Today is February 17, 2018 -
By Rabbi Steven Abraham
I once had a teacher who looked at his students and proclaimed that we were free to agree with his views or, should we so choose, to disagree. What was not allowed was to say, “I don’t care.” To agree or to disagree was to forge an opinion; to say I don’t care, to be apathetic is to stand on the sidelines. Perhaps Elie Wiesel said it best:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
In my mind, to be apathetic about Israel, to say “I’m not interested,” or “I don’t care,” is to turn your back on the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland. If we don’t care, if we are indifferent… My question to you is, who do we expect will care?
Here is the story of what made me care: In the summer of 2004, I started a year-long position as a staff member of a program called Nativ. Nativ is a gap-year program under the auspices of the Conservative Movement’s youth group, USY. In 2004, the program began in August in Jerusalem, with students attending either Hebrew University or the Conservative Yeshiva. Then in January, students moved to Kibbutz Sa’ad for the remainder of the year. On the Kibbutz, participants would have daily jobs — from helping in the kitchen to milking cows, and everything in between. The kibbutz became our home for roughly five months. Our home was located in a very interesting part of the world, only five kilometers (essentially 3 miles) down the road due west from a place known as the Gaza Strip.
We were close enough that rockets would routinely land in the fields belonging to the kibbutz and occasionally land on the roof of a kibbutz family’s home. It was close enough that on cloudy nights the teens would sit on the roof of the moadon, listening to sound of Israeli helicopters flying into Gaza. I never believed any of us to be in real danger; nevertheless, most participants kept the location to themselves when talking to their mothers.
Yet, what made my time at Sa’ad even more memorable was that in the months leading up to our arrival in Israel, a plan had been proposed by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to unilaterally disengage from the Gaza Strip. In June 2004, this plan was voted on and passed by the Knesset. The disengagement from Gaza, as it was known, was the withdrawal of all Israeli citizens, the Israeli army, as well as the dismantling of all Israeli settlements within the Gaza Strip.
While only a tiny strip of land, it held significant and strategic importance. The political process leading up to the June 2004 Knesset vote was incredibly contentious and it is important to realize that Prime Minister Sharon lost a tremendous amount of support from his own party and those in his own government for proposing the disengagement and seeing it through. The prime minister was, and is still seen as a hardliner who was in favor of settlement expansion. Oddly enough, he garnered support from those on the left, as they felt that giving the land back to the Palestinians was the right move. The second point to remember — and this is key — is that the disengagement was unilateral. Nothing was being asked of the Palestinians. To some, both inside and outside of Israel, the fact that the withdrawal was one-sided was a huge problem. The fact that it was unilateral meant that the power resided with Israel alone; there was no dialogue, and the move essentially sidestepped the peace process. There were others, who believed in disengagement, who felt that the only way for Israel to protect herself was to have definitive borders, and so by withdrawing from Gaza, that would be accomplished. Then there were those who simply thought leaving Gaza was the worst possible decision. They hung banners all over Israel saying, “Jews do not expel Jews.”
Was it the right move? Do you agree with what Israel did? The fact is that Israeli soldiers moved families, synagogues, even cemeteries out of the Jewish communities within Gaza. In 2004, there were roughly 8,500 Israelis living within Gaza, surrounded by 1.3 million Palestinians, with the Israeli Army stuck in the middle.
Since September 2005, when the full withdrawal was complete, over 8,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Some have asked, “Why don’t the Israelis simply destroy Gaza? Clearly they have the ability to do so.” Gaza launching a rocket into Sderot would be analogous to the Canadians shooting a rocket from Toronto into Buffalo. The problem is, was, and will always be, that a democratic state, the Jewish State, must hold itself to a different set of laws than a well-financed, well-armed street gang.
Today, there are those who find fault with Israel for controlling every entrance and exit into Gaza and the West Bank. They take issue with the fact that Israel continues to build and encourage new communities to take shape in the West Bank. This is an incredibly legitimate position. There are others who argue that Israel has given back land at every turn and it has gotten them nowhere. They will tell you that we left Gaza and all we got in return was rocket fire. And still others, people of deep faith, would say that God gave the Jewish people this land and we have the responsibility to defend it at all cost.
The spectrum of thought on Israeli politics is far more vast than what I have laid out. It’s now your job to seek out answers, to come to your own conclusions, to be engaged. Why do I care so much? How could I not?
This is a debate too important for anyone to sit on the sidelines, and the cost of our apathy could be our existence. Regardless of whether your political affiliation is left, right or center, we show how much we care about Israel through thoughtful discussion and debate. How do we fight apathy? By being engaged, whether it be by reading an article or watching a news report, going to a lecture, or participating in a conversation, or if you can, going to Israel.
You can choose to agree or disagree with Israel — but from this point forward, apathy is not an option!