Ours is not a nation like all others

It is easy to maintain the moral high ground in peacetime, but harder when you're afraid to get on a bus.

olive harvesters 224 88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olive harvesters 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It was during the first Lebanon War; I was with my artillery unit above the Beirut-Damascus highway. After a quiet few days, suddenly a barrage of Syrian rockets landed on our position. We quickly dashed into a trench to regroup. With missiles falling all around us, I turned to a fellow comrade-in-arms and said: "Do you think we should reevaluate our Zionist commitment?" A few years later, after the first intifada broke out, my oldest daughter went to the central bus station in Jerusalem to meet a friend. She wore a T-shirt with the words "Freedom for the Press." This was to offset another T-shirt being worn at the time by those who justified the harsh responses on the part of the Israeli army to the Palestinian uprising, and who blamed the media for exaggerating the IDF's actions, - "The People Against Hostile Press." When she arrived at the bus station she was surrounded by a number of people who verbally assaulted her, and she quickly became a "traitor" and Arafat's "whore." WHEN SHE returned home, before she could tell us what happened, her first words were: "Abba, now I know what it feels like to be an Arab." Stunned, I asked myself how it was possible that I, who had been an activist all my life, could have remained silent during this intifada, when it was clear that Israeli's response was overly harsh? I was reminded of the talmudic dictum: "If you see someone in your household committing a crime and do nothing to stop that person, you are held accountable for the crimes of the entire household." And so, to alleviate my daughter's pain, to ease my conscience, to assume accountability and ultimately to reevaluate - not my Zionist commitment, but the type of Zionism to which I was committed - I drafted a letter to a number of colleagues in the hope of establishing a rabbinic voice for decency and humanity. Thus was born Rabbis for Human Rights, whose theological world view embraces a universal and humanistic understanding of Judaism; that sees Jewish national identity forged in the Sinai wilderness, where we received a divine mandate to reject the abuse of power that enslaved us and create a new social order, based on a prophetic vision of justice and equality. A PEOPLE that aspires to such a lofty prophetic ethic is put to the test when it is threatened. It is easy to maintain the moral high ground in peacetime, far more challenging when one is afraid to get on a bus, or go to a restaurant or enter a mall. And, there should be no doubt, when one's physical well-being is threatened, civil liberties are compromised. Collective responsibility cuts both ways. One cannot vote for Hamas, whose declared goal is to eliminate the Jewish state and is realized through suicide bombings, Kassam rockets, kidnappings and turning the West Bank and Gaza into another Southern Lebanon, and expect no repercussions. And yet, despite these hostile actions and the ever-growing attempts to delegitimize Israel as a rightful state among the nations of the world, we must not deny the spiritual, emotional and historical attachments of others to their homeland. That's why I support two states for two peoples. And despite the double standards employed to judge the Jewish state, we must not use the lowest common denominator as a yardstick to justify actions that are contrary to Jewish values. After all, if we adopt the tactics of our enemies we will become the mirror-image of those who haunt our worst nightmares. WE DID NOT return to our homeland to become a nation like all other nations. It is too easy - a slippery slope - to justify all manner of human rights abuses and excessive acts of collective punishment under the guise of national security or Jewish survival. Just as we preserve the body of Israel, we must also sustain its soul, recognizing all the nuances and sensitivities and complexities in balancing one's physical security with one's moral integrity. Therefore, Rabbis for Human Rights will continue to care for "the orphan, the widow and the stranger." You will find us standing with those Palestinians who want only to pick their olives and harvest their grapes, free of harassment; defending those Arabs who want to build a home without fear of demolition; protecting foreign laborers from draconian work conditions; advising the economically deprived and the socially disenfranchised of their basic rights; engaging in interfaith activities; promoting religious tolerance for different life-styles and for all streams in Judaism; advocating for the release of Israeli kidnapped and missing soldiers; and educating Israelis about the value of human rights as a bulwark of a Jewish and democratic state. The rabbis tells us that God created Adam from the dust of the four corners of the world - red loam, black soil, yellow clay and white sand - so that no color or race of human being can say that this earth, this land does not belong to me. For Rabbis for Human Rights this is the essence of our Judaism and Zionism - to care for our own and for the other; and to create a society, as Theodore Herzl wrote in his Jewish State, "that aspires to spiritual an0d moral wholeness."