Asked by a convert to distill the Torah’s essence, Rabbi Hillel — Judaism’s great sage — taught, “What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor.”
Like the Golden Rule that roots most ethical traditions, Hillel’s first-century precept was aimed at inspiring a better society, one that brought order, dignity and peace to an otherwise cruel and warring world.
That too much of the world still inhabits a darker moral universe — refusing to Think Again about its preference for violence, hate and death — is perhaps humanity’s greatest challenge.
As Nazi-era refugee Albert Einstein understood, defending our collective values is the humane response. “The world is a dangerous place to live in,” he said, “not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Today, the world’s spotlight is on Israel, which is trying to do something about the evil emanating from the Gaza Strip, the territory controlled by Hamas, a murderous terrorist organization.
As the only democracy in a swamp of Middle East extremism — and the world’s only Jewish state — Israel confronts a Nazi-like neighbor whose slogan is “We love death more than Jews love life” and which pumps hate into its society’s bloodstream. Besides killing Jews, Hamas aims to bait Israel into self-defense actions it abhors, causing Palestinian deaths that elicit international scorn.
Hamas’ charter foretold this story. Calling for the destruction of Israel and Jews everywhere, it declares that “leaving the circle of conflict with Israel is a major act of treason.” After years of terror attacks killing nearly 1,300 innocent Israelis, witness Hamas’ relentless rocket assaults and tunnel invasions.
Imagine the devastation that could have resulted from Hamas’ massive plot — planned for the Jewish New Year and foiled last week — to inject terrorists into Israel via its newly discovered tunnel network.
Despite the existential threats, Israel tried to facilitate Gazan peace and prosperity. Having assumed control over Gaza in 1967 — after defeating the Arab armies that launched the Six-Day War — Israel withdrew in 2005 to enable Palestinian self-determination. To bolster Gaza’s economy, Israel expanded border crossings and gave the Palestinians 3,000 fruit and flower greenhouses. Even amid rocket fire, Israel transfers 100,000 tons of humanitarian goods monthly.
Alas, though the world’s largest per-capita recipient of foreign aid, Gaza didn’t become Canada-on-the-Mediterranean. After destroying the greenhouses and violently overthrowing the Palestinian Authority government, Hamas diverted resources and exploited cease-fires to build a vast military infrastructure — amid civilians and even U.N. facilities — from which to terrorize Israelis.
Hamas knows its most lethal weapon is retaliation-caused devastation, which is why its “dead-baby strategy” works. But critics accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza are not only libelous — they ignore Hamas’ disproportionate immorality reflected in its eagerness to kill its own citizens, never mind authentic genocides such as Syria’s and Darfur’s.
Consider these moral inequities: Israel uses missile defenses to protect civilians while Hamas uses civilians to protect missiles, war is Israel’s last resort but Hamas’ first, and Israel undertakes unprecedented efforts to forewarn innocents in attack zones while Hamas urges (and often compels) innocents to become propaganda-aiding victims.
Not surprisingly, many Gazans “have a dream, to work or live in Israel,” reported Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh.
Israel also has a dream — sustainable peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians — and a lament that former Prime Minister Golda Meir best articulated. “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,” she said, “ but we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill theirs.”
Responding to terrorism as America has since 9/11, though with greater self-restraint, Israel aims to degrade Hamas’ threat by destroying rockets and collapsing tunnels — demilitarization goals shared by Israel’s neighbors Egypt, Jordan and Fatah, the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank administrator.
Israel couldn’t agree to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal because the request adopted Hamas’ demands while ignoring Israel’s, awarding legitimacy, concessions and rearmament opportunities to a group designated a terror organization by Kerry’s State Department.
Reflecting Israelis’ frustration, Ari Shavit, columnist for Israel’s left-wing Haaretz newspaper, wrote, “The Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends.”
Hillel’s other famous lesson — “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” — is instructive. Alone and isolated, Israel’s fate is in its own hands, yet as goes Israel, so goes our civilized world.
To preserve our values and send an unequivocal message to terrorists everywhere, we must stand by our ally Israel as it finally, reluctantly confronts this evil.
Think Again — If Israel laid down its arms, it would cease to exist; and if Hamas demilitarized, there would be peace in Gaza.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.