Thoughts on the matzav

15 Oct

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As the wave of terror continues to engulf the streets of Jerusalem and other cities and communities across the country, our minds are filled with thoughts, and prayers for a more peaceful time. Images which we saw through social media shocked us to the core and some footage was eerily reminiscent of our memories from the Second Intifada, which we would prefer to forget.

As ירושלמים (Jerusalemites), we are thankful for the deployment of Border Police and police on the streets of our city but also saddened that we have returned to such darkness – ironically, the armed forces are a potent symbol of our weakness. A decade after the last intifada ended we again remain in a city starved for a solution. Twenty years after Oslo II was signed, there is nothing more final than an interim agreement, which has not brought, and cannot, bring peace.

Our armed forces on the eastern side of the city, in Palestinian neighborhoods and villages which came under Israeli control in the Six Day War, represent something else. These police and combat soldiers staffing checkpoints at the entrances to particular parts of the “undivided” capital are potent symbols of the challenge of Zionism.

From the end of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the Jewish people was able to occupy the moral high ground because we were a people with no power. The challenge of Zionism is how to wield power once again – in this case, power backed by a mighty army and, according to foreign forces, 200 nuclear warheads – in a Jewish way.

How can we, as a Jewish state, impose restrictions on freedom of movement on 37% of the united capital, based on their ethnic identity? How can this possibly accord with our understanding of תיקון עולם (social justice)? On the other hand, Israeli security cabinet decisions cannot be considered in a similar vein to resolutions of a synagogue or youth group board, as they may well result in saving lives or – חס וחלילה (Heaven forfend!) – the spilling of even more blood. There is no imperative to commit collective suicide in order to retain ethical purity. We simply don’t enjoy that luxury.

Did Zionism seek to normalize us a nation or make us an אור לגוים (light unto the nations)? Are we meant to be an exceptional country (in something more important than nanotechnology) or just a state just like any other? How do we balance the need for security with the human rights implications of security policy? There are certainly those who would draw the line differently (whether to the right or the left) of where it has been drawn this week, but, wherever we stand on this issue, we should stand deeply engaged with Israel.

We hope for a day of a perfect Messianic peace – an age of the dove and of the olive branch. In the meantime, we utter a prayer for security and embrace a simple and most basic idea of civic discourse. A new campaign launched by 20-year-old Ofer Gelfand asks people to support the concept of שנאה היא לא ערך, גזענות היא לא הדרך (hatred is not a value, racism is not the way), either by liking his Facebook post or writing the statement on the palm of their hand, photographing it as a “selfie,” and posting it to their own Facebook pages. Wherever we draw the line in regard to the security/human rights dilemma, we should be proud to draw it against racism and hatred. This is just one way that ordinary Israelis have been trying to retain a semblance of sanity during this most difficult week.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide and Director of Teaching Israel.

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