Tuesday, January 23, 2024

In This Moment: The Price of War; Jews, Palestinians, the Land and the Planet


In This Moment

Today has been a tragic day in this already tragic conflict. In the war's deadliest battlefield incident (from an Israeli standpoint), 21 IDF reserve soldiers were killed as buildings collapsed in a blast. See "Wide swath of society: The stories of some of the 21 troops killed in Gaza blast (TOI)."

Click to see pdf of the whole page

Wednesday's Front Pages

Try again later this evening if the pages aren't appearing yet

Jerusalem Post


Yediot Ahronot

Tu B'Shevat 5784

Jews, Palestinians,

the Land and the Planet

Above: A field of sunflowers in Slovakia, taken from the bus of our 2017 TBE Europe trip

Tu B'Shevat, which falls on Wed. night and Thursday, has shape-shifted in a number of ways over the past two millennia, with vastly different but complementary messages.

Right now we need to bring together the national Zionist theme with the more universal ecological one, and incorporate the most salient aspects of both. We need to take that tight spiritual bond that Jews have for our Land and direct that passion outward, toward those who also share bonds with that Land, with other lands, and with the entire planet.

Buber and Gandhi: Were the early Zionist pioneers "colonialists?"

In a landmark "open letter" between two giants of the spirit, written at the outbreak of World War Two, Martin Buber wrote to Mahatma Gandhi about a topic that is sadly still being discussed today: Are Jews in the Land of Israel foreign interlopers invading an alien country (as the British were doing in both Palestine and India), or are they returning to cultivate their ancestral, sacred soil? Buber's entire letter is well worth reading, but the excerpt below responds powerfully to the "colonialist" question:

Our settlers do not come here as do the colonists from the Occident to have natives do their work for them; they themselves set their shoulders to the plow and they spend their strength and their blood to make the land fruitful. But it is not only for ourselves that we desire its fertility. The Jewish farmers have begun to teach their brothers, the Arab farmers, to cultivate the land more intensively; we desire to teach them further: together with them we want to cultivate the land —to “serve it,” as the Hebrew has it. The more fertile this soil becomes, the more space there will be for us and for them. We have no desire to dispossess them: we want to live with them.

Martin Buber, An Open Letter to Mahatma Gandhi 1939

A.D. Gordon was a pioneer of early Zionism, known for expressing the organic connection of the people to the land. See this excerpt from one of his essays:

We are engaged in a creative endeavor the like of which is not to be found in the whole history of mankind: the rebirth and rehabilitation of a people that has been uprooted and scattered to the winds. The center of our national work, the heart of our people, is here, in Palestine. Here something is beginning to flower which has greater human significance and far wider ramifications than our history-makers envisage, but it is growing in every dimension deep within, like a tree growing out of its own seed. Here, in Palestine, is the force attracting all the scattered cells of the people to unite into one living national organism. The more life in this seed, the greater its power of attraction. . . . We seek the rebirth of our national self, the manifestation of our loftiest spirit, and for that we must give our all.

A.D. Gordon, “Our Tasks Ahead,” 1920

A Shared Love, a Shared Sadness

So we need to feel that deep connection to that sacred Land, and we need to do it in a way that reinforces our collective human connection to all the earth and those who dwell upon it. Here are love poems to the Land written by Zionists and non Zionists. They should be seen as complementary - not competitive - visions. We are two trees growing from the same seeds.

See first this sobering reflection by the Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008). It could easily have been written by Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), perhaps Israel's greatest poet - who in fact wrote the poem directly below it.

Sunflowers on Kibbutz Re'im

The natural beauty of the Land becomes a burning, sun-scorched funhouse mirror of the terrible toll of human suffering that has taken place amidst that beauty. A bucolic natural setting becomes a hell-scape, which is precisely what happened last October at the rave adjacent to Kibbutz Re'im. A pre-October 7 website explains that initially, the lovely, peaceful kibbutz was called “Tel Re'im” (Tel – Hill, Reim – Friends) after the nearby hill called in Arabic, “Tel al-Jama” (the hill of the friends). And then 364 were massacred.

Spilled blood is the closest thing to roots we have.

You can see the intimate connection of land, life and death in this work by Zelda (1914 - 1984), one of Israel's great poets:

The Invisible Carmel

When I die,

moving into a different mode,

the invisible Carmel that is wholly mine –

wholly the essence of joy,

where the needles and cones of the pines,

the flowers and clouds are engraved in my flesh –

will split from the visible Carmel

and its avenues of pines sloping down to the sea.

Does delight in the crimson sunset

come from death’s hidden nexus within me?

And delight in the fragrant herbs,

the moment of the water’s haze

and the moment of return

to the stern gaze of Jerusalem’s skies,

to the Supreme over all –

do these come from the hidden nexus of death?

Zelda imagines becoming one, in death as in life, with her beloved Carmel forest, which she could see from her home in Haifa. That "invisible Carmel" is her afterlife, and for her, immortality is a communion with the Land. Is this heaven? No, it's Haifa.

The Carmel slopes heal even as Jerusalem's sun scorches.

Love poems to nature come from all parts of the world, not just the Land of Israel.

Psalm 24 presents a more universal view:

Rashi comments that the word "aretz" implies the Land of Israel, and "tevel" the entire world. Our narrow focus on nurturing the soil of the Holy Land must not end there, but lead to the preservation of the entire planet. Poetically, this verse is a classic synecdoche, where, in Rashi's view, the part, Israel, stands in for the whole, the planet.

Earth is on loan from God and we are all its custodians. A pure devotion to just one land, no matter how singularly holy, is pointless, since God sees the whole world as being to some degree sacred and in every respect fragile.

After all, the seeds that fly in the wind know no national borders. The sunflowers are everywhere, in the killing fields of eastern Europe and the killing fields of Re'im.

This poem, by Chinese poet Yi Lei from the inspiring collection, Five Nature Poems by Women of Color, picks up on that theme of nature transcending borders.

Not everything flying into northern Israel these days is a Hezbollah rocket. It has been estimated that over 500 million migratory birds fly over Israel every year. A large number of them make a lengthy stop in Israel's Hula Valley. They know no national borders. Over 450 species of birds are navigating these crossroads of the sky, including these cranes.

Tu B'Shevat reminds us of our escalating obligations. For when, God willing, the current fighting finally ends, the hostages are released and Hamas's reign of terror ends, we will still be left with a planet that just completed its hottest year by far.

We need to remind ourselves that this sacred, beautiful and tragic Land is holy to Israelis and Palestinians - and to cranes and sunflowers too.

Recommended Reading

  • GAZA’S UNDERGROUND: HAMAS’S ENTIRE POLITICO-MILITARY STRATEGY RESTS ON ITS TUNNELS (Modern War Institute) - The sheer size of Hamas’s underground networks may, once fully discovered, be beyond anything a modern military has ever faced. . . . For the first time in the history of tunnel warfare, . . . Hamas has built a tunnel network to gain not just a military advantage, but a political advantage as well. . . . Hamas weaved its vast tunnel networks into the society on the surface. Destroying the tunnels is virtually impossible without having an adverse effect on the population living in Gaza. Hamas’s strategy is . . . not to hold terrain or defeat an attacking force. Its strategy is about time. It is about creating time for international pressure on Israel to stop its military operation to mount. . . . It wants the world’s attention on the question of whether the IDF campaign is violating the laws of war in attacking Hamas tunnels that are tightly connected to civilian and protected sites. It wants to buy as much time as is needed to cause the international community to stop Israel. Its entire strategy is built on tunnels. Arguably, no military in the world is as well prepared for subterranean tactical challenges as the IDF. But the strategic challenge is entirely different. To destroy many of the deep-buried tunnels, the IDF has required bunker-busting bombs, which Israel is criticized for using. And most importantly it has required time to find and destroy the tunnels in a conflict in which Hamas’s strategy is aimed at limiting the time available to Israel to conduct its campaign. Hamas’s strategy, then, is founded on tunnels and time.

  • Poll: Most Israelis would back US plan tying Palestinian state to freeing hostages, Saudi normalization - A slight majority of Israelis would back a US plan for ending the war that would see the release of all remaining hostages, Saudi Arabia agree to normalize relations with Israel, and Jerusalem agree to the eventual establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, a new poll indicates. In the survey conducted by the Midgam Institute on behalf of the dovish Geneva Initiative, 51.3 percent of respondents say they would back such an agreement, while 28.9% said they would oppose it, and 19.8% said they didn’t know.

Ofir Liebstein, an Israeli politician who headed the Sha'ar haNegev Regional Council, was killed on October 7. As the spring anemones are soon going to blossom to beautify the stricken south, he'll be remembered in a fitting way.

Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
203-322-6901 | www.tbe.org
A Conservative, Inclusive, Spiritual Community

No comments: