Notes From the Front

Israel is these days experiencing a major crisis concerning its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Below are some impressionistic notes from the field.

The streets of Jerusalem are ablaze with the color orange – which has become a potent symbol of solidarity with the Jews scheduled for expulsion from Gaza. Strips of orange are cropping up everywhere: On apartment porches, on children’s bookbags, on briefcases, in wrist bracelets. Orange ribbons are festooned on automobiles, on flagpoles, on tree branches, in gardens – a bumper crop. One can sense a gradual turning in public opinion against the proposed eviction and withdrawal. Even the recent polls – although not always to be trusted – show a clear swing away from governmental policy. Another very powerful sign is also widespread: bumper stickers reading, Yehudi lo megaresh Yehudi – “A Jew does not drive out another Jew.”

No one seems to understand what Sharon has in mind. We hope Sharon does. One might have expected this of a Peres or of one of the left-wing doves. But what caused Arik Sharon — this old soldier who was the hero of the settlers, who encouraged them to build and develop barren lands — to turn his back on his most passionate supporters? In the election for Prime Minister, Sharon overwhelmingly thrashed Amram Mitzna who had proposed this kind of withdrawal. For Sharon now to adopt the rejected plan of his opponent boggles the mind. His former supporters are more than puzzled and disappointed; they feel betrayed. No one can figure out what grand strategic purpose is being met by this one-sided retreat. Israel receives nothing in return – except winks and nods – and the Arabs interpret it as yet another victory for terror. The frustration is deepened by the fact that many leading military people consider Gaza and its 25-mile coastline to be of immense strategic value.

Arab pledges of quiet and peace are risible. Even now, there are daily killings and rocket attacks, and daily our government mumbles things about not withdrawing under fire. The inmates have taken over the asylum, and they do not deign to explain their position. Instead, those opposed to the withdrawal are stigmatized for “incitement.” Democratic norms are falling by the wayside in order to bulldoze this program through.

Surely if there ever was any doubt about the bankruptcy of the secular Zionist idea, the heavy-handedness of this policy – the stubborn refusal to permit a referendum, for example, and the de-legitimization and demonization of all opposition – and the expulsion of Jews by Jews from Jewish land is surely the final nail in its coffin.

The haredi community is clearly against the evictions, but they say little about it. One has a sense that they are not surprised by a government that would betray its own supporters and evicts Jews from their own land. In effect, their silence says that one cannot expect better from people who are divorced from their religious roots, for whom this land is like any other and possesses no intrinsic holiness or Divine favor. Still, one would like to see them protest strongly against what is taking place, even if only on the moral level. They do get very exercised over the desecration of ancient Jewish graves. Are the living any less deserving of their solicitude and concern? They are able to turn out thousands to protest Shabbat violations. Political and strategic considerations may not concern them, and one does not expect them to sport orange bracelets, but is not Lev. 19:16 – Lo taamod al dam re-echa /”Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor” – a Torah mitzvah? May a Jew stand idly by while tens of thousands of innocent Jews are forcibly evicted from their homes by fellow Jews?

During a recent visit to the USA, I had the clear impression that American Orthodox Jews are not at all exercised by what is taking place. Reflecting this relative indifference, the world’s largest Orthodox rabbinic body, the Rabbinical Council of America, issued a tepid statement about the withdrawal, neither endorsing nor condemning it. This is ironic, because the RCA identifies itself with the Israeli kippah serugah /Centrist Orthodox group who are vociferously opposed to the withdrawal. Instead, the RCA takes refuge behind the cliches of urging Israel to use democratic processes and to strive for national unity. In a perfunctory nod towards the pioneers of Gaza, they add that “if an evacuation occurs it should be done with the greatest honor and sensitivity toward those who gave of their being at the behest of every single Israeli government to settle these parts of Israel.” This is as close as it gets to any sympathy for the Jews of Gaza. In the same breath, it “empathizes …with Israel’s security forces in this situation.” In effect the RCA takes no position at all on the morally obtuse issues involved.
This American Jewish passivity is a result of their physical distance from the scene of crisis. One prays that it is not also a spiritual distance. And their constant exposure to the pervasive media bias against the “extremist settlers” is also a contibuting factor.

The gradual distortion of the image of the Jewish Gaza residents: First they were idealists and heroes who risked everything to settle barren land in hostile territory. Then, when it suited the world media, they became “settlers” and their built-up towns “settlements”; and now, in keeping with the government’s needs, they have became magically transmogrified into right-wing extremists and violent fanatics. From pioneering heroes to dangerous extremists in a few short years: the power of the spinmeisters and the media. But one suspects that a goodly portion of the Israeli public is not taken in by all this attempted brain-washing.

Many Israeli soldiers, particularly the religious ones, are agonizing over whether to obey orders to evict. The army, on the other hand, has its own dilemma; it cannot permit individual soldiers to decide what orders to obey or disobey. One cannot run an army this way.
The dilemma is real, especially for Jews who recall Nazi defense pleas that they were only following orders. Former Chief Sephardi rabbi, R. Mordecai Eliyhau, when asked about this dilemma, was hard put to give a clear response, and finally said that if a soldier does follow orders, he should at least do so with a tear in his eye.
This week, 150 Jews – many of them women and children – who in sympathy had taken up residence in an old Gaza hotel, were evicted by a force of over 1000 soldiers. They were dragged out on all fours, pulled by their hair or their legs. The soldiers showed a great deal of enthusiasm. One hopes that they at least sighed; they certainly had no tears in their eyes. Some of the men were even dragged out by their tzitzis. A nightmare thought flashes across the mind: are beards and peos next?

How would the world have reacted if the Israeli army were expelling Arabs from their homes, dragging them by their kefiyahs? Would the UN not strongly condemn Israel’s “Nazi like” tactics? Would the US State Dept. not issue a warning note? Would Amnesty International not protest Israel’s use of violence against innocent civilians? And would not the world’s media be quick to feature the brutality of the “occupation army”? But here the world looks on with equaniminity. Israel is even praised for its “courage.” The Jew being evicted from his home is perfectly congruent with the world’s view of reality.

Rachel Corrie was a young American radical who came to Israel to help the Arabs. The group to which she belonged considers “armed struggle” to be “a Palestinian right.” This past year, Israel was destroying buildings that concealed tunnels through which terrorist weapons were being smuggled. Rachel deliberately jumped in front of an Israeli army bulldozer and was accidentally killed. Investigations determined that her death was in fact accidental. But no matter. She became an overnight heroine and martyr of the international Left. And now in London there is a play about her life, glorifying the cause of the Arabs and, of course, maligning all of Israel.
One waits in vain for the same London theater to produce a play about the hundreds of Israeli women who have been cold-bloodedly butchered by the Arabs in the past few years. About these Jewish Rachels there is only silence. After all, they had it coming to them; they are brutal occupiers. The mothers and daughters killed while riding a bus; the brides murdered in cafes; the many other Jewish Rachels – all brutal occupiers. This London play is exactly that: a play, a game, with no connection to reality. It gives martyrology a bad name.

Somehow, although the recrudescence of anti-Semitism in Europe is worrisome, the very thought of Jews fighting other Jews in the land of the Jews is far more depressing. We Jews managed to survive in the Galut despite the venomous hatred all around us. But when we are put in charge of our own destiny, we do not do such a good job. Despite the tremendous strides this little country has made in its brief modern history, the gnawing question keeps recurring: Will we be able to survive as a Jewish nation in a Biblical land that is governed by Jews on behalf of Jews?

I am glad that orange is the chosen symbol of solidarity with the Gaza pioneers. It is a color of life, and hope, and promise, and freshness – qualities which are presently not in abundant supply.

May we be blessed from above with much orange.

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13 Responses

  1. Zev says:

    Rabbi Feldman: A wonderful post, although one poignant and sad. I believe that many individual Jews of the diaspora would wish to protest what is happening, but have no forum in which to express their feelings.

  2. mike says:

    Tom Friedman has an excellent article in today’s (july 13) Times explaining Ariel Sharon’s position.

  3. Hanan says:

    What Sharon had in mind?

    As a rabbi told me, its pretty simple. You either give up the land or give all arabs the same rights just as every other Jews. Annex the terretories and allow every single Arab to live in Israel as an equal citizen. For me, thats much more dangerous than handing over Gaza. You absolutely cannot occupy anothe nation and hope eveything goes well. I wish the arabs were banished a long time ago and Jews settled happily there, but thats not reality. There is no way this situation can go on with settlements existing in between millions of arabs and having our soldiers that for the most part,dont want to be there.

    Regarding the people taking residence in the motel. I need to feel sympathy for them? I dont feel sympathy for people that take residence in a motel, knowing fully that they have to leave. They new very well that they would have to be dragged out there forcebly if they dident on their own. They are playing the exact game the arabs played with the media. “He were all innocent here, look at these barbaric soldiers and what their doing to us.”

    Your right, the world would not look favoribly if Israel tried to kick arabs out of their homes. But the rest of the world sees these settlements as illegal. They want the Jews out of there just as much as the Israeli govt wants. This isent something illegal that they are doing. Was it “Nazi like” when the Yamit was cleared out. Give me a break, your doing your own brain-washing and mulipulating here by comparing the two.

    “Lo taamod al dam re-echa /”Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor”
    By the blood of thy neighbor- thats a good one. I can certainly use that psuk and use it to defend the fact that if we stay there, we would need to give freedom and rights to all those arabs, which in turn would lead to the demographics changing with more of an Arab population in Israel, which in turn would cause much more evil to befall “my neighbor.”

    “governed by Jews on behalf of Jews”

    Do you understand that it will never happen unless we rid ourselves from the Arabs. Face it, we took the land that they lived on. I have no problem with that. But usually when a country takes land as spoils or for other reasons, they “rid” themselves of the inhabitants. Israel never did this. So your hopping that the Jews can live within a bunch of arabs and everything will be peacefull. Sharon knows hes not going to get anything out of this, except for the fact that he realizes that we can’t go on like this. You are doing your full share of brainwashing here constructing your sentences in showing how barbaric the soldiers are and their lack of sympathy and even though you did not say it, you are obviously inferring what the Nazis did. Those bumper stickers that read “Yehudi lo megaresh yehudi”, thats a lovely slogan, but just cause a bumper sticker says that, doesent make it anything binding. All of your crying about a Jews that have been killed by Arabs is irrelevant. Thats not what this disengagment is about. Its about the future of a Jewish Israel, not a Jewish nation with an Arab population. Holding of the arabs in the territories by the sword will never work. No nation has had that luck.

    If you want to kill ever single arab there and take their land at least say that flat out. If not, than whats the solution. Leaving the matters as they are today? It cant be done. Israel will lose, I dont want to see that happen. Thats when you will have to say “”Lo taamod al dam re-echa” The last time I checked, Biblical Israel, as you want it, had the Philistines living in the area knows as Gaza. Im curious to know as to when exactly Jews had major control of that area.

    Sympathy, my sympathy lies with family of soldiers that died that have had to protect these settlments knowing full when there is no safe way to live amongst those barbaric arabs. My sympathy lies in “God Forbid” a day may come when Arab populates more of Israel than the Jews. How much blood will be spilled then?

  4. Sholom Simon says:

    You wanted to know what Sharon is thinking — perhaps it is merely a general’s cold pragmatic view that, in his opinion, he doesn’t think that defending 8,000 Jews amongst 1,000,000-plus Arabs is a good use of resources. A retreat to more defensible borders, so to speak.

    Please, everyone, don’t jump on my case. I already know that I don’t know everything that goes on there. I am merely guessing a response to the author’s comment of: “No one seems to understand what Sharon has in mind.”

    I think a number of people think they do know what is on his mind, and some of them are thinking the above.

  5. Netanel Livni says:

    An aspect of the Gaza expulsion plan which is consistently ignored is the tremendous Chilul Hashem involved. See Rashi on Yechezkiel 36:21. The retreat from our G-d given land desecrates the Honor of G-d and the Torah in the most public way possible. We are constantly concerned with the preservation of proper moral behavior in our society and this is of course one the central concerns of the Torah. But can a moral society truly exist when it does not fulfill its mission of preserving the honor of G-d’s name? To the extent that we protest this evil plan, the Chilul Hashem is reduced. I pray that if we protest and pray with strenght and conviction, perhaps we will be blessed with seeing this gzeira rescinded from up high.

  6. Joe Schick says:

    It seems to me that those of us in the U.S. – even if opposed to the Gaza withdrwawal – have a moral obligation to be cautious in expressing such opposition. We’re not the ones who serve reserve duty in Gaza.

    Furthermore, while I am opposed to the unilateral withdrawal, there are legitimate reasons for it, including the reality that 9000 Jews are surrounded by a million Arabs, most Israelis don’t want to be there, and too much of the IDF’s resources are tied up defending the Gaza residents.

  7. Doron says:

    The Haredim are doing the politically astute thing. If the point is to try to sway public opinion of the secular Jews in Israel, the further away the Haredim are from associating with this issue, the better.

  8. Moshe says:

    For all those who have fallen victim to Ariel Sharon’s propoganda of “9,000 Jews among 1,000,000 arabs”:

    The facts are not with you. Gush Katif is at the southern part of Gaza, almost at the border of Egypt, and is an exceedingly vital strategic point to hold onto. The Arabs are situated far to the North. There are some smaller cities in the south, but they don’t even approach one million arabs.

    Have any of you visited Gush Katif and tried to understand the strategic importance?
    1) They prevent Gaza from becoming a Hamas stronghold. Hamas has stated time and again that they want to destroy the entire zionist entity – not just the Jews in Gaza. Let’s give them a State so that they can actually continue their goal!
    2) The communities prevent weapon smuggling to a large extent. When the Israelis move out, the egyptians will be able to smuggle everything in.

    For an interesting video that gives a perspective on this, see here:

  9. Joel Rich says:

    The haredi community is clearly against the evictions, but they say little about it. One has a sense that they are not surprised by a government that would betray its own supporters and evicts Jews from their own land. In effect, their silence says that one cannot expect better from people who are divorced from their religious roots, for whom this land is like any other and possesses no intrinsic holiness or Divine favor.
    I have read in several places that the reason for the silence of the charedi parties regarding (and support in the Knesset for) the withdrawal is that financial support for charedi institutions by the government (a quid pro quo) is of higher priority. Do you disagree?
    Joel Rich

  10. Joseph says:

    Rabbi Feldman is disappointed in the stance American Orthodox groups have taken toward this debate in Israel; he ascribes it to distance. Indeed, distance gives one a different, perhaps more objective, perspective; this is recognized in Jewish law through the rules invalidating someone who is “nogei’ah be’davar” (connected to, or, with a direct interest in the matter) from testifying as a witness about the matter etc. Of course all Jews have a stake in the life of the State and People of Israel. But Rabbi Feldman’s post itself – “from the front” – speaks volumes about how being on the “front” impacts a persons perspective. To use references to Nazi acts and racist motivations with regard to the actions of a Jewish government’s actions toward its own citizens is misguided, ahistorical and offensive.
    One can critique Sharon’s plans and how he pushed it through the Cabinet etc., but at the end of the day this is an exercise of the Jewish government’s sovereignty with regard to its own citizenry and security – not a non-Jewish governent expelling Jews from its diaspora country for racist reasons. At the end of the day, Israel is a democracy, and if the settlers and their supporters were the majority or could convince the majority of their case, Sharon’s govt could have been brought down though the political process. American-Orthodox-religious-Zionists are very conflicted on this matter; because of their identification with the settlers, their respect for all those in Israel (including many of these American’s family members) who serve in the IDF and face daily risks of terrorism, and the appropriate role for them to play from a diaspora community.
    These factors and others – plus the more “objective” perspective “distance” provides might be worth consideration by those on “the front.”

  11. JZ says:

    Sharon’s calculus? Simple. Since he declared his disengagement plan he has been only been praised by the US and EU. Gone are the daily criticisms and condemnations of Israel. In that he has succeeded brilliantly.

  12. Joe Schick says:

    “The facts are not with you. Gush Katif is at the southern part of Gaza, almost at the border of Egypt, and is an exceedingly vital strategic point to hold onto. The Arabs are situated far to the North. There are some smaller cities in the south, but they don’t even approach one million arabs.”

    What about Khan Yunis, which surrounds (or is surrounded by, depending on one’s perspective) the Gush Katif yeshuvim, and has a population of 200,000?

  13. Hanan says:

    I saw this link

    Basically discussing the settlers at Ganim (west bank) leaving their homes.

    Home come no flags for them, no protests, no tears, no mention? Is it possible because they are a secular settlement? Perhaps. Or is it because they realize the the Govt is the one that allowed them to settle there in the first place and now are telling them they have to leave. Real big heroes all the settlers are , religious or secular. Its the Israeli gov’t that lay the foundations for them to move to these areas. Would they have set foot inside there before ’67? And now, religious people are inclined to constantly use Nazi analogies to denounce the very same people gave them the land to build their homes.

    Is your only problem Gush Qatif? Would you be happier if we kept Gush Qatif and gave back the rest of the settlements in Gaza? What would you tell the families of those other settlements that are loosing their homes? “Sorry, your home is not strategic enough to keep”

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