In 2014, I helped to found the York Liberal Jewish Community and a few weeks ago we were able to appoint the community’s first Rabbi since medieval times. This weekend, following the horrendous attacks on Israel, our new Rabbi offered the community a zoom call to pray for peace in the region. Despite just a few hours’ notice, nearly forty people joined.
Many British people misunderstand the relationship between the British Jewish community and Israel or the Israeli Defence Forces. Ours is a community which still lives in the shadow of the Holocaust, which wiped out a third of the world’s entire Jewish population. We are not Israelis and overwhelmingly the British Jewish community opposes and is offended by Israel’s current far right Government, but we fear those of Israel’s enemies who do not make this distinction.
Ties are tight. I have family in Jerusalem, around 45 miles from Gaza. Friends have children on gap year in Tel Aviv, a mere 40 miles away – less than an hour’s drive. The Israeli Defence Forces are not made up of professional soldiers from a handful of communities with long established military traditions. They are everyone’s family and friends; the reservists are doctors and lawyers, lorry drivers and baristas, students and farmers. Not “the other”, only us.
So, when Jews gather in York to pray for peace in Israel it is personal. Even for those in our community who have never been to Israel, who feel no special relationship – and there are many – what is happening there is still about us, our friends, our neighbours.
Every few weeks in Parliament St in York city centre a well-meaning group of largely middle-class activists hand out flyers from a stall in support of Palestine. They will explain how Israel occupied the land and drove out the Palestinians. They may not believe it, but I share some of their anger and outrage at what has happened to many Palestinians since 1948, if not their narrative.
Meanwhile, in a field in Southern Israel, Hamas terrorists take pot shots at men, women and children attending a music festival, murdering ordinary people in cold blood, for what? For peace? For justice? For fun? Were you at a music festival this summer? Were your friends? Your children?
So, when I am invited to consider the ‘wider causes’ (sic) of Saturday’s attacks, or to draw fake equivalences between Hamas’ terrorism and Israel’s retaliation, I challenge those doing so not to seek to defend the indefensible. Hamas is responsible for the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza as surely as they are for the 700+ Israelis killed at the weekend.
When Israeli reservists started after the last election to refuse to respond to call ups, to serve an Israeli government seemingly bent of the destruction of Israeli democracy, I applauded them. It is noticeable that this weekend there has been no such resistance.
Palestinians share the responsibility of these IDF reservists to stand up to those who undermine peace. And justice. Palestinians must ask whose cause is served? Israelis and Palestinians are ill-served by their current leaders and the blame falls on all of us who seek to offer excuses for those things that cannot be excused: not in my name, not in my name.