A New Israel
Near the end of the period of our lives when we lived in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, there was an unpleasant weekly ritual for those of us who sometimes worked in Ashkelon or Beer-Sheva on Friday afternoons on our way home when we passed the Kissufim intersection, the last turn before entering the Gaza Strip. This was during the second intifada, and at that time much of the Arab violence was visited upon us living in Gush Katif for the obvious reason of our towns being embedded next to the increasingly militant population of the Arab cities of Khan Yunis, Gaza, and Rafah. Every Jewish town had its dead and seriously wounded, and those of us who were still alive had to strengthen ourselves by reinforcing our belief that our presence in the area was essential to the security of the Jewish nation. Contrary to what many assume, it was not a far-right wing government that decided to settle the area, rather, it was Yithak Rabin’s first government—traditionally leftist and socialist—who decided that there needed to be a Jewish presence in the Gaza Strip. That government turned to the National Religious camp to take up the challenge, because they were the only ones who could provide enough ideologically motivated Jews to succeed. We did succeed, and we did persevere in the worst of times, but in the end we were undone by Rabin’s second government, who decided to save Yasir Arafat from oblivion and to bring him back to life as the self-appointed leader of the Palestinian people, and to plant him and his evil minions in the Gaza Strip and to provide them with arms and military training and expect him to build a thriving Palestinian Arab entity, a partner for peace. There was one problem with that plan. The Arabs of Gaza hated Arafat. They knew him for what he was, and disposed of him in short order. I have written about this:
Hamas filled the leadership vacuum, and became what they became, and brought us to where we are.
On those Friday afternoons, at that intersection, stood members of the surrounding Kibbutzim, protesting our presence in Gaza. Age-wise and fashion-wise they seemed to be latter day hippie types. For me, they were easy enough to ignore, but, as with all worthy protesters, they soon found ways to demand our attention. Since the Jews of Gaza were 95% religious Jews, the protestors took to quoting the Bible, and by their choice of verses, I learned quickly that they were no riff-raff. They learned what was dear to us and twisted meanings so that their posters and shouts could not be ignored. The worse of these for me was when they quoted the prophet Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord; A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Raĥel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted for her children, because they are not.
Thus says the Lord; Keep thy voice from weeping, and thy eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, says the Lord; and they shall come back again from the land of the enemy.
And there is hope for thy future, says the Lord, and thy children shall come back again to their own border. (Jeremiah 31:15-17)
The posters had the above highlighted text, which is three words in Hebrew. For a religious Jew, these three words recall one of the most beautiful Biblical commentaries in all of Judaism, the medieval commentator Rashi commenting on the passage in Genesis that seems somewhat out of place while Jacob is blessing Joseph and his sons:
And as for me, when I came from Paddan, Raĥel died by me in the land of Kena῾an on the way, when yet there was but a little way to come to Efrat: and I buried her there in the way of Efrat; that is Bet-leĥem. (Genesis 48:7)
'ואני בבאי מפדן וגו AND AS FOR ME, WHEN I CAME FROM PADAN etc. — “And although I trouble you to take me for burial into the land of Canaan and I did not do this for your mother (i.e., I did not take the trouble to bury her in a place other than that in which she died, which was by the road-side) which I might easily have done since she died quite close to Bethlehem”.
ואקברה שם AND I BURIED HERE THERE and did not carry her even the short distance to Bethlehem to bring her into a city. I know that in your heart you feel some resentment against me. Know, however, that I buried her there by the command of God”. And the future proved that God had commanded him to do this in order that she might help her children when Nebuzaradan would take them into captivity. For when they were passing along that road Rachel came forth from her grave and stood by her tomb weeping and beseeching mercy for them, as it is said, (Jeremiah 31:15) “A voice is heard in Rama, [the sound of weeping … Rachel weeping for her children]”, and the Holy One, blessed be He, replied to her (v. 16) “There is a reward for thy work, says the Lord etc. (v. 17) for thy children will return to their own border”. (Rashi on Genesis 48:7)
On the day that the protesters held up the poster with this quote, I could not ignore them and pulled over to see if there was room for dialogue. It turned out that there was not and as soon as I got out of my car there were three or four protesters right in my face screaming and spitting out their opinions of me and my like. Chagrinned, I returned to my car and continued towards Gush Katif. Something did not compute. The Israelis who founded these kibbutzim were pioneers of the highest order, as were the generations that followed. Had something changed? It was true that the members of these kibbutzim mostly voted for the left to far-left political parties, but they voted that way from thought-out positions. They were worthy ideological opponents—not what I had seen at the intersection. I decided that I would go to one of the kibbutzim and search out other members. I pulled in to the nearest one—one that shared a border with the Gaza Strip. There was a factory just inside the entrance to the kibbutz and I pulled in. I entered the factory and walked towards the offices. The general manager was there and invited me into his office. I started to ask: “What is going on with your friends at the intersection?” He waved me off before I could finish. “How many did you see there?” “Fifteen, twenty maybe,” I answered. “There you have it. Those few protestors are drawn from the eight communities around here, each consisting of 400-500 members. Don’t judge us by them. Don’t get me wrong—I am against Jews being in Gaza as much as they are. I just don’t believe that it is proper to protest in your faces while you are under daily attack.” I was placated.
And now, what is left of all that? Nothing is left of the political differences. Those communities are shattered, blasted, having been subjected to the worst atrocities imaginable. We Jews who are still here want only to hug and comfort them—the half who survived. But we cannot yet. We are still under fire.
There is a great awakening among the Jews of Israel. There is a feeling of general unification. No, the ideological divisions between segments of Israeli society are not going to disappear completely, but for now they have been put aside. And when they return, there will be a different hue to them. The entire leadership, political, military, and intelligence will be replaced. This will relieve those on the left who have been protesting against Netanyahu, as the newfound general determination to destroy completely the terrorist entity Hamas relieves those on the right. After the dust has settled the ensuing dialogue will be among family members, and within the family unit, there is room for diverse views and approaches to life. This will be the new Israel.
Mother Rachel cried for three thousand years. She is crying today for the murdered, but her children have returned from the long exile and are determined to comfort her.
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