Parshat Shelach

Shabbat Shalom

In our parsha this week we see the effects of good propaganda. 12 spies go into the Promised Land and all 12 see the same sights, the good land, the rich soil, the strong cities and the local population. And yet they come back with different stories. To ten of the spies, the land is unconquerable, the cities are too strong, the people too powerful. Only two of the spies report that although things looked bad, Israel could still defeat them.

That night, the ten spies go through the Israelite camp spreading their point of view about the inhabitants of the promised land. They were giants and in their eyes we were mere grasshoppers that would be easy to crush. The invasion would be a disaster and there is no way we can win this fight. By morning, the people had heard enough; they gathered together and demanded that they be allowed to go to back to Egypt.

We can ask: how could two groups of people who see the same things have such different interpretations of the event? I see this effect almost every Shabbat. At the kiddush after the service someone always asks me how I can possibly feel one way about something when I said nothing about it at all. People hear what they want to hear. People see what they want to see.

I read the many different accounts of the confrontation between Israel and the boats trying to break the Gaza blockade. I read many articles in Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper, and I checked out what MSNBC, the BBC and the New York Times had to say. I usually figure that if I read enough accounts of what happened I might be able to identify what is propaganda and put together a reasonable idea of what really happened. I certainly came across a lot of misinformation and stuff that was clearly inaccurate and biased.

After much reading and reflecting, I came to the conclusion that the whole event was becoming a rather sad case of “He hit me first”. The initial accounts did not make a case really for either side. You can see people with clubs beating Israeli soldiers yet the “eyewitnesses” interviewed by the BBC said that there were only two and a half “wooden batons” on the main ship where the fight broke out. I counted a lot more than two and a half batons. The first Israeli soldiers on board were met with stiff resistance. The eyewitnesses claim that Israel shot first, before the passengers had to defend themselves but Israel contends it was only shooting plastic bullets and stun guns and that only when their soldiers were in danger did they pull out the pistols with real ammunition. The only thing we can know for sure is that there was chaos on the deck, and as a result a lot of people were injured and nine were killed.

It also seems to me that peaceful people do not swing bats at soldiers who are carrying guns. I know that today it seems to be the big thing in protests to taunt the police or legal authorities to provoke them into a fight. We have seen anarchists burn cars, break windows and push police officers to dare and stop them. This does not seem to be much different. Only this time the soldiers feared for their lives. Seven soldiers were injured and two have serious injuries that include stab wounds. It was this fear that brought about the order to start shooting, and it seems that nine of the people on board have died.

If there is anything else to this story, it will have to come out in an inquiry into the event. I am hoping that Israel will gather together some international observers and together examine those who were present that night. It would be good to see what kind of report they might produce. I know that many of these reports have been one sided against Israel which is why I think Israel should create the inquiry and then invite the others to attend. If it is done in an open and honest way, it could make a difference.

The things that bother me about this event are the way almost all the media outlets have covered the story. There is a blockade around Gaza. It is there for a reason. I have yet to see any commentator note why there is a blockade at all. Israelis themselves are a bit mixed about why they need to blockade Gaza, with some Israeli journalist treating it like the embargo on Cuba, a lot of noise but not really doing anything of substance. In case you don’t remember, the blockade was started after Hamas drove the PLO from power in Gaza and then refused to make any deals with Israel. As the rockets flew, Israel, and then Egypt closed the borders and allowed only humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. After a woman was caught trying to get a medical pass so she could go and blow up an Israeli hospital, the sick are no longer routinely given passage out of Gaza.

After Gilad Shalit was captured, it has been the policy of Israel to link lifting the blockade to his safe return home. I have not seen this mentioned at all. I should note that Shalit is being held without any rights or the ability to use the Red Cross to contact his family. The Red Cross quickly visited the prison where the members of the flotilla are being held, and there were visits by the ambassadors of the countries where the detainees are citizens. This is another example of how knowing the right questions can help us understand the news better.

It should also be noted, and one can see this if you read carefully, there were seven boats in the flotilla on the way to Gaza. All seven were told to stop. One boat did stop and was not boarded. Five of the boats, the smaller ones, were boarded apparently without incident. And a British passenger on one of those boats called the Israelis professional and not abusive, verbally or otherwise. All of the fighting and all the casualties were on the large Turkish vessel. These boats were towed to Ashdod where 50 people asked to be sent home and they went home. 680 others, who would not cooperate with Israel, have been arrested and were deported this week to Jordan or put on planes to their country of origin.

Those of us who support Israel have long been conditioned to believe that the only thing that matters to the Palestinians is military force. Every time they shoot at us, we have to shoot back. Every time they fire a rocket, we have to retaliate. If we fail to respond to any attack our enemy will see this as a weakness and will cause them to attack even harder next time. It is a sad fact that violence breeds more violence. But it can only work if we let them hit us first.

The problem for Israel is that they often think that any incident requires a military response. To a certain extent, the terrorists have forced us to do what really is not in our own best interest. Israel has to fight when fighting may not be the best course of action. As a result, it seems that Israel is constantly reacting with a very heavy hand to any provocation. In recent years it seems that Israel has constantly turned to war when a measured response might be more effective. This is not the first time that Israel has killed unarmed protesters. Certainly Israel does not desire civilian casualties. There just has to be a better way.

I know that there are some who disagree with me, but killing all the Palestinians, moving them to some other country or beating them into submission is not a long term answer. The cycle of violence realistically can only be changed diplomatically. That means Israel will have to talk with her enemies. Those talks have had some progress when it comes to the PLO and the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, refuses to talk. Hamas is an organization of fanatics who are prepared to die for their cause. To remove them from power will take a lot of finesse. We can see from the case of Iran that removing fanatics is not an easy proposition. I believe that there will come a day when the Palestinians will resort to non-violent confrontation, and when they do, Israel must have other options besides military options.

I am sure that Turkey and Israel will get back on track eventually. There are a lot of reasons for having good relations between these two countries. Turkey knows that many of those on the ship were associated with terrorism, a problem that Turkey has had for almost a century. Even with an Islamic party in power, Turkey too is fighting insurgency and terror in the country and in the cities. I have noted that nobody is talking about the identity of those who have died. It interests me to know if the dead were members of the fanatic groups in Turkey. It is hard for me to imagine that the hard core humanitarians on board took up clubs and knives to beat Israeli soldiers.

So where does this leave us? What are we supposed to do as Israel gets, once again, held accountable in a way that no other country is held accountable? First of all we need to speak up about why there is a blockade and what Israel is trying to accomplish. Second we need to point out that Israel is not opposed to humanitarian aide, and in fact provides such aide and that all the aide captured from the flotilla will be forwarded to Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu this week, said that anyone who has humanitarian aide to send to Gaza is welcome to send it, as long as Israel can check it to see that weapons are not being smuggled inside the shipments. Israel offered to forward this aide to Gaza even before the flotilla was stopped and the people on the flotilla refused to let Israel deliver it on their behalf. Israeli soldiers are not monsters. Israel is trying to do the best it can in difficult circumstances.

Any death in this war is a terrible death. Any death in any war is a tragedy. It should only remind us that we need to find a way to bring Israel and the Palestinians together, to end the constant state of war and to work together to end the terror of Iran and her agents in Hamas and Hezbollah. We need an agreement similar to the one that ended the terror in Northern Ireland. We need to insist that any organization that wants a place at the negotiating table with Israel needs to renounce violence and grant political recognition to all the other parties at the table. If Protestants and Catholics can do it, then the Jews and Muslims can do it too. The sooner we find a way to end this war, the sooner these tragic deaths will end.

Boycotts, Blockade running and Propaganda will no longer be necessary when both sides make the decision to make peace. Getting both sides to the table should remain our top priority and we should not rest until Israel is able to live in peace with all her neighbors. It is already too late for these most recent deaths. It is already too late for the hundreds of victims of terror in Israel. Every day should bring us closer to the day when those in Israel can sleep in peace. May God send that blessing soon.

Amen and Shabbat Shalom

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