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.
GOODBYE SECULAR ZIONISM
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.
TO FOLLOW ORDERS?
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?
EXPULSION OF ARABS
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.
MARTYROLOGY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME
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.
COLOR HOPE ORANGE
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.