War is an ugly thing. Conflict between neighbors is disturbing. As a Jewish educator, even simply as a Jew, I have struggled with the actions and inactions of the government of the state of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. I can and do empathize with the people of Sderot, living in constant fear because of the constant rocket attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza. I can and do sympathize with the residents of Gaza, having to deal with power and goods shortages. I can not know, with any certainty, whether Israel's restrictions caused a truly life-threatening fuel shortage, or whether the Hamas leadership chose to burden their own people further for the sake of publicity. As always, my gut feeling is that it's probably a little bit of both.
I understand the threatened position that Israel is in from those who have vowed to never recognize her existence as a legitimate state. I recognize Israel's right to self-defense, both reactive and pro-active. I am troubled by the fact that many of the Arab and Islamic states bordering on Israel have not been receptive to those Palestinians who have sought refuge inside their borders. That many of those states either secretly or openly support terrorists. I am troubled by the split between Fatah and Hamas. And yes, I am troubled by the prospect of an Iran with nuclear weapons potential.
Yet reading this weeks parasha, Mishpatim, has left me in an even more troubled state, and with a particular concern for how Israel has followed the precepts of Torah. This musing isn't easy for me to write, but I feel that I must. The text of Torah is clear:
"When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him." (JPS, Ex. 23.5)
I don't think anything could be clearer.We must act justly and rightly with all peoples - our enemies as well as our friends. Some of the rabbis and sages have argued that it is even more important to act justly with our enemies than with our friends, as it is the more difficult thing to do.
Border sanctions intended to have political impact cannot help but also have collateral impact on the common people. If an action one takes has the potential for creating and injustice, then that action must be reconsidered, or not implemented, and alternatives found.
Israel's constant cry is "we've tried everything else, and nothing works." I would argue that Torah finds this apologetic unworthy. Now, no doubt I would also say to Palestinian terrorists, who claim that "terrorism is the only thing that works" are equally guilty of failing to live up to the precepts of Torah (and, for that matter, the Quran.)
There has always been evidence, on both sides of the conflict, that some effort has been made to fulfill this particular commandments to treat one's enemy justly. Humanitarians on both sides of the divide have shown their mettle. Israeli hospitals and doctors have, for the most part, fulfilled their responsibilities, regardless of whether they were treating an Israeli or Palestinian. And there are stories of similarly just actions by Palestinians. Kudos to those who live up to the Torah precepts in this regard. It's hopeful to know that there are individuals that do so. It's hopeful to know that governments also do so, in some cases.
But there is simply far too much inconsistency. When is dropping bombs on anyone, or blowing oneself up in a crowded shopping district, a just action? I would say never. As to the question of a "just war" well, I'm still not sure where I stand on that idea. When confronted with an Amalek, a Haman, or a Hitler, I'm not sure that strict pacifism is the answer. Would that we could find a way to insure justice without having to resort to force. But, then again, G"d effectively resorted to force in castigating the Israelites for their continual failures to live up to the covenant. The accompanying haftarah for Mishpatim illustrates just such a case. G"d may not have applied the force directly, and used surrogate armies to do so. Given that we are b'tzelem Elokim, I guess it's not surprising then that we, too, resort to the use of force to get what we want, and to try and achieve justice.
Israel, Palestinian Authority, Iran, Hamas, Fatah, Al Qaida, Janjaweed, Luo, Kukuyu, Turk, Armenian, Kurd, Basque, so many other nations and people, and, quite frankly and most urgently, the United States of America - it is far past time to begin heeding the call for just treatment of all - even your enemy (can water-boarding ever be considered just?) Libery and "justice of all"? We (the U.S.) need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. And the same is true for all. It is past time to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.
©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Mishpatim 5767-To See, To Behold, To Eat, To Drink
Mishpatim 5766 - Mishpatim with a Capital IM
Mishpatim 5765-Eid Khamas (revised)
Mishpatim 5764-Situational Ethics
Mishpatim 5763-My Object All Sublime
Mishpatim 5762-Enron Beware!
Mishpatim 5761-Change from the Inside
Mishpatim 5760-Chukim U'mishpatim
Mishpatim 5759-Eid Khamas-Witness to Violence
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