by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The events of last week in Gaza, Israel, and Washington are like a lightning
storm that illumines very deep issues in the current agony of the Israeli
and Palestinian peoples. Every day, some new lightning flash dispels the
shadows around an additional aspect of this event.
When the lightning keeps flashing, it is wise to notice where it is landing.
From articles that have appeared in the Israeli press (especially by a
veteran reporter for Yediot Akhronot, a right-of-center large-circulation
paper) we have learned that last Monday, July 22, intense negotiations among
various Palestinian militias - including some like Tanzim that had resorted
to terrorist mass murders - had resulted in an agreement to halt all attacks
against Israeli civilians.
We know that Hamas' top leader had also publicly moved in this direction.
We have also learned (from the Saturday, July 27, Philadelphia Inquirer)
that the U.S. had persuaded Saudi Arabia to cut off all money to Hamas unless
it agreed to this.
We know that as of the afternoon/evening of the 22nd, the Israeli government
knew all these facts.
We know that for months, the Israeli government had targeted Sheikh Shehada
for assassination because of his role in planning terrorist attacks (and
because the Palestinian Authority had refused to arrest him for trial by
Israel for these murders), but had held off (according to Israeli government
statements) because they could not be certain of avoiding killing civilians.
And we know that at midnight that night, 90 minutes after Tanzim had committed
themselves to cease bombings, with an agreement scheduled to be published
in Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. papers within a few days, the Israeli
military dropped a bomb on Gaza, aimed at Shehada.
We know this bomb was dropped on an apartment complex at midnight, and
was almost certain to kill civilians. Indeed, it killed 15 civilians (mostly
sleeping children) and shattered the agreement reached that very evening
by the Tanzim.
The question gets more and more stark, the possible answers more and more
Why, after what the Israeli government says were months of shadowing Shehada
and not killing him to avoid killing civilians, did the Israeli government
order him killed when it was 99% certain to mean the killing of civilians
Was the reason that the Sharon government was desperate to shatter the
impending cease-fires lest they force Israel into a peace negotiation moving
toward a viable Palestine alongside Israel?
Was it because the Sharon government is uninterested in a peace agreement
with a Palestinian state and wants total control of all territory west of
the Jordan and the destruction of all efforts at Palestinian self-government
and possible statehood?
The Israeli government has said since the bombing it had no expectation
the cease-fire commitment would matter. But now we know that with the Saudi
cash in jeopardy, there was very good reason to think that indeed it might
So - did the Sharon government do this bombing because it had no hope that
the new agreement would matter (but then why, after months of waiting, rush
to attack?); or despite the likelihood it would shatter a serious step toward
ending violence; or BECAUSE it was likely to shatter that effort?
Does the Sharon government care about Israeli civilian lives? Or does it
see Israelis eating pizza at Sbarro's as "troops" who must die
if necessary to serve General Sharon's vision that Israel can control the
whole West Bank/Gaza and shatter every vestige of Palestinian nationalism?
What would such a total-control policy do to the future of Israel, the
Jewish people, the Palestinian and other Arab peoples, the world as a whole?
What should Americans - Jews, Christians, Muslims - do in the light of
this lightning flash?
Precisely because in the Middle East religion has been so often mobilized
for war, is this not the moment for an effort to gather an alliance of Jews,
Christians, and Muslims to bring deep changes in U.S. policy toward action
for peace between a viable Palestine and a secure Israel?
Rabbi Arthur Waskow is author of Godwrestling: Round 2 and director of The
Shalom Center, a North American network committed to drawing on Jewish wisdom,
old and new, in order to pursue peace, justice, and the healing of the earth.