CENTER FOR JEWISH SPORT AND LIFE
CENTER FOR JEWISH SPORT AND LIFE

AN ALTERNATE VIEW OF RECENT EVENTS IN GAZA

By: Rabbi Bill Berk

Since the tragic moments on Monday, May 14, where some sixty Palestinians were killed and over a thousand wounded, I have been checking the international press to see what is being reported. What a painful task. With just a few exceptions the media has portrayed Israel in the worst possible light, the worst possible "read" of what took place. Israel is the bad guy and the Palestinians are presented as engaging in peaceful protests in the great non-violent tradition of Martin Luther King and Gandi. How I wish that were the case!
Let me offer an analogy which might sound outrageous but reflects the outrageous reality that took place here a few days ago. Forty to a hundred thousand desperate people from South America, under the influence of very radical leaders known the world over as terrorists, decide to ram their way through the border between Mexico and Arizona. For the press they describe their actions as peaceful protest. Yet they announce that once through the border they intend to kill Americans and take back the lands that rightfully belong to them-California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Meanwhile the United States drops leaflets warning people of the danger and urging them not to get near the fence and not to listen to their leadership that is urging them on. As they approach the border the people are given instructions by these leaders-touch the fence' tear down the fence, break through the fence. Rewards are offered to the brave young people who listen and obey. They urge children to come to the fence-they know how it will look on t.v. news the world over to have some wounded or dead children. The leadership plants fighters among the people with instructions to break through the fence, to attack Israelis, or to kidnap them. Imagine the mayhem and confusion as 40,000 people gather at the border and young people among them attack the fence and attempt penetration into the United States. Imagine you are an American soldier in the Arizona National Guard and you see 40,000 people charge the border. Imagine you are the parents of this American soldier wondering what will happen to your kid, will he survive? Will he have to shoot?
The attack on the border was not a peaceful protest. It was a frightening operation designed to re-direct the world's attention to the plight of Palestinians and to the evil of Israel. It was a strategy that was brilliant and cynical. Brilliant, there is no way Israel would come out looking good. Cynical, because Hamas is in competition with the Fatah for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. The Fatah post-intifada strategy is to GRADUALLY get the whole world against Israel, strangling her diplomatically and eventually economically. Hamas aimed to show the Palestinian people how to QUICKLY get the world behind the Palestinians. Get some young girls and boys killed and maimed and get it on every television in the world that's all you have to do.
Its amazing but the Hamas leadership hasn't tried to hide its strategy. On the Thursday before that terrible Monday Hamas Gaza leader Yaha Sinwar said he hoped to see a mass breach of the Israeli border during the protests. Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zohar, speaking in Arabic on Qatar's Al Jazeera network, admitted that, "This is not peaceful resistan...it is peaceful resistance bolstered by military force and by security agencies and enjoying tremendous public support."

Yes, you can whip up the Palestinian people to sacrifice for their beloved land and for their beloved narrative. But what the Palestinian leadership has never had the courage to do is to tell the Palestinian people the truth. They are not the only ones with an historic connection to the land. They are not the only ones with precious historic memories that tie them to this place. They are not the only ones who have been here for centuries. Telling them the truth means admitting that there is a dignity to the Jewish people's return home that must be recognized and honored. That has not happened. Until it does, there will only be suffering.
The Baal Shem Tov said, "In remembrance is the secret of redemption." Perhaps the worst part of what has played out in the world's media the past few days is the total failure to put this tragedy in context. The media did not report how Hamas encouraged children to come to the fence. They did not print the Hamas efforts to tear down the border fence. They did not report the speeches about killing Israelis and destroying Israel. The media does report that the grievances of the people in Gaza are twofold-the occupation and the blockade. But the media did not bother to check up on those phony grievances. There is no occupation. Israel, at great cost and trauma, pulled everything out of Gaza in 2005 there are no soldiers, there are no settlers, Gaza is for the Palestinians. As for the blockade when Israel pulled out of Gaza there was no blockade. Israel rooted for the folks in Gaza to build a model country there. We hoped they would build beautiful hotels on the gorgeous beaches of Gaza to attract tourists from all over the world. We hoped they would prosper from the 3,000 greenhouses we turned over to them, growing world class fruits and vegetables. (They trashed the greenhouses.) We hoped they would use the millions of dollars pumped into Gaza from countries the world over to build a new Palestine. Instead of building a country they built a fortress, and tunnels to attack and kidnap, rockets used to terrorize Israelis, weapons of all kinds. Hence the Israeli blockade in an effort to limit the weaponry coming into the country.
I am critical of Israel's current government for many reasons. Most of all, to my mind, there has been a lack of creativity, courage, and risk-taking vis a vis the Palestinians. But I am not critical of our soldiers, drilled in Jewish values by the army's code of ethics, who were placed in an impossible situation. They not only faced a terrifying onslaught of tens of thousands of people but also the aggression of Hamas soldiers who planted bombs and shot guns behind the smokescreen of the rioters. (We know now that the majority of the Palestinians killed were Hamas soldiers.) Is there a military in the world that would have handled this situation better? We live almost two hours from Gaza and it was an alarming situation for us. We feared there would be people kidnapped and murdered. We were grateful that our army stopped this attack and outraged by the manipulation of people by the Hamas leadership.
The road to Palestinian dignity starts with acknowledging the dignity of the other. It is time for true peaceful protests in the authentic tradition of Martin Luther King. The radical ideologies which have blinded and warped Palestinian leaders, will some day be rejected because they don't honor the truth. The tragedy of Gaza is not only about those killed and wounded. It is also about a people forced to yet again defend themselves in a world with thin, fleeting memory and callous regard for human life.