A Truly Jewish State Would Help Rebuild Gaza

If Israel is true to its word, if Israel truly has nothing against the residents of Gaza, this is the time to rescind the siege and foster reconstruction. They need our help now. It's starting to rain again.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
A Palestinian woman carries her daughter as she walks past her destroyed house  following heavy rain in the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 4, 2014.
A Palestinian woman carries her daughter as she walks past her destroyed house following heavy rain in the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 4, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

What makes a country like Israel, Jewish?

Is it demographics? Is it the kind of statistical majority that the government cites to defend a bill to hunt down, fence off, and deport non-Jewish refugee African asylum seekers who have committed no crime? Is it exclusion? Is it the kind of law that, according to Benjamin Netanyahu, would define Israel as "the nation state of one people only - the Jewish people - and no other people" ?

Or is a Jewish country one which acts in accordance with moral principles of justice and lovingkindness rooted in Jewish tradition?

We're about to find out.

It's begun to rain here. In most of the Holy Land, there are few greater blessings. And then there's Gaza.

Even before the devastation of the summer war, Gaza was ill-equipped to deal with the flooding and sewage disruption which can accompany storms. Last December, heavy rains forced some 40,000 residents from their homes, and flood waters reached a height of 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) in some areas.

And that was before. During the 50 days of the war in July and August, Israeli air strikes and shelling left tens of thousands of homes destroyed or significantly damaged the length of the Strip. The availability of water for home use was curtailed in many areas. Sewage and drainage infrastructure were hard hit as well.

And now it's begun to rain.

It's time for Israel to put aside blame, long-term strategic goals, long-held and
counter-productive tactics of embargo and siege. It's time for a truly Jewish state to step up and help Gaza.

It's time for a country which sent medical teams and aid to earthquake victims in Haiti in 2010, and emergency housing to a temblor-ravaged, diplomatically estranged Turkey in 2011, to find ways to help our immediate neighbors in Gaza rebuild now. It's a matter of Tikkun Olam, of helping repair a broken world.

The need is particularly pressing, as the siege on Gaza is worsening by the day. Egypt, responding to the recent killing of 33 of its soldiers, has clamped its Rafah entry point closed, and is bulldozing hundreds of houses along a wide newly declared buffer zone to further choke the flow of goods into Gaza.

If Israel is true to its word - if, as the prime minister told the UN in September, "We deeply regret every single civilian casualty," if Israel truly has nothing against the residents of Gaza - this is the time to step up, to rescind the blockade, to allow and enable reconstruction to go forward.

And not only because, as a veteran Israeli defense analyst reported last month, the siege of Gaza has in many ways done Israel more harm than good ("The security establishment now admits that Israel's airtight closure of the Gaza Strip has worked against [Israel's] general interests."). The siege only enriched and entrenched Hamas, and, in so doing, helped it rearm itself, again and again.

A truly Jewish country would now actively help rebuild Gaza, if only because of how a Jew is commanded to treat a neighbor.

Two thousand years ago, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva taught that the overriding principle of the Torah was the commandment in Leviticus 19:18 to "Love your neighbor as yourself."

The 19th Century German Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a forerunner of modern Orthodox Judaism, cited an earlier biblical passage, "Don't put a stumbling block before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14), interpreting it to mean that "the whole great sphere of the material and spiritual happiness of our neighbor is entrusted to our care. "Our care and consideration must be exercised for the benefit of our neighbor," he wrote, "to prevent his coming into any material or moral harm through our means."

There will be those who will argue, and rightly, that Tikkun Olam begins at home. There is no question that the moral challenges within Israel are enormous and immediate.

A truly Jewish state would not condemn Holocaust survivors to poverty. A truly Jewish state would not allow education and health systems to corrode and crumble.

Certainly, a truly Jewish state would protect the Israeli Jews living within mortar and tunnel range of Gaza. It would listen to their pleas for a negotiated agreement to forestall renewed fighting, rather than withdrawing troops from the area, avoiding talks, and preserving the siege of the Strip, thus encouraging a new conflagration.

It's true – Tikkun Olam begins at home. Whether we like it or not, though, the neighbors are a part of any home. And our neighbors have no plans to move.

They need our help now. It's starting to rain again.

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