When you encounter your enemy's ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him. When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him. -Exodus 23:4-5
A few weeks ago I wrote here about the successful first meeting of our series "Meet the Imam," in which local Jews came to learn basic Islam from the imam of the mosque in a nearby Arab town. For the second session, scheduled for last week, I invited an imam who had been recommended to me. A PhD in chemistry, he also teaches in the gifted program of the school in his village. The topic was to be "family in Islam." The date turned out to be about a week into the Israeli incursion into Gaza. I called him a few days before to confirm the details, sent out publicity, and bought the cake. By 8:30 on the appointed evening people had assembled but no sign of the speaker. I called him:
-Hi Ahmed? -Yes -This is Marc at Shorashim; are you on your way here? -I'm not coming. -I don't understand. -When tanks are firing at children, I can't come and discuss Islam and family life. -I see; I'm sorry you didn't call me the people are all waiting here. -I just assumed you would have cancelled. How could we meet now? -I would have called you; seems to me it's a time like this when it's important to meet. -Besides, will you guarantee my safety if I come? -Yes, of course! Shall we wait? -No, I'm not coming. This is not the time.
As of this writing (by the time you read it the situation may be different), this war is hugely popular among the Jewish public. Expressions of opposition are very minor. The press, politicians across the spectrum, and public opinion are united in solid support of our "boys" as they pound the Hamas, finally giving vent to our feelings of frustration and persecution and identification with the residents of the border region after the irritating and frightening experience of eight years of rocket bombardments that we couldn't seem to stop. Everyone is competing to send gifts to the soldiers, host children from the border towns, etc. Periodically we read that the ministers in the government are at odds with each other regarding the goals of the operation, and the preferred outcome, but as long as we are "winning," and our casualties are few, the tabloids are cheering us with color photos of smiling soldiers enthusiastically going off to save the homeland, and heart-rending accounts of the heroic casualties.
There are, of course, Jews who are ambivalent, or who think that the massive destruction, injuries and deaths in Gaza (which are not shown on our TV) will only strengthen the forces opposed to peace in the long run. There are those who say that the "withdrawal" from Gaza in 2005 is somewhat of an illusion, as we kept Gaza under siege. There are those who see the attempt to unseat Hamas (an organization Israel supported and funded in the 80's, to undermine Fatah) as another attempt to control Arab governments that is destined to fail like all the others. But they are all keeping a low profile.
I guess history will show who was right. Meanwhile, the Arab citizens of Israel are torn. They are angry, depressed, and sad. They cannot help but identify with the suffering of Gazans yet to express such identification is to brand themselves as traitors to the war effort (which of course would only confirm the long-held suspicions of many Jews). No matter how justified this war, no matter how evil Hamas, it is hard not to sympathize with the pain of the Israeli Arabs as their multiple identities collide head-on. I fear that this operation may have, in the long term, unintended and unhappy effects on the fragile fabric of Israeli society. Hopefully, I'll be proven wrong.