The regular chatter that accompanies our family’s watching of the news came to an abrupt stop the other night when Israeli TV aired video of an IDF soldier shooting a blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinian in the foot from point blank range with a rubber bullet. The family was silent, for what we saw was not congruent with our self-understanding of the ethos of the Israeli army and a Jew. The silence soon gave way to condemnation and a sense of repugnance.
Now, I know that raising the issue of this event will lead to the old, predictable, tired, and insignificant debate
: Some will immediately attack our excessive self-flagellation. After all no one was killed; it was only a rubber bullet, they will say. They will quote various atrocities in our Middle East neighborhood. Some might venture to the ideological depths of saying the only way to survive here is to ignore moral qualms and to make our enemies fear us, etc., etc., etc….
Others will celebrate the wave of international condemnation that might ensue and point to the horrors of occupation, the immorality of the Israeli army, and the corruption that is eating away at Israeli society.
The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. While the event is nothing to be proud of, it still involved a rubber bullet being fired at a leg. Nonetheless, it did not endanger the detainee’s life or cause long-term impairment. It entailed an abuse of power and reflected the arrogance of the powerful and a lack of respect for the inalienable rights of other human beings. It is neither a war crime nor an acceptable standard procedure. It is, as I said, somewhere in the middle, a contemptible, condemnable, and illegal act, a crossing of the line that defines the morality of our country.
Any time we cross this line for some it is a moment to close ranks; for others it is a moment for accusations and finger-pointing. I believe it is an opportunity for education and growth.
When I watched the video, I was reminded of the tragedy within which we find ourselves. I, like many other Israelis, believed in the past that if peace was not something we could reach through negotiations, it was within our power to bring it through unilateral gestures and policies. It was my belief that peace, being that after which all yearn, could be gifted by us to the Palestinians.
What we have learned over the last number of years is how false this policy and hope is. From the perspective of us Israelis who were willing to adopt the most radical territorial concessions for the sake of peace, we have come to understand that the outcome is not in our hands alone. We are in a place where frankly we don’t know what to do. We know that continued occupation has no future for us or the Palestinians. At the same time, without a powerful partner among the Palestinian leadership and a significant percentage of the Palestinian population that sees peace with the Israel as a strategic, religious and moral virtue, progress will be impossible.
So we have now entered what may be coined, the "waiting game." This waiting game holds within it much danger, as it is not certain that time is on our side; yet it is not clear that we have any choice.
While attaining peace may not be within our power, it does not mean that we are helpless; we have much that we must do. While the Israeli army has maintained overall a standard of morality I believe to be unparalleled, it does not necessarily mean that the standard is not being challenged and is in need of being watched and corrected. The greatest danger with the waiting game is the desensitizing of our moral standards. It is painful to wait. It is fearful to wait. It is natural to despise and hate those who generate this pain and fear. The shooting is a result of this waiting game. The shooting is not, however, the Jewish way.
When the angels sought to sing songs of praise to God at the destruction of the Pharaoh’s army in the Sea of Reeds, God’s response was, "My creation is drowning in the sea, and you desire to sing now songs of praise?" While we do what we must to protect ourselves, we do not demonize our enemy, nor celebrate the use of power.
I firmly believe that the Palestinians have been and continue to be their own worst enemy. It is within their power to redefine their political future with a courageous and moral leadership. Such a leadership will find that the majority of Israelis are more committed to peaceful and respectful coexistence than to holding on to notions of the holiness of the land. However, regardless of the policies adopted by the Palestinians, Israel as a Jewish state must never lose sight of its moral standard, a moral standard that might be alien to the Middle East but is very much at home in our tradition and in our memories.
While we dreamt of returning to the Middle East, we never aspired to be like the Middle East. Let this minor event – and it is a minor event – serve, however, to remind us of the moral dangers of the waiting game and reinforce our commitment to be who we as Jews want to be and who we ought to be.