As I sit in my comfortable home in Massachusetts, rockets are being fired from Gaza at my nephew in Israel. He is the son of an Israeli, an almost-fluent Hebrew speaker, and he is currently studying Arabic. He believes, like many Westerners do, in the power of dialogue and the goodness of humanity. He wants to learn Arabic so he can help make peace. As this war goes on, my nephew is wondering about a friend of his in Gaza. His friend, a peace-loving person like himself, may be one of one-in-five children who are casualties in Gaza. How will he know if she dies? he wonders. When she stops posting to Facebook?
But while he sits wondering this, suffering in his heart for his fellow youth in Gaza, Hamas is trying to kill him. This is not "theoretically trying to kill him if they could" or "hating all Jews and Israelis in general." They are actively trying to kill anyone in Israel with rockets and tunneling underground to abduct or murder anyone they can find. Thankfully my nephew is currently not in a target area, and youth traveling to Israel have been kept safe in regions out of harm's way. Israelis, however, who are within Hamas' ever-growing range are frequently running to bomb shelters. Some have died of heart attacks from the stress. Others have been injured. If it wasn't for Iron Dome, with Hamas rockets aimed at civilian centers, things would be much, much worse.
To halt these attacks, the Israeli Defense Force has brought the fight into Gaza, and Gaza has once again become a hell-hole. I believe Israel has done everything it can to protect civilians, but in a densely-populated area, no matter how many leaflets Israelis drop as warning, no matter how many phone calls or texts they send to evacuate, no matter how many times they "knock" on a roof by sending an unarmed projectile to clear the area, the Palestinians in Gaza have no real place to run. Where are they supposed to go? They suffer and die. This bolsters Hamas' narrative to claim their own people's deaths as martyrdom and justify their attacks.
Israel is in an impossible position. Let me illustrate by putting you in a situation that is actually happening to Israelis right now: Hamas terrorists are shooting rockets at your children. In order to stop them, you have to shoot and kill them, but in order to do so, you will inevitably kill Palestinian children as well. Do you shoot? Or do you let them shoot your kids?
The Talmud teaches both about the sanctity of life and the right to self-defense. It says that if you save one life, you save an entire world, and if you take a life, you destroy an entire world. It also says that you may not commit murder to save your own life, "for who knows whose blood is redder?" At the same time, killing in defense is not considered murder: "If someone comes to kill you, rise up first and kill them" (Sanhedrin 37a, 72a, 74a). Every decision to take a life in our defense is a moral struggle.
So what do you do? Of course you shoot. You shoot because you love your kids, because if the choice is my kids or theirs, you save your children. Horribly, even ten of their kids to protect my kid. Even though I know that a Palestinian life is equal to an Israeli life, you are now talking about my one, my only one, whom I love. There is an end to philosophy. You shoot and try to minimize civilian deaths as best you can. You shoot and save your children, and you deal with the nightmares later.
Who is responsible for creating this situation in the first place? Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other such groups and the people who support them in Iran, Syria, and elsewhere are absolutely to blame. Let there be no moral equivocation. Many misunderstand and think that Hamas is interested in freedom. They are not. Hamas' core desire is to kill Jews on "their" land. Their motives are zealously religious and antisemitic. (They also happen to be anti-Christian, anti-women, and anti-gay.) If they were interested in territory or freedom, they would have accepted one of the numerous two-state solutions that have been negotiated. More tellingly, Hamas has stolen humanitarian aid meant for the Palestinian people and used it for their weaponry. For example, the donated concrete meant to build schools and hospitals has been used instead to hold up Hamas' attack tunnels.
The historical record is clear: the Palestinians in Gaza overwhelming elected Hamas in 2006. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas just agreed to a unity government with Hamas. The Palestinians are now paying an immeasurable price and suffering for their decision.
I, too, want the suffering of Palestinians to stop. I do not wish for the death of my nephew's friend in Gaza. I pray she is safe. I do not believe the caricatures of all-Muslims-as terrorists, and I reject hatred and bigotry. I also reject the "death to Arabs" culture among Jewish settlers and those who support them. There should be no place for such an abomination in the Jewish heart.
But the Palestinians and anyone who is pro-Palestine also needs to reject Hamas, loudly and clearly, as well as the anti-Semitism that is appearing at pro-Palestine demonstrations all over the world. Anyone of conscience should be disgusted by chants of "Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas!" And where were all of these protests and riots while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was massacring thousands of his own people? Where were the "die-ins" on American college campuses or the thousands demonstrating in London and Paris when Arabs were dying of chemical weapons? Where is the mention of the Palestinians being starved to death by the Syrian army in their refugee camps outside Damascus? It is only the Jewish State, defending itself, that sparks such fiery indignation and protests, and that selective outrage only at Israel is also a form of antisemitism.
I pray for peace, but I believe in self-defense. I support what Israel must do, and I also "do not rejoice when my enemy falls" (Proverbs 24:17). There will only be peace when hate is rejected first. Then my nephew can talk to his friend in Gaza in Arabic about the future.