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Tuesday 6 May 2008

Reform leader argues that Israel will soon be forced to drop its 'restraint' policy.

Preparing U.S. Jews For Assault On Gaza
Reform leader argues that Israel will soon be forced to drop its
'restraint' policy.

by Eric H. Yoffie
A few weeks ago, I sat with a Jewish delegation that met with some
important Protestant leaders here in the United States. The conversation
quickly turned to events in Gaza. In a perfunctory sentence or two, our
Protestant colleagues said that of course they condemned the rocket fire
directed at Israeli cities, but in their view the real problem was the
suffering of the Palestinian population in Gaza and the wildly
disproportionate nature of Israel's response to Palestinians attacks.
Deeply pained and angry, I replied: You are absolutely right. Israel's
response has been wildly disproportionate because it has been far more
restrained than what would be expected from any other civilized,
democratic government.
Did they understand that since 2001, more than 7,000 rockets had been
fired from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel? Did they realize that a
"proportionate" response would involve 7,000 Israeli rockets fired at
civilians in Gaza? Did they appreciate that the relatively small number
of civilian casualties in Israel resulted not from the humanitarian
intentions of Hamas but from the crudeness of their weapons, and that
those weapons were now improving? Did they know that the traumatized
children of Sderot lived in constant fear? On what basis, I asked, did
they expect Israel to tolerate these attacks?
And what would their congregants be saying if their churches in Michigan
had been subjected to seven years of hostile fire from across the
Canadian border? Would church leaders be calling for "restraint" from
the American government in these circumstances? And did they really
expect that any American president would show such restraint?
What followed, of course, was the suggestion that the "occupation" was
responsible for the rocket fire. I replied: Excuse me, but Prime
Minister Sharon pulled out of every inch of Gaza in 2005, and his
successor was elected on a platform calling for unilateral withdrawal
from most of the remaining territories. And yet there has not been a
single day of quiet following that withdrawal. Indeed, rocket strikes
significantly increased after it was completed.
Yes, I assured them, I shared their concern for Palestinian suffering in
Gaza. But the simple fact is that if terror and rocket fire were to come
to an end in Gaza, the suffering of her people would end as well.
There was nothing surprising in these exchanges, but they reminded me of
how much American Jews have yet to do to educate their fellow citizens
about Israel's current plight.
And there is some urgency in this task because I have little doubt that
Israel's restraint will soon come to an end.
During my recent visit to Jerusalem, I met with the prime minister and
more than a dozen Knesset members from across the political spectrum.
Virtually all of Israel's political leaders are reluctant to escalate
the military conflict with Hamas; they fear the uncertain results of
such an escalation, as well as heavy casualties on both sides.
Nonetheless, from most of those to whom I spoke, what I heard was that
there would soon be no alternative to a more aggressive military posture.
The reason for this is simply that the attacks on Sderot threaten
Israel's very existence.
Once again, most of the world has found a way to take an utterly
intolerable situation - nearly daily attacks on Israeli civilian centers
- and turn it into something that is both tolerated and even routine.
And as the accuracy of the rockets increases along with the Iranian role
in supplying Hamas forces, the circle of cities under attack has begun
to expand.
It is only a matter of time before Hamas cells in the West Bank begin
firing rockets as well.
The result is that it is now possible to imagine a scenario under which
Israel, without ever losing a war, would cease to be a viable state.
As a result, there is a strong likelihood that in the months ahead,
Israel will move against Hamas forces in Gaza. With or without an
invasion, her army will likely target all of Hamas' military
installations, institutions and leaders. Since for years Hamas fighters
have hidden themselves in civilian centers such as schools and
hospitals, Palestinian civilian casualties are certain to grow. But
Israel will almost surely decide that it can no longer protect
Palestinian civilians at the cost of sacrificing the well being of her own.
This is not a welcome scenario. It would be preferable by far if
international diplomacy could arrange a ceasefire that would end the
rocket fire without allowing Hamas to build up her forces for future
attacks. But chances for such a diplomatic resolution are small, and
Israel must prepare for the worst.
Israel must also continue to support American diplomatic efforts to
advance what is left of the peace process. President Bush hopes for a
diplomatic breakthrough this calendar year, and while he is unlikely to
succeed, he has earned, by word and deed, the trust of Israel and the
American Jewish community. Surely, as he pursues this diplomatic course,
he is entitled to the goodwill and cooperation of Israel's government.
In that regard, we should keep in mind that an Israeli attack on Gaza is
certain to unleash a barrage of international criticism. American
support will be essential if Israel's military is to have the time it
needs to complete its mission. For that reason, current tension between
Israel and the American government over Israel's settlement policy is a
potential disaster.
An unpopular president who is being asked to take the heat for support
of an unpopular Israeli military operation is entitled to some
consideration from Israel's leaders. Whatever the differences, Israel
needs to get its settlement policies in line with American expectations
and to do so now.
With all this said, the responsibilities of American Jews are clear. A
centrist Israeli government has done everything within its power to
escape a military confrontation.
Nonetheless, confronted by challenges to its sovereignty, by expanding
attacks on its civilian population, and by the unrelenting hatred of an
anti-Semitic, religiously fanatic regime, it is moving toward the
military action in Gaza that it had desperately hoped to avoid.
Let us remember, then, that the Jewish state came into being for just
such a time as this, when Jewish lives are in danger and no one but a
Jewish army will come to their rescue. And let us remember too that our
task now is to support Israel in her time of need, to make her case to
our fellow citizens, and to do all that we can to rally the Jewish
people and good people everywhere to her side.
Rabbi Yoffie is president of the Union for Reform Judaism.


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