In My Own Words: Petitions, statements and no answers

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

I looked at the list of people who had signed the petition: many of them were rabbis I greatly admire and whose thoughts I cherish. However, something in me said, “No, I can’t sign a petition calling for a ceasefire in the war against Hamas until the hostages are returned.” Other rabbis, whom I also admire, wrote a beautiful statement supporting Israel, while noting they mourn the loss of Palestinian lives. That one spoke more to my feelings, but I was also unable to sign it. I didn’t realize why until someone noted what was missing: a call for the Israeli government to do something different after this war, something that would end the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence.

Never-ending cycles of violence: that describes the continuing relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Something needs to change, but so many worthy and educated voices have no real answer. What keeps popping into my mind, though, is the differences between the way Germany was treated after World War I and World War II. The Allies punished Germany with the Treaty of Versailles after the first war and the result was World War II. You can argue whether the second war was a direct result of the treaty, but its winners learned enough to realize something different needed to be done to prevent future wars. The Allies helped rebuild Germany, Italy and Japan after World War II. Those actions succeeded in strengthening political and economic ties between the Allies and their former enemies. Something similar needs to be done with Gaza and the West Bank once this war is over.

But Hamas needs to be stopped first. Its leaders don’t care about human life, Israeli or Palestinian. Hamas did not attack Israeli military installations, but civilians, many of whom were working to help those in Gaza. It places its military installations among the civilian population so that it’s almost impossible for Israel to avoid civilian casualties. In fact, Hamas wants civilian casualties because that creates an international outcry against Israel. I’m not sure why there is no international outcry against Hamas – asking them to surrender or immediately release the captives – but I’ve come to accept that as a given.

But if Israel doesn’t do something different after this war, the cycle of bloodshed will continue. I don’t have the answers, but surely there are people out there who do, who can change the shape of the Middle East, do something similar to that which was done with Europe and Japan after World War II. We have to do something different unless Israelis and Palestinians want to watch their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren die in a never-ending cycle of terrorist attacks and military retaliations.