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Ki Tisa 5783                          March 11, 2023

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom

Shalom, Shalom. We say Shalom but there is no Shalom. Not in Israel. Not in our Jewish State.

Those of us who follow what happens in Israel closely understand that we are standing in a moment unlike any other moment in Israel’s history. Politically, Israel is going through something very much like the United States is going through. There is a battle of ideas and a cultural war that has brought thousands of Israelis into the streets, week after week to protest fundamental changes to the structure of the Israeli government. Politics in Israel is very personal, more so than here in our country. But that is not what I need to comment on today. The idea that Jews not in Israel have a right to comment on what happens in our Jewish State we can debate. But debate is not something that will undermine Israel. There is something else, something much more insidious that endangers Israel as she comes up on her 75th year of Independence.

Elana Stein, the Rosh Yeshiva in the United States for the Sholom Hartman Institute, mentioned this week a dialogue from the 1930’s, long before the State of Israel came into existence, between two great Jewish scholars. One was Dr. Nechama Leibowitz, a well know bible scholar who wrote a weekly Torah commentary and even had a radio program where she taught Torah on the air. The other was Dr. Hugo Bergman who would serve as the first director of the National Library in Israel even before there was a state.  The issue they were debating was the relationship between Jacob and Esau. In the Torah they come together and seem to forgive each other, but the animosity between them lasted through the ages. This is the crux of the argument between these two scholars who debated their positions in letters sent between them. (This was way before there was such a thing like texting or Twitter).

“So (Laibowitz), she says to him, don’t be naive. Don’t be naive. Just because we have a state doesn’t mean we’re not in danger. It doesn’t mean people don’t still wanna hurt us and we can’t forget our history. So (Bergman), he says to her, you’re doing the wrong thing in the time of a sovereign state, to still see this paradigm of us versus them. She says to him, just because we have a sovereign state doesn’t mean there’s no them that wants to get us and we should be aware.

… He writes back, and he says, you may think that I’m naive about the nations, but I think you’re naive about what we are capable of.” Elana Stein then adds her commentary, “And this is the money shot. I feel all the danger lies in ambush for us through the self-justification with which we educate ourselves as though we would’ve been better than others, given that we are all made of crooked wood like all human beings. But they, they are simply wicked. This argument between the two of them, “are you naive about what the nations of the world, about those who wish bad on the Jews? Are you naive that just because we have a state, you think those people don’t exist? Come on.”  And him saying to her, “you’re naive, you don’t think that we when we have power, we can be just as bad as anyone else?” Elana Stein notes; They’re both right. They’re both right.”

In late February, two young Jewish men, Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, brothers from an Israeli settlement near Nablus, traveling by car in the West Bank on their way to yeshiva, were murdered by terrorists. One day later, Elan Ganeles, American-Israeli from West Hartford, CT was fatally shot while driving on a highway by the Aqabat Jaber refugee camp near Jericho on his way to a friend’s wedding. These tragedies are only two of a series of terrorist attacks that have occurred in the last few months. Since the beginning of this year, it is reported that more than 60 Palestinians and 14 Israelis have died in incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The level of terrorism is rising leaving everyone on edge.

And the violence is escalating. Hundreds of Israeli settlers, mostly teens, rampaged violently for hours in the West Bank town of Huwara after the two Israeli brothers were shot dead in the terror attack there. They set fire to Palestinian homes and cars, attacked residents. The rampage lasted through the night and into the next day. They only stopped to daven Maariv, and then they continued their rampage. The only way to describe it, that is was a pogrom that left one Arab dead. This pogram was not against the Jews but perpetrated by the Jews.

It is the Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF, who are in charge of security in the West Bank. Many people noted that the IDF could control Arab terrorism, they can pick up a terrorist in the large Palestinian city of Jenin in the middle of the day and keep the other Palestinian terrorists at bay, but they could not control Jewish settlers rampaging all night. The IDF did rescue the people of Huwara, some of them were inside the homes that were being burned, but to this day, not one of the people involved in the pogrom are in jail.

It all goes back to the discussion held before we even had a state. Yes, there are those who hate Jews, who hate Israel, who kill to undermine a Jewish State. But we can no longer say that “they” are wicked, and we are the ones who have the right to be there. The Jews of the West Bank have shown that they can be made of the same “crooked wood” that is the worst of what it means to be human. There have been, over the years, small acts of revenge by the settlers of the West Bank. This attack in Huwara has opened a new level of revenge against people who are not responsible for the original attack.

It would be easy to blame the IDF for letting it get out of control. And yes, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has to rightly carry the blame for this incident and the horror of what happened. But blame for this night and day of terror is not the point. If we try to assign blame we would have to go back across several governments in Israel, over dozens of years, to identify those responsible for setting up the circumstances, turning a blind eye to the actions of the settlers that has now led to this pogrom. The problem is that if we spread the blame too far, then nobody will be declared “responsible.” There is no “red cow” that can purify us from this sin.

We don’t like it at all when Israel is blamed for one incident or another. Palestinians have a hatred for Israel that has led to thousands of deaths over the years. The IDF and the Israeli police have struggled to contain the violence from Palestinian adults and children. There are many terrorists who are serving time in Israeli jails for acts of terror that killed others.

But Israel has turned a blind eye to the settlers who take the law into their own hands. For many years settlers have destroyed Palestinian farms, pulled up their olive trees, they have beaten Palestinian farmers and, over the years, have made life miserable for the Palestinians who live on the West Bank. There are different reasons that settlers are in the West Bank at all. Some are ideologues, who believe that the land there should belong to Israel, all of it. Some settlers are there for economic reasons; it is cheaper to buy a home on the west Bank, in the settlements. But it must be understood that the thousands of Jews who have joined West Bank settlements are living surrounded by 3 million Palestinians. Should we be surprised when sometimes things explode?

Living on the West Bank is not the same as living is Ashkelon or Eilat. The Jews who are settlers are all citizens of Israel, but they are not living in the same Israel that other Israeli citizens live in. They are surrounded by dangers every day. The roads they use must pass through Palestinian villages. Like Jacob and Esau, there is a day to day quiet, but we can’t say either side likes the other. And all too often the violence spills out. All too often, it is hard to say which side bears responsibility for the violence.

The reality is that Israel has done very little to control violence by settlers. It has been twenty years since a peace proposal was made. We pat ourselves on the back and say that the Palestinians always say “No” and refuse our peaceful advances. But that is, in my opinion, not a reason to stop trying. Playing the blame game, that they are all wicked and we are always right, is no longer a valid argument. The settlers and the Palestinians are now at war. There is no end to this violence until Israel and the IDF reign in BOTH sides. Dr. Martin Luther King said that darkness cannot defeat darkness. Hate cannot defeat hate. First there must be justice, for the settlers and for the Palestinians. One side must know they can’t attack the other, that they can’t rampage and destroy an entire village. There must be consequences for those who do.

Not every Palestinian is a terrorist, nor is every settler sowing terror. Those that live by violence must face justice for their actions. Turning a blind eye to the small group of settlers who perform acts of revenge only will make them more violent in the future. Only when there is justice can there be peace. We have seen the results of tit for tat violence. Now we have to find a new way to peace.

Will the government do what is right? Many have condemned those that burned the village of Huwara. But, as we know from the violence in the schools in this country, thoughts and prayers do not stop the killing. The settlers are well armed, the Palestinians are not. Can Israel sort out those settlers on the West Bank who are “crooked wood” and bring them to account for their violence? So far, the answer is no. There is no justice. Doniel Hartman of the Sholom Hartman Institute says we are falling into a moral abyss. Jews burning Palestinian villages I fear will be a step too far into that abyss.

If Israel is to be a Jewish state, then they will have to listen to the voices of all Jews everywhere. It is our moral duty to call Israel into account. Or will we be pulled into the abyss as well.

May God help all of us find our way to a real peace, between Jacob and Esau and between Jews and Palestinians, There is much work to do, we cannot look away. Let there be peace in Israel, a real peace,        as we say….. Amen and Shabbat Shalom

Sat, June 22 2024 16 Sivan 5784