I returned this morning from a week in Israel. I had planned to, under the auspices of AIPAC and with 17 other “progressive” rabbis (AIPAC’s term) see first-hand the multitudes of ways that Israel society is coping and excelling despite its continued security and societal challenges. Of course, what I got was a very different trip. I missed the first day due to a funeral back in Chicago. What I saw after that was a series of meetings with people of various backgrounds; the common word for all of them was that the situation is complicated. We met with a Palestinian demographer, GLBT activists, various professors, statesmen and community activists. Because of the war with Gaza there was much that we could not do, or at the very least there were many places we could not visit. Instead, we got to hear sirens, warning that Hamas missiles were incoming. We rushed to bomb shelters or stairwells. It all reminded me of a visit to Israel in late 2000, with the Second Intifada underway. The only difference was this time, thanks to the Iron Dome, the terror wasn’t really terror (at least for those not in the south). The terror was inconvenient. Which is to say it didn’t feel like terror at all.
My concern is for those with children, who cannot be so cavalier about the “they incompetently shoot missiles and if they are actually coming close by we zap them with Iron Dome”. My concern is for the soldiers, like my nephew, who may have to go into Gaza. And my concern is that the violence will not end soon. I came on the trip already believing that American Jews should support Israel much more than they should speak out against Israel. Actually I don’t think they should speak out at all. Unless they make aliyah of course, then be my guest. But I am grateful that Israelis themselves see the bigger picture. Most of those with whom we spoke will not give up hope that some agreement can be worked out.
On our last day (yesterday, actually) we visited a small hospital in Safed. This is a place with doctors and nurses of all religions and ethnic groups, including of course Jewish. For a year and a half they have been treating hundreds of Syrians who make their way to the board. We met with a three year old who was shot in the leg and who is getting excellent treatment. His father was the first Syrian I had ever met. I know he will always be grateful for the menshlikheit of the Jews and Arabs who saved his boy’s leg, if not his life.
One final thought, translated by me from the Hebrew of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s press conference last Friday: Hamas uses civilians to cover their missiles. Israel uses missiles to protect their civilians. That’s the difference.
I cannot wait to return to Israel, hopefully in a time of quiet and opportunity for peace. In the mean time I come away with even greater respect for Israel, a country that, in the words of Dr. Donniel Hartman, wants to be Scandinavia but is stuck in the Middle East.