Mourn for Gaza, Pray for Unity

By Avi Weiss

Published August 12, 2005, issue of August 12, 2005.

As Israel prepares to disengage from Gaza, it is not only natural but also proper that we experience a keen sense of mourning over our loss. Imagine if we were evicted from our homes, if our synagogues were dismantled, the remains of our loved ones disinterred. These feelings only become more acute when we recall that many of the residents of Gush Katif went there at the behest of the Israeli Labor government. They were noble, pioneering citizens of the state.

Even those who believe that the disengagement is necessary for peace to be achieved should be grieving. Severing from Gush Katif can be compared to amputating a limb to save one’s life. Such a step naturally would entail profound sadness. Similarly, giving away a part of Israel should evoke feelings of deep pain and anguish — and yes, of mourning, to the point that if we must leave, we all should rend our garments, as a piece of Eretz Yisrael is torn away from us.

And certainly those, like myself, who believe that the disengagement will not bring peace should be in mourning. Though halachically it is permissible to exchange land for peace, this withdrawal will only reinforce a sense on the other side that terrorism pays. The disengagement is a blow to the war on terrorism in Israel and around the world.

Yet greater than the sense of desolation over our loss at this time must be our renewed commitment to the value of achdut Yisrael, the unity of Israel. Both the left and right must guard their language. The settlers are not “occupiers,” and Prime Minister Sharon is not a “fascist.” While a word is a word and a deed is a deed, words lead to deeds.

Neither side should malign the other by impugning its motives. Sharon is not doing this to save himself from indictment, nor is the right fighting the disengagement to turn the state into a theocracy.

Unity also means that no side has a monopoly on love for the land of Israel. Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein and Rabbi Yehuda Amital, who support the principle of land for peace, love Israel no less than I do. Nor does the left have a monopoly on wanting peace. The right wants peace just as much, but believes that withdrawing from Gush Katif will yield the opposite result.

The right should not wear yellow stars or use provocative words such as “transfer” and “deportation.” This is not the Shoah. Nor should rabbis be telling students to disobey army orders. Such insubordination could wreak havoc for the Israeli military and pose a threat to the security of the nation. There is room for individual soldiers to be conscientious objectors, but that’s a far cry from issuing rabbinical mandates to defy orders.

The left should not countenance the violation of civil liberties, as was the case when licenses of bus drivers transporting protesters to Gush Katif were taken away, or when young teenage girls were summarily arrested and kept in prison for several weeks without being charged with any crime.

As an expression of a unified Israel, the left should praise the settlers for their great sacrifice during the wrenching process of disengagement, and empathize with their suffering. The right, for its part, should conduct protests that are civil and peaceful, with an eye toward the much greater value of preserving Israeli unity.

Many of our community’s previous protests were directed against an external enemy. The dispute over disengagement from Gaza, however, is an internal one. We are, in effect, disagreeing with members of our own family. The rules, therefore, must be far more benevolent and tolerant, based firmly on principles of love, unconditional acceptance and loyalty.

In a strong family — a family that will survive — the members, despite their differences, remain committed to their love for one another. The test of a family occurs when love prevails over any disagreement. So, too, for the family of Israel, the real test is how the nation holds together even when its citizens disagree. Notwithstanding differences, the force of love must sustain the integrity of our oneness.

We mourn for Gush Katif, but even more urgent must be our concern about the divisions within the Jewish community. Such disunity can threaten our very survival.

Avi Weiss, senior rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, is national president of Amcha — The Coalition for Jewish Concerns.



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