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Jeremy Ben-Ami Headshot

Gaza, Morality, and the Jews

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It's true - I'm not a rabbi. My closest connection to the clergy is that I married the daughter of the cantor from the Reform synagogue where I grew up.

I have grown up, however, with a strong sense of right and wrong. My mother, who fled the Nazis from Austria in 1938, instilled it in me. She lost her beloved grandmother in the Terezenstadt concentration camp and gained a wariness of anyone with moral certitude.

Death from ethnic and racial conflict wasn't far from my father either. His grandfather died in the early 1880s from malaria, caught sleeping in his orange groves to protect them from nighttime raids by local Arab gangs in what was then Palestine.

Like so many, I inherit a legacy of death and suffering spanning generations. To my mind, there's been nothing "right" in the violence and death that plagued my family and the Jewish people. And I see plenty of wrong and little "right" in the never-ending spiral of violence that plagues the Israeli and Palestinian peoples today.

If my children, my young Israeli cousins and the young children of my Palestinian colleagues and friends are to grow up in a world that's any different, any better, than we've inherited - then the great challenge for both sides is to abandon the quest for moral certainty and for proof that absolute truth resides only with their people.

I condemn the rockets and suicide bombers of Hamas in unequivocal terms. I recognize (as does my organization, J Street) that Israel has the right - even the obligation - to use its military power as appropriate to protect and defend its citizens. I feel the suffering and the terror of the people of Sderot. Living in Jerusalem decade ago, I myself barely escaped a suicide bomber in Jerusalem's central market.

But I see as well the personal suffering of the Palestinian people - particularly in Gaza - and I condemn it.

The broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply complex - morally and politically. There are many victims, and enough blood and guilt to go around. One round of violence can't be viewed in isolation from the rounds that came before. And breaking the never-ending cycle of violence requires acknowledging and addressing grievances that feed the anger fueling the violence.

Recognizing this complexity is key to reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Without letting go of the certainty that they are each right, neither people will ever break free of the crushing, decades-long cycle of violence. How can those who believe they have a monopoly on truth make the deep and painful compromises required to resolve this conflict?

It is "moral" and necessary to challenge those in this country who see only one side of this epic conflict - both those who refuse to acknowledge the suffering of the people of Gaza and those who refuse to condemn the terror wrought by Hamas on southern Israel.

As a Jew, I am pained to read of the 1,000 people at a pro-Israel rally in a Washington synagogue cheering after a member of Congress said, "something is rotten in Gaza, and it's time to take out the trash." As a Jew, I am pained by every "Death to Israel" sign at a rally to promote Palestinian rights.

I remain deeply committed to working for the day when the two sides, the two peoples, recognize that their only future is to live in two independent states side by side in peace and security. Finding the formula for dividing this small land is their only hope to get past the death and destruction, the fear and the terror.

My inspiration, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously said: "Enough of blood and tears. Enough. The time for peace has come." His absence has been so felt, his leadership so missed, for these thirteen long years.

This is neither a morally deficient view of the world - nor a naive one. Recognizing the suffering of the other is not moral equivalence, it is simply moral. And it is, in fact, the only hope for our peoples.