After the Flood Came The Rainbow- Reflections on Israel and the Flood of Stabbings
This Shabbat we read the account of Noah and the Flood, the restoration of human and animal life, and the start of civilization as we come to know it.
What is it that brought the flood on in the first place?
We started with a wonderful world, a Gan Eden, a Paradise, literally. From thereon, all fell downhill. By the end of last week’s portion of Bereshit, we read:” Va timaley ha'aretz hamas"- The world is filled with violence. (Gen 6)
I note with poignant irony that the center of the world, the Gan Eden that is destroyed, is the very fertile and fruitful land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, Nahar Hidekel and Nahar Prat. This is called Mesopotamia, the Land Between the Rivers. In Arabic, it is Al Sham, and on the geopolitical map, Iraq and Syria. As it was before the flood, so it seems now to be a region filled with Hamas-violence; people of common and shared heritage, ancestry, and history, engage in active self-destruction. An entire region is depopulated as millions have escaped to neighboring lands and there is a flood of refugees as has not been seen since World War II.
It is with even greater irony that I note that the word for violence in Hebrew, “Hamas”, is also an abbreviation for Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, the Islamic Resistance Movement – the Political movement that today rules over Gaza. The most fitting image that I could find for Hamas, today, besides rockets and tunnels, is one that has been posted by Hamas approved media of Sheikh Muhammed Sallah delivering the Friday prayer at Rafah Mosque as he holds a butcher knife in his hand:
“attack in threes and fours...cut them into body parts. . .Some should restrain the victim while others attack with axes and butcher knives."
It is eerily reminiscent of the SA, Sturmabteilung, song of Nazi thugs as they terrorized their way to control of Germany ( we tend to forget that terror was a highly respected tool as founding principal of Nazism):
Wenn das Judenblut vom Messer spritzt Geht’s noch einmal so gut
“When Jewish blood spurts from our knives things will go twice as well.”
We are told by foreign policy experts that this is the reaction of poor and underprivileged people, even though most of the attackers come from middle class and educated backgrounds. We are told by our Secretary of State that this is a response to resent settlement policies but that has actually gone down in numbers.
We are told that this goes back to 1967, when Israel took over the Gaza strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Desert.
But Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for peace. Yet even with that Egyptian TV and media produced anti-Semitic programming comparable to that of Der Sturmer. ( Only this year, for the first time, they broadcast a show that presented Jews in a positive light, and the country was in shock.)
So, we are told, this goes back to 1967. Israel pulled out of Gaza ten years ago, only to have it turn into an armed camp, loaded with missiles fired at civilian targets.
So, we are told, this goes back to 1967.In 1993 Israel started the Peace talks that would lead to a Palestinian state and pulled back from most of the West Bank. Bloodshed followed.
Maybe, we are told, it is because Israel entered southern Lebanon in 1982 to push back Arafat's PLO. Israel pulled out, unilaterally, unconditionally, in 2000. But that led to the dominance of Hizbollah and thousands of missiles fired at Israel.
No. The anger that we see, whether in Gaza or in the West Bank or from anywhere else in the Arab world, is not from 1967 and settlements on the West Bank, and it is not from some fictional takeover of the Temple Mount by some imaginary conspirators. It goes back to 1948 and the shame of failure of the Palestinian Arabs and their supposed brothers of the other Arab nations. It goes back to 1917, the date many Palestinians consider the beginning of the Zionist invasion. (While Zionist Weizmann and Arab liberator Emir Feisal tried to cooperate on a Jewish homeland in Palestine, this was torpedoed by the Emir's fellow Arab leaders). It goes back to 1881, when the first wave of modern settlers came.
But it goes back, even earlier. No other people on earth have had to defend their right to live in their own land, except the Jews. How far back?
As far back as Genesis. The story of creation leads the great Bible scholar, Rashi, to ask," Why bother with the ancient account of creation? Why not start with what we need to do? Mitzvoth, observances.”
We need to show that there is a creator of the world, who established the nations on earth, and determines history and determines what people live in what lands, because the nations state:"Listim atem”: You are thieves- You stole the land from Seven Nations!" No, we did not steal; it was God's prerogative to determine that we deserved it.
When did Rashi write this? At the start of the Crusades. Jews were murdered by Crusaders while Christians and Moslems fought over who ruled the Land of Israel and Jerusalem in particular. I can only think that he chose this interpretation to remind himself and his fellows whose Promised Land it was.
But even this insight is older than Rashi's time. He adapted it from a Midrash composed centuries.It was a response to on long-going attacks on Jews and Judaism dating to Greek and Roman times.
The great Roman historian, Tacitus, writing shortly after the destruction of the first Temple, imagines the ancient Jews to be a band of outcasts that invaded Egypt and then were repulsed, sent to the desert. These brigands then went on to conquer the land of Canaan and expel the inhabitants. The Roman emperors from that period refused to called the land Judea and instead labelled it "Palestina" in order to deny the Jews a connection to their.
But it goes back even before the Romans.
There was an exhibition at the Getty Museum of the original of Persian King Cyrus, calling on the peoples that had been conquered and exiled by Babylonia to return to their homeland. This is recalled in the Bible; with that royal authority, the Judean exiles returned to Judea. Even then, even with the force of the Persian government edict to back them and with Nehemiah, a Persian court official given general authority, the returnees were opposed. Nehemiah describes how the builders of the new walls of Jerusalem were attacked: with one hand they worked at construction and with the other held a weapon.
For centuries, we have had to apologize for being in the land of Israel. Greeks never apologized for overrunning the original Mycenaeans. The Indo-Aryans never apologized for overrunning the original inhabitants of India. The Europeans have never apologized to the Native Americans for overrunning the Americas, and so forth. Only Jews have to explain.
Now, I have to bring some personal perspective to this spate of violence.
This has been on-going, unabated for decades.
My grandfather's grandfather and grandmother, in 1881, gave their possessions to their children and went to spend their last years in the holy city of Safed, Tzfat. It was a strenuous journey in those days, from Austro-Hungary to the Land of Israel, from the liberal Austrian Empire to a very corrupt Ottoman Empire. They did not live out their last years in peace but were murdered by their neighboring Arabs who stole the silver that they had brought with them.
We can talk about the Hebron Massacre in 1928, before there was a state of Israel, or the on-going murders carried out by Fedayeen gangs before 1967.
In 1969 I came to Israel as a student and I was told constantly to be on the lookout for explosives left by terrorists. One such explosion had occurred at the Hebrew University shortly before I arrived, causing much bloodshed.
This was only one of many such waves of violence before there was massive construction when the Israeli government was still waiting naively for the Arab states to sit down and negotiate a peace after the six-day war.
In 1986, we moved for a few years to Israel. The first thing our children learned was " Chafetz Chashud", a suspect object. Bombs were planted by the Palestinians everywhere.
We lived in Kfar Saba where one bomb went off at the bus station and another was found before it could go off at a kindergarten. A fire bomb was thrown at an Israeli car that had driven through a Palestinian neighborhood; the family was burned to death.
In 1993, we had that delusion of peace, with the Oslo accords and the Noble Peace Prize.
Arafat shortly thereafter gave a speech, to which both Americans and Israelis were deaf:
"This agreement is no more than the agreement signed by our Prophet Muhammed and the Qurasyh in Mecca." He repeated this reference many times but we all chose to be deaf to it.
The treaty, every student of the Koran understood, was a ruse, to buy time till Muhammed was ready to conquer Mecca. The Oslo accord was now Arafat’s ruse.
So it is no wonder that in the years following the Peace accords, there were ongoing acts of terror, winked at or actively encouraged the Palestinian Authority, by Fatah, and Hamas.
Our daughter spent a year as a student at the Hebrew University in 1996, the year of café bombings and bus bombings. She saw firsthand what the Israelis got for reaching out a hand of peace.
Yes, Netanyahu can be obnoxious and stubborn. Yes, Israelis can and do make mistakes. Yes, there are be Israeli extremists, extremists who are roundly condemned by Israeli leadership, from both left and right. Israelis never pass out candies and never shoot fireworks if an Israeli extremist kills a Palestinian; such celebrations are common when the reverse occurs. Israelis never pay to support families of Israeli extremists as a reward, but the Palestinian Authority has paid reward money to the tune of many multiples of millions to the families of the “martyrs”.
Here is what Israeli police do as our Sam Schwartz, who works with the Raanana police force, wrote after a terror attack there:
"Among our primary missions were to scour the streets trying to prevent the next attack but also to prevent any citizens from engaging in vigilante attacks against innocent Arab residents. Happy are the people of Israel that even in our hour of fear and indignation, when killers are still roaming free on the streets, our police still prioritize protecting all members of society. "
Israeli incitement is not and never was the root cause of this violence.
The Chinese were colonized and abused by the Manchurians, the Europeans and the Japanese. They have a historic right to be mad at the world. Instead, they have built their country into a powerhouse.
The Indians were colonized first by the Mogul emperors, then by the British. India is now a major world player.
After World War Two, tens of millions of people were uprooted from their lands in Europe. Tens of millions of Hindus and Moslems fled when India and Pakistan were established. Eventually, all of these refugees were settled in new homes.
It is the Arab world in particular that is mired in unresolved conflict and pain. No Arab country, except Jordan has allowed the Palestinians any rights to settle in their land of refuge, this has guaranteed their endless sense of helplessness. No other group of refugees has its own UN division nor had so many multiple billions thrown at it, guaranteeing their dependence on such largesse.
I want to make a long case short. We are not dealing with a normal antagonism, such as English against the French or French against Germans.
There are underlying complications of an Islamic world and civilization that is in turmoil, in particular in the Arab core. It is far behind the Christian west (except in the Emirates, where we bank our oil money), far behind the Buddhist and Confucian east, far behind the Hindu civilization to their southeast.
It is exacerbated for an Arab Moslem population that has had to swallow this fact of modern history. Not only were they under the thumb of the Turks for centuries, let alone the British and French for a few decades but now, they are under the lowly Jew!
The situation is closest to that of the poor white southerner of the past century; no matter how miserable, he could feel superior to the lowly black, who then dared to sit at the front of the bus.
Here is that lowly Jew, who must walk when a Moslem rides, who must live in the Meilah, who may never build a synagogue above a mosque, who is ritually impure, that lowly Jew now rules over Moslems and over lands considered " Wakf", lands dedicated to Islam.
This creates a deep-set emotional quandary that prevents the Palestinians in particular from taking the steps to get to what they need. It will remain so as long as the world continues to treat them as incompetent children and fails to demand mature behavior of their leadership. Only then will anything change.
It is very annoying therefore when people who are supposed to be our friends try to justify what the Palestinians are doing.
Our government kept absolutely silent when Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammed Abbas, declared," Al Aksa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They have no right to desecrate them with their dirty feet." Police went in briefly, it is true, to the Al-Aksa, but nobody , nobody, went in to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is far from the Temple Mount. Who cares about truth!
He accused the Israeli police of executing a 13-year old in cold-blood, a 13-year old who was later interviewed as he lay in an Israeli hospital, saved by Israelis, and in good condition. Who cares about truth!
With all this our state department has been so careful to be " even-handed". Abbas is not criticized and US money still pours into the Palestinian authority.Our Secretary of State Kerry lays the blame on " a massive increase in settlements" that has led to "frustration and violence."
Someone ran a fact check on this accusation. It turn out that there has been less settlement construction under Netanyahu than under any other Prime Minister since 1995,less than under Sharon, Barak, Olmert and even Netanyahu in his first round as Prime Minister. That is 1554 houses a year. Is that massive construction?
Our country needs to be the first to call upon the Palestinian leadership to grow up, stop crying, stop whimpering, and act like a leadership of a mature state they claim to desire. The UN, under ban Ki Moon, should stop talking about Israeli excessive force and challenge the Palestinian Authority to begin to act like the government it pretends to be.
I admit that I do not have solutions. I am only posting the problems at the core.
I do have one thought, from our reading of this morning. Noah is given God’s covenant of peace, as symbolized by the rainbow. I pray that we soon see the rainbow of peace for all parties—before any flood washes all away.