weren’t tried in court and executed. They were surprised by young Muslim Arab men heavily armed who came into their neighborhoods and invaded their homes. Many of these Israelis were tortured and slaughtered. Whole families. Sometimes killing children in front of parents or visa versa. Many horrific details were recorded in plain sight by home security cameras.
I am not reacting to the number of people murdered, though, but to the number of stories told. For many weeks now, since the Dark Shabbat we are still hearing in the media and off media live interviews with survivors, with relatives of the murdered, and with families of the kidnapped. New stories of the horrors of that day are continually being revealed. The stories occupy much of my consciousness as well as the collective consciousness here in Israel all the time. I turn on the radio in the car, I hear interviews. I watch news at night, I hear interviews. I speak to people as I go about my day, and hear related stories. In addition we continually witness funerals of fallen soldiers and hear stories about their lost lives. A lot to digest.
My cousin Avraham and his wife Monika, are from Kibbutz Nir Itzhak by the Gaza strip. Their Kibbutz too was attacked by Hamas terrorists. They hid in their safe room for a whole day, hearing the sounds of shots and shouts in Arabic as the attack progressed. Luckily the terrorists passed over their home and they were eventually evacuated to safety unharmed when the army arrived and killed or pushed back the terrorists. I was in contact with Avraham by WhatsApp as things were happening. I was very relieved when they were finally evacuated.
I am not in the mood these days to personally nor authentically care for the Arab Palestinians being killed on the other side, while the Israeli military pursues the murderers and their infrastructure. Call me limited, heartless, un-saintly. Yet this is my emotional and mental truth at this moment. Moreover, I support the military’s invasion of Gaza and its two stated goals: 1. Eliminating the Hamas military and government capabilities. 2. Finding and bringing back the kidnapped hostages. I feel and think that what the military is doing is the right thing right now.
I have given much thought to the question of “is it ok to care more about your own relatives than for others, especially your enemy”? At this point I am very clear that for me the answer is yes, it is ok.
In my estimation, my colleagues who say they care equally about the Palestinian tragedy are speaking like Saints, but are they? To my ear at this time their talk sounds like moral grandstanding more than anything else. I know a Saint when I see one, and thus far I haven’t heard any in this debate. In my opinion my colleagues are simply hurting like all of us and defaulting to a position of deep denial. Their “Saintly” siding is their way of handling their very justified pain, but in my view, lacking any sound merit.
No one should ever be tested, God forbid a million times, but if there would be imminent danger to both my/your child and the child of someone else, and I/you could save only one, which one would I/you save? My child would be my priority, not the other’s. I am not confused about that. Again, we should never be tested ever with such a horrible choice. I am offering this just to illustrate that it is ok, it is natural, to care for your own more than you care for others. Right now, in this situation, I am caring fundamentally for my people, and have very little tolerance for those who in my opinion play “holier than the Pope”.
Yet what is the solution to the conflict? The Horrible Shabbat did not happen in a vacuum. It is one more terrible expression of a conflict that has been going on between Arab-Muslims and Jews in Palestine/Israel for about a hundred years. Will it ever end? How does one promote non-violence and peace in this situation? I would love to offer a solution but being in my sixth decade of life I no longer have a simple answer. When I was younger I was idealistic and thought that if we, the Jews, just treated the Palestinian Muslims correctly, with compassion and understanding, and returned the 1967 occupied lands so they can have their own country, there would be peace and all would be ok. I am not convinced about that anymore.
It seems to me that we are dealing with an Arab Muslim culture that right now has a powerful evil streak. There are a lot of fanatics amongst them that believe in a violent takeover of the world (not all Muslims do but many, enough to cause terrible mayhem). Hamas is unabashed about its fanatical religious and murderous ideology. Do read their Manifesto carefully, it is available online. That is why they did what they did in the way they did it. Most of their fighters are brainwashed young men who are willing to die for Allah and their cause. Their philosophy is not unlike that of the Natzis, although spiced with Muslim instead of Christian flavor. How do we manage that? I believe that at this point we respond by defending ourselves forcefully.
When the Natzis were trying to conquer the world and eliminate the Jews and other undesirables, they would not have stopped if treated only with compassion and generosity. It was the mega military force applied by the allies that saved some Jews from death, albeit not enough. That is why many of us are alive today. Compassionately caring for others is the right thing up to a point. It stops to be right when the other’s stated goal is to kill you, according to Jewish tradition. Then we are obligated to defend ourselves.
Right now we, Israeli Jews, need to kill those Arab Muslims who are brainwashed to murder us. They are not only brainwashed to kill Jews but also the rest of the “Infidels" (especially Westerners) in order to create a grand Muslim world Caliphate. According to Torah it is our obligation to preserve our lives. Each his or her life is a gift which we are responsible to treat with care and preservation. It is a spiritual imperative. My prayer and vision is that with God’s help after this terrible war and after sufficiently damaging Hamas, there will be a new space created for peace and the possibility of a new start between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in this area. Not unlike the space created after world war II in Europe. I pray that at that point there will also be a new space within me to care for my Palestinian cousins once again, fully and whole heartedly.