|Rabbi Ascherman with a Palestinian in West Bank
Our thanks to Carolyn Oppenheim for alerting us to this Times of Israel blog post, “Screaming Souls and an Elul Prayer,” from our friend, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of the Israeli NGO and activist group, Rabbis for Human Rights. The situation in Gaza informs his efforts at “Teshuva,” repentance, during this season of Jewish soul-searching leading up to Yom Kippur. It is, however, a fully Zionist piece as well. The following are excerpts:
. . . The full enormity of how many bodies have been ripped apart by Israeli bombs, when their deaths were not necessary for our legitimate self defense, has finally penetrated the Israeli bubble that I live in. Painfully aware of grieving Israeli families, of friends and colleagues in bomb shelters, and of family members and children of RHR rabbis and staff fighting in Gaza, as well as believing in the right of self defense and having had to run for shelter a few times myself, it was convenient to coat my growing awareness of what we were doing in cerebral terms and balanced pronouncements.
Theoretically, there could be information not at our disposal that changes the picture radically. That is why it is important that Israel’s comptroller has announced an independent and transparent Israeli investigation. I would be incredibly thankful to be proved wrong, but I doubt that will happen. It is already clear that in many of these cases there was no immediate danger, such as firing from the house. It is that awful reality that makes the numbers a horrible black stain that can never be erased.
When Israeli citizens or soldiers were in immediate danger of death if we didn’t kill women, children and the elderly, there was a difficult judgment call to be made and we can blame Hamas for having forced us to make such choices. . . .
When we killed non-combatants to remove a potential, but non-immediate threat to Israelis, we caused unjustifiably disproportionate death. This clearly happened when we killed entire families because a Hamas operative was in the home. . . .
Now, before Hamas and its supporters begin having a field day with what I have written, let me be clear. I continue to believe that Hamas is an immoral violator of both Israeli and Palestinian human rights, a disaster for the Palestinian people, and a disgrace to Islam. I know that Hamas has intentionally sacrificed its own citizens to lay the trap we have unfortunately fallen into. You will not find me at demonstrations placing all of the blame on Israel, and where there is no condemnation of Hamas rockets and tunnels. I have not been convinced by those who have mocked me for paying a shiva call to a fallen soldier and neighbor. If I was asked 49 days ago what to do, after days of Hamas rocket fire, after Israel’s warnings about what would happen if the rockets did not stop, and the international lack of will or inability to put the brakes on Hamas, I also would have reluctantly given the order for a military response, albeit a different response than the one we chose.
However, if I could turn back the clock, I would turn back the clock even further, I would turn the clock back to all those years in which territorial aspirations unrelated to real security concerns led us to thwart or ignore or talk to death every chance for a just and lasting peace. Our overwhelmingly greater power allowed us to influence the course of events in ways that Palestinians could not. With this power came responsibility, and we used it unwisely. . . .