I am shaken by the videos from Israel. Rockets flying. People of all ages racing to and huddled in bomb shelters. Terrible violence on the streets in communities where Arabs and Jews have peacefully coexisted. Israeli ground troops prepared at the Gaza border. Destruction on all sides. Why is this happening and how did we get here so quickly?
Acknowledging the (too) long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its ongoing challenges, analysts believe three events "triggered" (better said, provided an excuse) what is currently happening:
- The Palestinians were supposed to have elections this month for the first time since 2006. Polls indicated that Hamas would do quite well against the Fatah party, which rules the West Bank. Those elections were canceled by current Palestinian President (and Fatah leader) Mahmoud Abbas, whose four-year term began in 2006. Canceling elections angered not only Hamas, but Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza.
- Israel’s Supreme Court was preparing to rule on a property rights dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem between a small number of Arab residents and Jewish Israelis who own those homes. This landlord/tenant case has been going on for almost 40 years. The Jewish owners (who publicly could have dealt with this issue differently) of those buildings wish to evict the Arabs for not paying rent. The Court postponed its ruling as tensions rose, but Hamas and its allies seized on the possibility of evictions to stir up anger in the streets of Jerusalem. Here is an excellent legal backgrounder on the issue.
- On Monday, when the court ruling was expected, Israelis marked Yom Yerushalayim, the annual celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem. It also coincided with the end of Ramadan. Tensions between Arabs and Israelis had been rising for weeks, and major issues developed on the Temple Mount at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinian leaders proclaimed that Israeli forces were preventing worshipers from visiting the mosque. The Israeli police reported they had been pelted with stones thrown by the worshipers.
Sadly, this confluence of events provided "cover" for Hamas to begin launching rockets indiscriminately into Israel. It has now erupted into a major military operation -- Operation Guardian of the Walls. Israel did not seek this conflict.
Bassem Eid (who has spoken here in Portland), a Palestinian living in Israel who has an extensive career as a Palestinian human rights activist, wrote, “This is about Hamas seeing a chance to seize the narrative and increase its own influence and control over Palestinians in Jerusalem. Don’t buy their fake news and let them dilute their own blame. In the coming days, Jews and Muslims are both likely to die because Hamas saw political upside in violence. Don’t forget it.”
Like you, I am distraught over the deadly violence and barrage of 2000+ rockets that have spread across Israel in recent days. Like any nation, Israel has the right and responsibility to defend herself.
The reality is that the people of Israel, many of whom are our friends and family, are under constant threat. Schools are closed, homes are damaged, and people are being forced to seek shelter at a moment’s notice. The lives of people across Israel are being upended by this horrifying situation, and trauma is being felt by everyone in the country. And I feel for the innocent Palestinians in Gaza who have sadly been dragged into this by Hamas.
Throughout the conflict, we have remained in close contact with our global partner agencies who are now working tirelessly to protect and support the many innocent victims in cities across Israel. We have opened an Israel Emergency Fund – along with Jewish Federations from across North America. The continental goal is to raise $1.5 million in the next 72 hours. 100% of all funds raised will go to human services:
- Needed trauma and psychological services to help address current needs and those who will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Immediate emergency financial assistance to help in the aftermath of an attack
- Virtual services to help those living with disabilities stay connected and get the assistance they need during rocket attacks and the aftermath
- Deploying new technologies to monitor the health and well-being of thousands of Holocaust survivors
- Assist first responders (rescue workers, crisis response teams, property disaster assessors, etc.) who are working 24/7 to help with their own stress, coping, and respite.
Beyond the rockets, what troubles me the most is seeing what is taking place on the streets of communities where Arabs and Jews have coexisted for many years. Israeli Arab extremists, incensed by events on the Temple Mount and angry about the war with Hamas, have attacked, shot and lynched Jews. Jewish extremists with ultra-nationalist views have attacked, shot and lynched Arabs. It is abhorrent!
Israel President Reuven Rivlin wrote an Op-Ed imploring, “I call on all the rioters – stop and do not make things worse, we are one society, one country." And in a meeting with mayors across Israel he said, "Condemn these events outright. Do not allow them to happen. We are better than this. Our home is on fire, and we don’t have another one. We are determined to maintain the security of our citizens, and that determination must direct us in dealing with the violence that is raging on the streets of Israel. This is home to us all, and we all bear the right and the duty to protect it."
We will watch what transpires over the next few days. But there should be no misunderstanding -- this was a war started by Hamas. Leaders of the European Parliament, not always the most friendly to Israel, spoke clearly, “If we fail to hold Hamas and Islamic Jihad responsible for all casualties, it will only incentivize them to strike time and again, bringing ever more suffering to the Jewish state and the people of Gaza."
New York Congressman Richie Torres may have said it best, “Circulating on social media in particular is a vicious lie, a lie that deceptively reframes the terrorism of Hamas as self-defense and deceptively reframes the self-defense of Israel as terrorism.”
As a deeply committed Jewish community, we stand in solidarity with our family in Israel and pray for their safety and well-being. We recognize the suffering of all people, and we look forward to a de-escalation to this conflict and an end to the senseless violence that threatens the welfare and safety of all who hope for peace. Above all, we remain steadfast in our support for the people and nation of Israel.
Sunday night begins the holiday of Shavuot
. Shavuot combines two major religious observances – the grain harvest of the early summer and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
There are a number of customs associated with the holiday. We eat dairy (cheesecake anyone?), recite Hallel, the Psalms of Praise, observe Yizkor, the memorial service, read from the Book of Ruth, and many Jews participate in a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night study session marking the holiday.
This Shavuot, sadly, Jews in Israel may be unable to learn as they stay up all night in bomb shelters, worrying about their family's safety and security.
Shabbat shalom, chag Shavuot sameach (please note the Jewish Federation office will be closed on Monday and Tuesday), may we see an end to the violence, and Am Yisrael Chai!