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The Land of the Philistines

11/14/2019 04:20:14 PM


This week, conflict flared in Israel and Gaza. Israel assassinated an Islamic Jihad terrorist who was planning attacks on Israeli civilians. His peers responded with over 450 rockets against Israel. Millions of Israelis fled for shelters, and it is only thanks to the Iron Dome system that there were only close calls, and not significant civilian casualties on the Israeli side. Unfortunately, in the process of targeting Palestinian terrorist leaders, Israeli forces killed some of their family members as well. It is worth noting that Islamic Jihad (funded by Iran) was involved, but that Hamas, the group which has been responsible for rocket attacks in the past, actually sat out this conflict.

Conflict between Jews and the residents of the Gaza area are not new - the name “Palestine” is taken originally from the name of a group called the Philistines, who landed on the coast of the land of Canaan and colonized the area around Gaza over 3500 years ago. In our Torah portion this week, Abraham has two encounters with them. In the first, Abimelech, their king, takes Sarah from Abraham by force, and only releases her after God warns him. Abimelech famously protests to God “would you kill the innocent?” He asserts that he has blameless - that it is God and Abraham who are to blame, even though he was the one who began by kidnapping Sarah.
One sees a similar pattern as the world judges this week’s events. There are those who naively assume that in any conflict, “it takes two to tango.” Then there are those who will cynically assign all blame to whichever side has the fewest casualties or the least effective propaganda. The problem is that there is an inherent asymmetry in this conflict, not only of power, but of tactics. Israel could cause colossal destruction, but , but systematically attempts to limit civilian casualties, whereas the entire strategy of the terrorists is to maximize harm to civilians. They not only fire rockets at Israeli civilian centers, but also hope to take advantage of innocent casualties on their own side. The terrorist whom Israel killed earlier this week had surrounded himself with crowds of civilians for 10 days, making the cost of an attack too high. It was only after much deliberation that Israeli forces attacked him at his home, with unfortunate results. The Amnesty International building in Gaza was hit by an errant rocket fired by Palestinians from nearby, but Israel was still blamed.
I hope that the ceasefire holds, but it will undoubtedly only be temporary. When we read the Biblical account of Abraham, the kidnapping of Sarah is followed by a dispute over wells seized by Abimelech’s men. The two sides make an agreement over 7 ewes, marking an end to their conflict. Then, in the next generation, Isaac has the same conflicts, over wife and wells. It is only after the Philistines realize that Isaac may withdraw from their vicinity, but is not leaving the land altogether, that there is a peace lasting generations. It seems as if we, too, are faced with a conflict which transcends generations, and we can hope that the day will come when there is a resolution, based on acknowledgement of the rights of both sides to land and life, which is more long-lasting as well.
Sat, September 30 2023 15 Tishrei 5784