The return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit after 5 years in captivity is a cause for celebration. Shalit’s capture and captivity were terribly painful for his family, Israelis in general, and the larger world Jewish community. The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, eloquently articulated the pain suffered by Israelis during Shalit’s captivity. Oren also talked about the risks that Israelis face daily, and the impact of the conflict on Israel. He described the personal distress felt at the loss of a very close family member, an all too common occurrence for Israelis, and Oren described having a son who was shot. No family should have to suffer the pain of such violence.
As we look at the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, we have to recognize the intensity, the magnitude, of the suffering of Israeli families. This is not just about Shalit; it is a timeless, universal issue that goes beyond Shalit to the impact on Israeli lives, on Jewish lives, in general. And when we fully realize and internalize the pain felt at the capture of Shalit or of the killing of an Israeli child, we can then understand the magnitude of the suffering of Palestinian families.
I am happy that Gilad Shalit has returned home to his family. His release was obtained in an exchange for over 1,000 men, women and children imprisoned by Israel. Knowing the pain Oren described, we can also understand the pain felt by the Christian and Muslim families of each of these 1,000. We can begin to recognize the pain felt by the families of the thousands more still held in Israeli prisons. We can begin to feel and understand the pain felt by the family, friends and larger world community of the Palestinian men, women and children injured, displaced or killed in Israeli attacks. We can surely feel the continued suffering of the five hundred and fifty Palestinian prisoners who remain waiting to be freed as part of the Shalit exchange.
Oren would have Americans believe that Israel made a difficult choice to obtain the release of Shalit. He sees the Palestinian prisoners who were released as mass murderers; he sees these 1,000 men, women and children who have been imprisoned by Israel as very different than Shalit or any other Israeli soldier. While the means they use to kill may be different, Israelis have killed more Christian and Muslim Palestinian children than Palestinians have killed Israeli Jewish children. All these killings are needless and horrible, and the means by which they were accomplished matters little to family and friends of the dead. Surely we can see that if our child had been killed by a suicide bomber or by a drone, we would feel the same horrible emptiness and pain at their death.
Israeli Jewish people deserve peace and security; of that I am certain. But that peace and security should not come at the expense of the peace and security of non-Jewish families. Creating a state for Jews is a wonderful thing; creating a state for Jews by expelling peaceful Christian and Muslim Palestinian families from their homes is not consistent with Jewish values. Perhaps some of the people who continue to voice support for Israel don’t realize the extent to which Jews expelled whole villages of Palestinians from their homes to create a Jewish state. Those who have learned of the expulsion peaceful Palestinian families from their homes are not likely to give Israel such one-sided support forever. Bereaved families of Israeli and Palestinians killed in this conflict can get past their hatred to promote reconciliation and peace; surely we can and will as well.
Peace and security for Jewish—and for non-Jewish—people of Israel/Palestine can come when refugees are repatriated. Sadly, the term Oren use for this is “the destruction of Israel,” and this term is true only in the sense of “Israel” as an entity which discriminates against the peaceful Christian and Muslim families who had been expelled from their homes. Supporters of Israel have a visceral fear of what they perceive as evil Hamas, but I ask them to look at the part of the Hamas Charter that calls for Jews, Christians and Muslims “to coexist in safety and security” and at statements from Hamas leaders that explicitly state that they do not hate Jews but hate being expelled from their homes.
From my American Jewish perspective, creating a state for Jews at the expense of peaceful Christian and Muslim families is not right. Creating a state for Jews at the expense of peaceful Christian and Muslim families does not give us the moral high ground to call the violence they commit terrorism and the violence we commit retaliation. It is time for all of us to stop justifying our support for killing or imprisonment other people’s children. It’s time to stop thinking about this conflict as “us” versus “them” and time to start thinking about everyone as just “us.” This is fundamental to our faith, to love our neighbor as ourselves, whether we are Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
Photo: Gilad Shalit and his father Noam embrace at an IDF base after being reunited. [Israel Defense Forces, Flickr]