Like other “progressive” members of New Jersey’s Jewish community — those who, generally, are critical of Israeli settlements, Israel’s indefinite control of the West Bank, and the many policies and tactics of Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government — Rabbi Amy Small finds herself conflicted about Israel’s current war in Gaza.
On one hand, after she herself experienced rocket attacks on both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, she defends the Israeli military’s goals of silencing Hamas missiles. And yet she remains convinced that hope lies only in a long-term diplomatic solution.
Small recently returned from Israel, where the sounds of air raid sirens interrupted her studies at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and, later, a Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association meeting in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
When alarms sounded, “it was very frightening,” she told NJ Jewish News on July 24, three days after returning home to Morristown.
“When you haven’t experienced the threatening, difficult, confusing challenges of living in Israel at times like this, you can’t have a full appreciation of why Israelis may not see the Arab-Israeli conflict through the same lenses that we do,” said Small, founder of Deborah’s Palm Center for Jewish Learning & Experiences.
Small said she has heard “a lot of despair among Israelis who feel there is just no way out of this.” She said a friend whom she knew to be “progressive” in her politics is now highly doubtful that a two-state solution is viable. The friend told her, “‘If there is a Palestinian state on the West Bank, they will use it to destroy us. We can’t do it.’”
“But on the other hand,” Small said, “people on the Left I’ve talked with say, ‘We have got to have a diplomatic resolution. We can’t keep going through this cycle.’”
She said she herself hasn’t quite “given up on a two-state solution, but I am less optimistic of its happening soon.”
Doni Remba of Westfield is executive director of Jewish Alliance for Change, which he describes as a “Jewish nonprofit that promotes social justice in Israel.”
In a July 24 e-mail, he told NJJN “the current approach…forces Israel into a situation of endless war, closing off any chance of ever finding peace and security.
One way out of the cycle of violence, suggested Remba, is for the U.S. Congress and Israel to “accept a Palestinian national reconciliation government, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which would take over security and political responsibility for Gaza from Hamas.”
He urged the international community, including the Arab League, to oversee “partial demilitarization” of Gaza and encourage Israel, Egypt, “and several Arab countries” to facilitate “economic improvement and reconstruction for the impoverished people of Gaza.”
Such moves, Remba said, “would enable Israel to lift its blockade while ensuring no imported materials would be used for military purposes.”
Marty Levine, a Maplewood resident and member of the executive committee of Northern New Jersey’s J Street chapter, called the attacks from Gaza “inexcusable and unconscionable, and Israel has every right to defend itself. The bulk of the responsibility for civilian casualties is Hamas’s — but not entirely,” he told NJJN.
He faulted Israel; although it is “attempting to act in a measured and careful way, it does need to be conscious of the fact that there are so many civilian casualties on the Palestinian side, and it did not do all it could to make peace negotiations succeed.”
Larry Lerner, a Warren resident, is a board member of Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA). While he said he believes “there is no justification for what Hamas is doing,” and that “Hamas doesn’t give a s–t about its own people,” he is nonetheless highly critical of the Israeli government.
“I think there was a failure on the part of the Israeli intelligence community” to grasp the extent of the tunnels Hamas had been building in Gaza,” he said.
“Why is Israel bombing all over the place?” Lerner asked. “Somebody has got to break the cycle, and I think the side that has got to break the cycle is Israel. They talked to Hamas when they wanted to get [kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit] out, didn’t they? How are you going to work out a ceasefire unless you talk to them?”
Asked whether he believes the two-state solution is doomed, Lerner said, “Yes and no. It is doomed if the parties continue on their present path. It is a failure of leadership. Hamas is killing itself. Their supporters in Syria are gone. They don’t have support from their own people.”
As a veteran peace activist, he said, “It is a very sad thing for people like me who have been in support of Israel for all these years. I don’t see that Netanyahu has any idea of what he is trying to achieve. He is locked in to the settler movement, and he is reflexive about whatever Hamas does.”
Lerner added, “It has got to be settled soon because the international community is trying to force everybody to the table.”