by Rabbi Alissa Wise
I participate in a mussar group, in which each week we focus on a different middah (ethical trait) and evaluate how we do or do not engage with that trait in our daily lives. Inevitably, that particular middah shows up everywhere we look: i.e. in the way we evaluate interactions with our co-workers, what we see as we walk down the street, or how we read the newspaper.
This week we are working on decisiveness — making a decision and acting without hesitating. And this week, my eyes are glued to Israeli prisons where some two thousand Palestinians are on hunger strike; a few are on their 77th day—truly just a few moments from death.
What a powerful demonstration of decisiveness! I can not even begin to fathom the pain, the discomfort, the anguish of starving yourself to protest injustice. Their decision to take up this action surely was not taken up lightly, and neither, I imagine, is their decision each and every day to continue with the fast.
To try to understand a bit deeper this level of decisiveness, I read a letter from one of the hunger strikers, Thaer Halaleh who is as of today on his 77th day of the strike. The letter is written to his daughter Lamar, who was born one month after his arrest:
My Beloved Lamar, forgive me because the occupation took me away from you, and took away from me the pleasure of witnessing my firstborn child that I have always prayed to God to see, to kiss, to be happy with. It is not your fault; this is our destiny as Palestinian people to have our lives and the lives of our children taken away from us, to be apart from each other and to have a miserable life. Nothing is complete in our lives because of this unjust occupation that is lurking on every corner of our lives turning it into eeriness, a continuous pursuit and torture.
Despite the fact that I was deprived from holding you and hearing your voice, from watching you grow up and move around in the house and in your bed, and that I was deprived of my role as a human and a father with my daughter, your existence has given me all the power and hope, and when I saw your picture with your mother in the sit-in tent, you were so calm staring in wonder at people, as if you were looking for your father, looking at my pictures that are hung inside the tent asking in silence why is my father not coming back. I felt that you are with me, in my sentiment and inside my mind, as if you are a part of my heartbeats, steadfast and the blood that flows in my veins, opening all doors for me spreading clear skies around me, and unleashing your free childish voice after this long silence.
Lamar my love: I know that you are not to be blamed and that you don’t yet understand why your father is going through this battle of hunger strike for the 75th day, but when you grow up you will understand that the battle of freedom is the battle of going back to you, so that I can never be taken away from you again or to be deprived of your smile or seeing you, so that the occupier will never kidnap me again from you.
When you grow up you will understand how injustice was brought upon your father and upon thousands of Palestinians whom the occupation has put in prisons and jail cells, shattering their lives and future for no reason other then their pursuit of freedom, dignity and independence. You will know that your father did not tolerate injustice and submission, and that he would never accept insult and compromise, and that he is going through a hunger strike to protest against the Jewish state that wants to turn us into humiliated slaves without any rights or patriotic dignity.
My beloved Lamar keep your head up always and be proud of your father, and thank everyone who supported me, who supported the prisoners in their struggle, and don’t be afraid for God is with us always, and God never lets down people who have faith and patience. We are righteous, and right will always prevail against injustice and wrong doers.
Lamar my love: that day will come, and I will make it up to you for everything, and tell you the whole story, and your days that will follow will be more beautiful, so let your days pass now and wear your prettiest clothes, run and then run again in the gardens of your long life, go forward and forward for nothing is behind you but the past, and this is your voice I hear all the time as a melody of freedom.
From Thaer I learn powerful lessons for my mussar practice: the power of conviction and purpose, the commitment to beauty and love, and just how incredibly complicated and imperfect is every ethical decision we make.
I pray for Thaer and all the hunger strikers, that their demands be met swiftly, their non-violent struggle for dignity be supported worldwide in whatever ways we can, and that Lamar, and all other children, grow up not just without losing their fathers but with in a world made more whole by the powerful and horrible non-violent actions of those that came before.
Please consider signing Jewish Voice for Peace’s petition in solidarity with Palestinian Hunger Strikers.