Shabbat Shalom to Jerusalem and Gaza

by Cantor Michael Davis

Shabbat Shalom

I just got off the phone with my brother in Jerusalem. Morning in Chicago, Friday afternoon in Israel. This is the time that the family starts preparing for Shabbat with the weekly “Sponja”, sweeping and washing the floors. “The air raid sirens just went off,” he said. Over the phone, an ambulance’s siren got louder, then another ambulance. “Let’s wait and see if there are any more ambulances.”

The conversation took me right back to my last couple of years in Israel, some 15 years ago. On any given morning, at the start of the workday – oddly enough, only during the workweek –  in the quiet air of Jerusalem, suddenly, a loud explosion. Some tense moments waiting. If we could hear multiple ambulance sirens, that meant there had been a suicide bomb attack. If, after a few minutes there were just the usual sounds of the city, we knew everything was fine; the blast was likely a controlled explosion at one of the working quarries in the area.

So, I tried to reassure my brother that this was unlikely to have been a missile attack. After all, Jerusalem was never targeted, not even during the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein sent 39 missiles into Israel.

While he took another call, I opened my laptop and checked Haaretz. Top headlines on the homepage: * First Missile Attack on Jerusalem Since 1970 (this has not happened since before the Yom Kippur War) * Thousands of Reservists Called Up (…it’s going to be another ground war) * picture  of a tank base near Gaza mobilizing  (Cast Lead all over again) * Picture of Egyptian Prime Minister with Gaza PM Hanniye waving and smiling in Gaza! (the Egyptians are committed….what if an Israeli missile kills the Egyptian PM…

My first reaction to the news a couple of days ago was dread. For the people of Gaza. And for the inevitability of the cycle of violence. How did this start? Israel freely admits that its troops violated Gazan territory but claimed this was for “routine repairs to the border fence”. For Gazans, this was just one more infringement on their supposed sovereignty along with actual attacks. The Israeli siege of Gaza is enforced through these attacks and violations. And yet, what good will this escalation do for anybody on either side.

I had a sinking feeling for the ugliness that is beginning to surface in the Jewish community. The recently retired head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, defended the Israeli attacks on Gaza as “progressive values”. Israel invoked an image of divine presence, the Biblical “Pillar of Cloud” (that shielded the ancient Israelites in the wilderness from Egyptian attack) as the military name for the onslaught on Gaza. And, throughout the Jewish community, the response has been to line up behind the Israeli attacks, even in the more progressive parts of the community.

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that former US Middle East negotiator, Aaron David Miller predicted that the President had no choice but to support the Israeli attacks on Gaza. “ If Obama has any hope of promoting an Israeli Palestinian initiative down the road, he’s going to have to remain in lock step with the current Israeli government…and [take] a very, very tough line on Israeli security,” said Miller. “There’ll be latitude in giving the Israelis a lot of leeway in terms of the disproportionality of whatever response they undertake in Gaza.”

The poor people in Gaza. Under siege and now under attack. And what do my family in Israel get in return for these attacks on Gaza? Fear and the possibility of worse. Lockdown in the south and the ugly thrill of going to war “because we have no choice but to respond” spreading throughout Israeli society and into the American Jewish community.

Through all this, I am grateful to Jewish Voice for Peace for standing tall and calling out Israel for its attacks and killings in Gaza and for consistently insisting on an end to violence on both sides of the conflict.

My brother and I went on to chat about family and the breakthrough Israeli invention of a cardboard bicycle – cycling is a passion we share – which has the potential of revolutionizing mass bicycle production and usage in China and around the world. Israelis are famous of shrugging off bad news and just getting on with things. So we moved on.

We ended our call as we wished each other Shabbat shalom, a Sabbath of Peace. Halevai. If only.

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