Saturday, 17 November 2012

Gaza and the thoughts of Rabbi Sacks

The UK's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has inadvertently revealed something of his inner thoughts on what he believes lies behind the current violence in Gaza.

As noted at the Guardian:
"The BBC has apologised to the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, after Radio 4's Today presenter Evan Davis asked him a question about the violence in Gaza without telling him he was live on air.
When Sacks finished his Thought for the Day on Friday morning, Davis asked him to comment on the Gaza situation before he left the studio. Sacks, seemingly unaware that he was live, said "I think it's got to do with Iran, actually", before Davis' co-presenter Sarah Montague whispered: "We, we're live." His tone then changed markedly and he called for "a continued prayer for peace, not only in Gaza but for the whole region, no one gains from violence". According to a number of BBC sources, Sacks was said to be "angry" about the incident and made his feelings known to Today's production team."
Besides such anger, the incident says much about what gets to be aired, accidentally or otherwise, from within establishment organisations like the BBC.

Yet, now that his comment is in the public domain, perhaps we will see rabbi Sacks elaborate more concisely on what he means by it.

Is he suggesting that Israel is deceptively using Iran as an excuse to attack Hamas and Gaza, or, more likely, that it is justified in doing so?

Whatever the fuller explanation to come, it would seem that his principal concerns lie with the 'threat' to Israel. As reported at the Telegraph:
"In an official statement on the escalating crisis between Gaza and Israel yesterday, he offered support for the Israelis’ right to defend themselves. “In the past week alone over 275 rockets have been fired into southern Israel from Gaza,” he said. “No nation on earth can be expected to live under this constant threat to innocent life. “The people of Israel are entitled, as is any other nation, to live in peace and safety. We mourn with all the bereaved families, and pray for an end to the hostilities from which both sides suffer.”"  
Yet what, one wonders, of the Palestinians' right to self-defence? Are they "expected to live under [such] constant threat to innocent life"?  Are they also "entitled, as is any other nation, to live in peace and safety"?

Of course, Palestine is not, in any official capacity, a nation. But does that invalidate their human rights? Indeed, given their denial of statehood through occupation and siege, shouldn't that merit even more concern over their entitlement to peace and safety?

Moreover, in what usefully moral sense can we say that Israel itself has this 'right' to defend itself?

It's analogous to a crazed killer going into a house, wiping out a large family and a last terrified member of that family hitting out in a defensive effort to stay alive. Can the killer, the person who has invaded that house and already unleashed such violence, claim the same right to defend himself? How do we derive such a moral 'right' from such a gross wrong?

In addition to what rabbi Sacks has already stated and intimated on the issues, it's useful to reflect a little further on what he concluded in his actual Thought for the Day piece - dedicated, in all irony, to Children in Need day - before his off-guarded comment:
"What Judaism and Christianity are saying in their respective stories is that children are holy. Each one is a kind of miracle and needs our special care. Never let us be deaf to the cry of a child."
It's a thought that would be almost universally shared by any humanitarian thinking person, whether of a particular religious persuasion or none.

Yet, one is ineluctably drawn again to the suffering children of Gaza. Surely they, like all other children, need our special care? How can we be deaf to the cries of Palestinian children as they cower, terrified under the onslaught of Israeli shells?

The additional comment of rabbi Sacks (after alerted to being live on air) is also worth recording:
"No-one gains from violence. Not the Palestinians, not the Israelis. This is an issue here where we must all pray for peace and work for it.
Here, rabbi Sacks is surely right when we consider the ultimate uselessness of violence, though one suspects he might again have differentiated views on which party here has an equivalent 'right' to violence.

What possible gain for besieged and occupied Palestinians in being the daily target of sustained state violence? What arguable gain for those same Palestinians who feel no choice but to resort to violence in desperate resistance only to see ever greater violence inflicted upon them? And what gain to find themselves unjustly castigated as the main instigator of such violence?

For Israel, what long-term gain in being the principal perpetrators of that violence, and having to continually use violence in order to maintain its oppression? And what gain for Israelis who now find themselves at the relative receiving end of the violence which their state has locked them into?  

It may be important, for rabbi Sacks and others, to pray for peace and non-violence. But how do we actually work for it? Do we allow ourselves the moral pretence that blanket condemnation of violence can deliver any sort of just peace? And do we qualify that in saying that Israel has the right to defence and protection of its people but the Palestinians don't?

If rabbi Sacks wants to work, as well as pray, for true peace, he might reflect more deeply on what the violence being inflicted on Gaza really has to do with Iran.

In doing so, he might come to the reasoned conclusion that it's another smokescreen 'issue' being used to control and punish an imprisoned and brutalised population.

And, in pursuing this line of thought, he might bring himself to acknowledge that, as courageously and consistently stated by many other Jews, 'Israel does not act or speak in our name' when it bombs and murders Palestinians under the mendacious pretext of 'rightful response' or 'self-defence'. 


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