An Israel update from our Rabbis

A message from Rabbi Goldberg:

July 9, Hamburg
Getting to Israel these days is not so easy. I had hoped to be there by now but, thanks to the help of Lufthansa, I am now waiting for an evening flight to Tel Aviv. There I will join an American Israel Education Foundation Mission with 19 rabbis from across the United States.

My colleagues in Israel yesterday watched with grave concern as terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired more than 140 rockets at Israel, endangering the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. The missiles launched by Hamas have targeted Israeli population centers throughout the country, sending men, women and children running to bomb shelters for their lives. For the first time since 2012, rockets fired from Gaza reached Tel Aviv – thankfully intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. In response to these egregious acts of terror, the Israel Defense Forces have embarked on Operation Protective Edge to stop the escalation of violence and protect its people. As we continue to monitor the events in Gaza, we must keep in mind one key point: Had there been no rocket fire from terrorists on Israel’s borders, the Jewish state would not have to carry out this response. No country can tolerate terror like this.

If you want to follow the developments of the rocket fire more closely, there is a new app called Red Alert: Israel, which you can download to your smartphone.

A few points to keep in mind:
Israel made several efforts to defuse the situation last week, but Hamas rebuffed every Israeli feeler. On July 3, it proposed a “quiet for quiet” formula to Hamas. A Hamas source responded, “We will not agree to ‘quiet in exchange for quiet.’ If Israel does not agree to our demands, I expect we will continue this battle.” Instead, Hamas announced outrageous demands, including the unthinkable step that Israel not respond to ongoing attacks from Gaza.

On July 7, terrorists in Gaza dramatically stepped up attacks on Israel, launching more than 80 rockets in a day. In a further provocation, fanatics attempted to tunnel into Israel to carry out a significant terrorist attack, but were thwarted when their explosives detonated prematurely.

In response to these assaults, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Protective Edge on July 7. Since the start of the Operation, the IDF has targeted more than 150 terror sites in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s aim is to protect Israeli civilians and destroy Hamas’ terror infrastructure. Hamas’ escalation worsened an already tense situation between Israel and the Palestinians.

The June 12 abduction and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers by two suspected Hamas members prompted Israel to launch Operation Brother’s Keeper, an effort both to retrieve the boys and to dismantle Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.

The murder of a Palestinian boy by Jewish extremists further exacerbated tensions, leading to riots in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Unlike the Palestinians’ response to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, Israelis across the political and religious spectrum – politicians, educators, rabbis, commentators – strongly denounced the murder.

“I unequivocally condemn the murder of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism – they have no place in our democracy.” Israel quickly tracked down and arrested the teen’s suspected murderers.

Gaza terrorists exploited this tension by abandoning all pretense of restraint and initiating an onslaught of rockets. They have launched nearly 400 rockets at Israel since June 14, targeting Israeli population centers such as Tel Aviv, Be’ersheva, and Ashdod. Hamas released a video taunting Israelis, telling all residents of Be’ersheva to flee or face death.

Israel’s response to the ongoing terrorism from Gaza is proportionate and in compliance with international law.

Israel’s military operation is an act of self-defense, a right enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

Israel’s actions to stop Hamas rocket attacks are proportional to the risk over half of Israel’s population faces, including the prospect of mass casualties. Nevertheless, Israel uses pinpoint targeting to do everything it can to limit casualties in Gaza.

While Israel makes every effort to minimize civilian casualties, international law precludes Hamas’ ongoing regular use of civilian shield to protect legitimate military targets. Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states, “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.”

The responsibility for civilian casualties when those civilians are used as human shields lies with the party that deliberately places them at risk, namely Hamas.

America must continue its strong support for Israel’s defensive actions. It is critical for the United States to reiterate its support for its ally Israel, including its right to live in peace and to defend itself. No other country in the world faces daily rocket attacks against its civilians, nor would any other country tolerate such violence.

“We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”

Hamas’ ongoing violence against Israel underscores the need for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to renounce the Hamas-backed unity government.

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which the United States has helped fund, will again play a vital role in protecting Israeli lives. Without defensive measures like Iron Dome, Israel’s indigenous early warning system and extensive bunker facilities, Israeli civilian causalities would likely be significantly higher.

The United States should continue efforts to ensure that Israel has the necessary resources to meet the growing rocket and missile threat in the region.

I look forward to filing my next report from Israel.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Goldberg


A message from Rabbi Conover:


Yesterday, I walked into a 5:30 pm class at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Instead of hearing Yossi Klein Halevi speak about Israeli music, with heart in mouth he spoke about the matzav (the situation) in a very different voice. He spoke of the 40,000 reservists being called to the south. He spoke of the knesset and whether liberal parties would support an incursion into Gaza. Yesterday he opened our class entitled “War and Peace in Israeli Music” with the very real possibility that Israel soon will go to war. Yesterday, I heard the last line of Shalom Chanoch’s “Avshalom” in a different way: “What will surely come tomorrow?”

After picking up my two sons (6 and 4 years old) from camp, scrubbing them in the shower and giving them dinner, I left them with our wonderful babysitter to return to the Institute for a lecture on the future of liberal Judaism in North America. (God love our sensitivity to the Canadians.) Donniel Hartman opened the evening by saying, “We are going to do something very Israeli, we are not going to talk about the matzav.” He explained what we already know about the Israeli way, to check phones to see whether brothers, sisters, daughters, sons would be called up among the 40,000 for miluim (reserve duty) and then go back to regular activities– in this case, watching the World Cup. So we listened to a lecture and talk-back on the future of liberal Judaism, but many of us ducked out a little early nonetheless.

As you already know, around 10:00 pm, all Yerushalayim heard the sirens of the Red Alert. I was walking west with some friends, on the sidewalks of barren streets, heading home from the lecture. When we heard the sirens, we did not see an obvious way to the miklat (shelter) or even a stairwell of the surrounding apartment buildings. We stood on the sidewalk, debating whether to try to find shelter or continue home. As another minute was about to pass, one friend commented: “You know this is a 90-second kind of thing, right?” We decided to try to find a miklat in the nearest building. However, a 10-second check made it obvious that we would not easily find one. Heavily influenced by the fact that our children were waiting in a miklat only minutes away by foot, we walked with our heads tilted toward the sky. Soon we heard one boom, followed by another and then stillness. We walked more quickly. I made it home safely. My sons and their babysitter were in our living room, having just returned from the miklat themselves, all in their pjs, all exhausted, and one of my sons noticeably a bit weepy. We talked about what happened– and I tried to answer truthfully– but age-appropriately– all the questions my older son asked. (I, a Reform rabbi, am feeling more and more messianic, hoping that there will come a time when a mother, no matter the age, will not have to explain battles and war to her children.)

This morning, I put the new App Rabbi Goldberg mentions above, “Red Alert”, on my phone so I can see where and when missiles are landing.

This afternoon, I checked the route to my sons’ camps’ new location– one that has a miklat big enough to house all the children.

I read poetry on war and peace by great Israeli poets.

I cried.

I comforted.

I continue to pray.

Rabbi Conover