On the Gaza Border, where was Pharaoh?

For all of us who today are celebrating the second day of Passover, whether as yontif or as chol,  sI end complicated blessings: joy in retelling the transformational story of liberation from a murderous Pharaoh, and painful sorrow in absorbing reports of the killing on the eve of Passover of at least 16 Palestinians and the wounding of many hundreds more by Israeli soldiers acting under orders from the government of what claims to be a Jewish state, the heirs of Exodus.

Normally I would not be writing or sending my writing forth on this day, which for many Jews is a sacred time to refrain from ordinary work. Indeed, despite my own painful sorrow yesterday, the first day of Passover and also Shabbat, I forbore to do the work I otherwise would have done to share with you my doubts and my concerns. But this second day of the festival we honor precisely because traditionally we had some doubt as to exactly when the Full Moon would come, and out of that doubt we made sure to celebrate and honor both days when it might appear. Today, given what happened on Friday, I feel obligated to honor this festival day of doubt by sharing my own doubts with you.

Were these killings Friday legitimate, or criminal?

To raise these questions, I am sharing with you three different responses from the scene in Gaza and in Israel, and then my own comments and concerns.


 From the Washington Post on March 31: [https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/israel-threatens-to-expand-response-if-gaza-violence-continues/2018/03/31/aab4d494-3464-11e8-b6bd-0084a1666987_story.html?utm_term=.93d449880498} (If this doesn't work as a link, please copy and [aste it into your browswer.)

BEIT LAHIA, Gaza — The morning after burying 19-year-old Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi, his family gathered in a tent set up to receive mourners, watching and re-watching a video of the moment they say Israeli soldiers shot him in the back of the head.

The video appears to show the teenager, dressed in black, running away from Gaza’s border fence with Israel carrying a tire. Just before reaching a crowd, he crumples under gunfire. 

“He had no gun, no molotov, a tire. Does that harm the Israelis, a tire?” asked his brother Mohamed Abdul Nabi, 22. “He wasn’t going toward the Israeli side. He was running away.” 


The teenager was one of at least 15 people killed in the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces on Friday during what Palestinian factions billed as a peaceful “March of Return” to mark Land Day, the anniversary of the expropriation of Arab-owned land by the Israeli government in 1976. 


From Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization, sent on April 1, 2018:

 “Call for independent Israeli investigation into recent Palestinian deaths at Gaza fence.”

Rabbis for Human Rights calls for an independent external Israeli investigation to be conducted into recent events at the Gaza border that resulted in the death of multiple Palestinians.

According to reports, some of the Palestinian demonstrations near the Gaza fence on the eve of the Passover holiday (March 30 2018) were violent while others were non-violent. In some cases, the Israeli military cited attempts to attack them, though according to documentation and reports, a large number of the demonstrators were unarmed civilians not attempting to harm anyone or damage the fence.

Although it is reasonable to assume the security forces faced a major challenge in distinguishing between the various elements present, the outcome is still very painful: according to varying reports, between eleven and sixteen Palestinians were killed.

Additionally, when taking into account the documentation of a protestor shot at while seemingly running away from the fence, the published open-fire regulations, and the large number of wounded on the Palestinian side (according to some reports, over a thousand), it seems that an inquiry is needed. An independent Israeli investigation of the Israeli army is first of all our moral obligation, but will also serve to mitigate potential cries from the international community demanding investigation or universal condemnations of Israel. In general, the establishment of a permanent mechanism for external examination of the army in cases in the occupied territories where there are significant casualties is needed.

Some questions an Israeli investigation must address: Did all those shot by live ammunition pose a life threat to the soldiers at the time of the shooting? If not, why were they shot? Were all individuals shot at by live ammunition or rubber coated bullets trying to damage the fence or had they approached it within a few feet in a suspicious manner? If not, why were they shot with these means?


Were non-lethal methods of crowd dispersal maximized to prevent protestors from getting too close to the fence prior to switching to the live ammunition or aggressive crowd dispersal means that can result in severe injuries or deaths? What exactly were the open-fire instructions given to the soldiers? To what extent were the instructions followed?

Israel is the strongest military force in the region, and we are happy that we are as strong as we are. However, with this great strength must come a clear moral position and willingness to distinguish between those who endanger human life, those who seek to destroy the fence, and those who demonstrate nonviolently. As Jews, this is our responsibility.


From a coalition of Israeli peace organizations (listed beneath their statement):

Now is the time to stand together and create hope!

Now is the time to prevent the next war!

In the previous weekend, we saw how the next war, which threatens to fall upon us every passing day, could look like: more than 15 dead and thousands of Palestinians wounded, more pain and fear, more hatred and animosity, and zero progress toward a life of security and peace for the people living on both sides of the border.

This sad outcome could have been avoided. But when the government chooses to continue the siege on Gaza and to suffocate its residents, the outcome is growing despair. Despair that has consequences for all of us. What happened on Friday at the border of the Gaza Strip is not just a Palestinian story. So many people, Israelis and Palestinians, are under imminent danger of a further war.

We have to stop such an event before everything burns and more blood is spilled in vain. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in security, and in order to do so, we must lift the siege on Gaza now and put an end to the terrible distress there, and strive to end the occupation and promote peace between two states living side by side -- Israel and Palestine. This is what we must demand from the government now -- stop the fire, completely change direction

Come and demonstrate with us on Sunday, 1 April, at 18:00, in front of Metzudat Ze'ev, the Likud Party's Headquarters on 38 King George Street in Tel Aviv, to demand that the escalation be halted and that an Israeli-Palestinian peace solution be immediately advanced..

Organizing groups:

Standing Together, Peace Now, Other Voice, Meretz  [political party in Knesset] , Hadash   [political party in Knesset], Combatants for Peace, Parents Circle - Families Forum  [Israeli families whose relatives have been killed by Palestinians, working together with Palestinian families whose relatives have been killed by Israelis  -- working together for peace], Breaking the Silence [Israeli soldiers who were eyewitnesses to illegal violence committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians, reporting what they saw], Hope not War, Zazim


First, while I welcome RHR’s call for an investigation, I have two doubts about their Call: I very much doubt whether in the present atmosphere of Israeli society, it is possible to have a truly “independent” investigation of the Army’s behavior by Israelis alone.

Such an investigation, I believe, must come from an independent international or transnational  commission that includes some Israeli and some Palestinian members. That investigation should look at the behaviors of the Israeli Army and of various Palestinian organizations – some of which urged nonviolence and some not.

Ideally, the UN Security Council would set up such a commission. But the present right-wing government of the United States, in close alliance with the present right-wing government of Israel, would probably veto such an effort. If so, the UN General Assembly, acting under the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, should do so.

Or if that too fails, then I would urge the leading religious organizations of the world -- at least those that are Christian, Muslim, and Jewish – to do so.  

My second doubt about the RHR statement is that it addresses only the most immediate symptom of the deep crisis. The Call by an array of Israeli peace groups to end the siege and blockade of Gaza and to make a true two-state peace with Palestine comes much closer to what is needed – not in some unclear future but in the light of the “fierce urgency of Now.”

The Palestinian People is clearly hearing the Call for nonviolent resistance not from organizations but from Truth Itself to act with the kind of haste and determination that on Passover we recall came from the Holy One, the Breath of Life, to the Godwrestling folk suffering under Pharaoh:  bake your matzah in great haste; you have no time to wait for the bread to rise.

The present Israeli government and its allies in the US, Egyptian, and Saudi governments are acting like the Pharaoh we read about on Friday night. They are using force to shatter the will and courage of a far weaker people they have defined as dangerous enemies, as Pharaoh defined the ancient Israelites, though they were far weaker than the great Egyptian Empire and its chariot army. This addiction to their own power, should be seen as morally abhorrent and in practice self-destructive by a State that calls itself Jewish and claims to echo the Passover story by having freed itself from the pharaonic pogroms and genocides of Europe.

And this outlook raises the most profound concern, even beyond the danger of war and the hope for a two-state peace that I share with the amalgam of Israeli peace groups. 

My deepest concern is that Torah’s most urgent and most repeated outcry is against idolatry. The Psalms use the metaphor of a wooden statue turned into an idol to say that it has eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, a nose but cannot breathe. “Those who make them will become like them.” That is, these idols are not the God of life, but Death itself embodied -- and those who make such idols will die.

The ancient Rabbis tell the story that when they hunted for the evil impulse toward idolatry, they found it hiding in the Holy of Holies. What is most sacred – even, in our own generation, the place of Jewish creativity and safety that the State of Israel was intended to be -- we can turn into an idol. And if we do, by worshipping death we conspire in our own death and destruction.  

Pharaoh thought himself a god, and therefore immune to the consequences of his violence that YHWH, the Interbreath of Life, would bring upon him. because all life is indeed interwoven. The present government of the State of Israel is acting as if its own power, its propensity for violence, were its idol. That behavior beckons death into the throne room. God forbid that American Jews and their organizations join in this false worship, and God calls on us to challenge it and change it.

With blessings of action to renew shalom, salaam, paz, peace



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