Waking up to the morning news today, I thought of a D’var Torah from a couple months back, written by Rabbi Michael Shire of Leo Baeck College for Parsha Vayikra:
How can we say anything in the face of daily outrages on all sides [in the regions of conflict around the world]? Why should we commit ourselves when our families are relatively safe? The world is so politically complicated – how can we know what is right or fair or just? As we feel more and more isolated, it is precisely the time to become more engaged not less. Regaining the prophetic message is to open the possibility of encounter and negotiation yet one more time. We have to be dedicated to our task of peacemaking in as strong a way as those who go to war.
…Mark Ellis, an American Jewish Activist reminded the Rabbinic conference last year that though Jews perform many good deeds in the world, the Jewish people will be judged on how we treat the Palestinians. This is our particular trial and we will be counted for it whether we like it or not. It must therefore be our prophetic task, especially as Liberal Jews to take the risk, reluctant though we may be to meet, dialogue and be ready to be challenged by those who have suffered at our hands and now seek justice. In the words of one of the great modern Jewish prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel, ‘in a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible.’ To do nothing is to abrogate our calling. For, as Heschel wrote in the 1960s, ‘the opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference’.
I’m not sure that I like all the vocabulary Rabbi Shire uses, but I think he’s right to emphasise that we all have a responsibility to work for justice, and that we have a particular responsibility for the welfare of Palestinians. And as complicated as some political situations may be, the basics are very simple: everyone is entitled to food, to shelter, to medical care. It is a communal responsibility to provide these, to stand up for those who provide them.
This isn’t about Israel’s right to defend itself, which I do not dispute. This is about the means by which Israel may legitimately defend itself. It is not legitimate for Israel to “defend” itself from humanitarian aid, and in such a violent way. It is not legitimate for Israel to claim that it has disengaged from Gaza while maintaining control of the supplies that enter Gaza, effectively cutting off food and medical supplies.