Three of my rabbinical colleagues have just written a letter to clarify J Street’s position with respect to Gaza and its “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and right to self-defence.” I presume that their posting was motivated by the massive wave of support for Rabbis For Israel’s Mission Statement over these past few weeks, which has been signed onto by hundreds of rabbis from all over the world (see
Nearly the whole of their posting dealt with the need for Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza, which, in their view, serves to deepen “the misery and anger in the territory that fuel hatred and violence.” Indeed, they argue that the effect of the closure is actually to “empower rather than weaken Hamas.”
What they fail to note, however, is that Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a violent putsch back in June 2007, whereas the naval blockade was only imposed in January 2009 long after Hamas starting launching rocket attacks against Israel. I would, therefore, respectfully question the logic of their argument.
They refer us to J Street’s website, which “urges Israel to ease restrictions on students from Gaza attending universities in the West Bank and overseas if they pose no security risk. What better way to fight extremism in Gaza,” argues J Street, “than to help young Palestinians obtain a better education?”
Once again, it sounds good, but the logic is faulty. Mohamed Atta studied architecture at Cairo University and was subsequently a student at Hamburg’s Technical University. Waleed al-Shehri was an elementary school teacher. Abdulaziz al-Omari graduated from Imam Muhammed Ibn Saud University, while Satam Muhammed Abdel al-Suqami and Majed Moqed were both law students when they were recruited by Al-Qaeda to attack the World Trades Center.
We all share the desire for a peaceful Middle East. However, the first step must be a realistic assessment of the political realities. Abu Mazen isn’t holding elections long overdue, because the Palestinian Authority fears that Hamas will win them – and this on the West Bank, whose economy is booming! The argument that making people’s lives more prosperous deters them from violence is not borne out by the facts. The Gaza Strip is a Hamas stronghold aided and abetted by Iran. No easing of the blockade or rise in living standards is going to change that. Iran is not a poor country, but its government still refers to the United States as Satan and its president has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel.
As someone who lives in Israel, I have more to gain than my three rabbinical colleagues from a peace agreement with the Palestinians. However, most people over here in Israel recognize that until the Palestinians put their own house in order and are prepared to be realistic in terms of the compromises that they will have to make in the name of peace (including forgoing a right of return for the descendants of the “Naqba” of sixty-two years ago), there is little hope of reaching that goal.
Maybe, instead of calling on Israel to relax its blockade on Gaza, J Street should be demanding that Hamas abolish its charter calling for our destruction, rather than simply expressing its support for “internationally mediated efforts to bring Hamas and its supporters into a political process based on non-violence and acceptance of a negotiated peace outcome.” Such verbage isn’t going to change anything. The Quartet has repeatedly called on the political leadership in the Gaza Strip to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and respect previous agreements between the PLO and Israel as a condition for receiving Western aid. However, these demands have been consistently rejected by the Hamas, even if some people keep repeating the mantra.
In the Middle East – and probably not only here – it’s not enough to be well-meaning. You also have to be realistic, keep your feet firmly on the ground and have a great deal of patience!
Rabbis For Israel