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Dear Friends,

In July of 2014 I went to Israel as part of a one week rabbinic mission sponsored by AIPAC. While we were in the air Hamas had begun firing rockets from Gaza toward Israel’s civilian population. Our bus had to take a different road up to Jerusalem due to the missile threat. That was our first indication that the next week would not be the week we expected.

While we worried about the collective well-being of everyone within range of the missiles, we could not help but breathe a sign of relief once we reached Jerusalem. After all, we thought, there was no way Hamas would ever target Jerusalem.

We were wrong. The first red alert came two hours after we arrived, and we experienced countless red alerts warning of missiles fired in our direction over the next days. In fact, at one point, we were in a building next to the Knesset when Israel’s Iron Dome Missile Defense System took down a missile that was on a direct path toward the building we were in.

I share this story again to explain why this post by tech blogger Hillel Fuld shook me to the core. In it, he describes what life is like in parts of Israel at the moment. He writes,

“I was driving to pick my kid up from school, and all of a sudden sirens and explosions, very loud explosions, right over my head.

What do I do now? I’m in my car, nowhere near my house, no bomb shelter in sight, what the heck do I do?

Everyone stops their cars in the middle of the road, and went running in total and utter hysteria.

People are grabbing others off of the street pulling them into their homes to get them into a bomb shelter. I was one of those people.

I went into a stranger’s house and found myself in a bomb shelter with 20 people I do not know, and who I have never seen in my life.”

No one should have to live like this.

Clearly, the status quo in the region is untenable. And, as it continues, people are suffering and innocent lives are being lost on both sides of this conflict. Close to five hundred missiles have been shot at Israel from IPJ (Islamic Palestinean Jihad) in Gaza.

The images emerging from both Israel and Gaza are heart wrenching. Sadly, however, this is more of the same. IPJ and Hamas store and fire weapons from residential homes and neighborhoods. Israel responds to missiles being fired at civilian population centers as any sovereign nation can and must. But while Israel responds in as targeted a manner as possible, Hamas and IPJ’s strategy of using residential areas as staging grounds means civilians are still injured and killed in the process.

It is a grotesque dance that cannot continue.

But unless you don’t believe Israel has a right to exist in the first place, when you watch countless missiles being fired from Gaza toward Israel it becomes clear that Israel must respond. Because IPJ and Hamas do not want peace and Israel cannot simply “turn the other cheek” as missiles are indiscriminately fired toward them.

So a few personal thoughts…

Thank goodness for Iron Dome and David’s Sling. Iron Dome, which saved my life in 2014 has been used countless times, but David’s Sling, which is designed to intercept guided and more powerful missiles than Iron Dome can address, has successfully used for the first time. These technologies save lives on both sides of the conflict since, were there no missile defense system, Israel would likely have had to engage in a ground offensive already and the death toll would be much higher.

What you see on social media and in the news cannot be taken at face value. At best, they do not capture the complexity of the situation but instead offer images without context and without stories without nuance.  At worst, they are propaganda hit pieces that ignore the hundreds of missiles Israel is enduring, neglect the effort Israel puts into trying to avoid civilian casualties, and use this as yet another justification for why Israel is the cause of all issues and instability in the region and, by extension, the world.

Is Israel blameless? Of course not. Israel’s politicians and military leaders have made mistakes. But no country can be expected to sit back while extremists sworn to your destruction attack your cities and towns. No country.

Ultimately, the only long term solution to this conflict is peace.

But that can only happen when Iranian-backed extremists stop using the population of Gaza as a staging ground for their attacks.

That can only happen if the international demonization of Israel and one-sided coverage of this conflict ends.

That can only happen when Israelis and Palestinians acknowledge one another’s humanity and, to quote the Torah, “choose life.”

As Shabbat approaches I am praying for my family and friends in Israel. I am praying for the Israeli and Gazan civilians whose lives have been completely upended. And I am praying that reasonable voices will stand up to extremism in all its forms. Only by doing so will we finally achieve the peace that has long escaped us and is more needed than ever.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen