gaza beach hamas 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The debate rages on, now that Gaza has been officially overrun by Hamas. With the border with Israel virtually sealed - no one in or out - the situation of the Strip's residents is sure to deteriorate as time goes on. Food and vital services will dwindle, Egypt will offer nothing more than token assistance, and - you guessed it - Israel will be asked to once again bail out its worst enemies.
But should we?
Jewish tradition would see this scenario as a classic clash of values. On the one hand, the Torah is very outspoken about the need to show mercy at all times and in all situations, even in war. Thus, we are commanded, before waging war, to seek and sue for peace with our enemies (with the notable exception of our arch-enemy, Amalek), and not to surround the enemy on all four sides, so as to leave him an escape route.
We also have practical examples of treating the enemy with kindness, rather than cruelty. When a large segment of the Aramean army surrenders to Israel's forces, in an incident recorded in the Book of Kings II:6, Israel's King Yehoram considers wiping them out. But the Prophet Elisha, presumably reflecting Divine morality, convinces him to spare the soldiers, who are given a sumptuous meal and sent back, untouched, to Aram.
ON THE other hand, Jewish law strongly upholds the principle of self-defense and dictates that when threatened with mortal danger we do all in our power to weaken an enemy and frustrate its evil designs. This would include a preemptive strike, such as the attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor or the Six Day War's strike against Arab air fields.
We would certainly be under no obligation to assist any country or entity that declares, as its central goal, "the violent elimination of the Zionist entity." As the Yiddish saying goes, in adding a footnote to the maxim "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice:" "But you don't have to help him up, either!"
The bottom line of Jewish law, I believe, is that we must turn in this instance to the real professionals in the field, the military experts, to advise us of exactly what danger we face. We have to depend upon their assessment of the situation on the ground to choose between the two approaches. If they say that we are in no real danger, at least for the short term, then we can afford to take a low-key approach, offering certain services as an incentive for Gaza to "play nice" and cool its anti-Israel rhetoric and behavior.
If, however, they counsel that this is a war waiting to happen, we certainly should not do anything to facilitate our enemy's position. On the contrary, we should already be preparing for the conflict to come.
IN THE past, unfortunately, the opinion of our best military minds has not only been brushed aside, it has been downright defied. When former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, for example, advised against the disengagement in the strongest terms, he was booted out of office. The political powers that be were determined to proceed with this folly, danger be damned. Ya'alon's dire prediction that Gaza would be turned into a giant terrorist training center and staging ground for attacks on Israel was right on the mark but, alas, his warnings went unheeded.
"A time for peace, a time for war," says Ecclesiastes.
The challenge is being on our watch, and knowing just what time it is.
The writer is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana. [email protected]