By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The foreign media rarely have something good to say about Israel, particularly in relation to the Palestinians. That’s why foreign journalists seem to be certain that the responses by the Israeli military to those who throw stones and try to stab them or people around them are harsh, cruel and totally unjustified. Friends of Israel abroad are dismayed by what they read and hear. A few have shared their worries with me.
Israeli media pundits are asking the same questions but their responses are more nuanced. Some say that there might be other ways of neutralizing the terrorists than killing them while some argue that in situations when you or a person near you appears to be in danger and you have the means, you kill the assailant. You may believe that you’ve no choice, whatever the consequences.
While this debate goes on, a recent poll suggests that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has always styled himself as the strong man, is considered by most Israeli Jews to be too soft on the insurgents. Many more would rather see Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party and a member of the government, to be in charge. Even more say they want Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the “Russian” Yisrael Beiteinu party and now in opposition, to be at the helm. Both are perceived by the public to be much tougher than the prime minister and therefore better qualified for the job.
Whereas some members of the elites in Israel have qualms about the way terrorists are being killed, and may even have shared their qualms with foreign correspondents, the Jewish masses in Israel seem to want an even tough stance and believe that Bennett and especially Lieberman would deliver the goods.
As a liberal my first reaction is to support the critics. But as a coward I believe that had I been in the situation of a soldier facing a person coming towards me or someone near me with a knife or about to throw a rock at me I wouldn’t try to counsel the person in the way I did in my professional life. I’d probably panic and shoot, perhaps even indiscriminately. Though I may come to regret it for the rest of my life, I’d rather have qualms than think that I might have been maimed or killed. I imagine that many police officers and soldiers have similar reactions despite their training and their politics.
Violence breeds violence; it’s rarely if ever one-sided. Palestinians, now also joined by Arab citizens of Israel, believe that the desperate reactions of some of their people are in response to the violence inherent in the Israeli occupation. By contrast, most Israelis seem to think that, unless the police and the military act the way they do, Jewish existence in the Jewish state will be at risk.
I’m too confused to declare which side I favour. But I’m conscious of the dilemmas and the burdens that people here are facing: Palestinians as victims of occupation and Israelis as occupiers.
The only solution is, of course, peace and two states, Israel and Palestine living side by side. However, the way the two sides understand this is so divergent that the solution escapes them. All we can say is that without sacrifices by everybody things will continue to be bad, probably worse than they are now. Therefore, the next leader of Israel must be someone who can persuade Jews that only by making sacrifices can their future be secured. None of the aforementioned three men qualify.