Israel and Gaza: Wrestling with the Questions

Part I: Meighan

Here’s what I know: When Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, over 1,400 people died in one day, more were injured, and over 200 were kidnaped. These were not soldiers; they were citizens just living their lives. That is an enormous grief.


And. The response of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been to pound over 11,000 Palestinians—not Hamas, but Palestinians—out of existence, to level countless buildings, to put a stranglehold on the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians have already been trying to create some kind of life for 16 years in what is essentially an open-air prison. It seems to me that if you oppress people for long enough, you have to expect violent resistance. Now they have no food, no water, no electricity, and no fuel. They have been ordered to squeeze together even tighter at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. Individuals have lost a dozen, 16, 30, 40, 75 members of their family. Hospitals do not have basic medicine or clean water. This is a highly traumatized people.


Here’s what I know: I have seen maps showing the ever-decreasing territory where Palestinians are allowed to live and have heard about illegal Israeli housing settlements being built on what is supposed to be Palestinian land. Palestinian families have had to watch as their olive groves were cut down and their houses bulldozed to rubble to make way for such settlements or for the wall that was built in recent years. The Israel-Palestine area is a desert. It is small, hot, dry, and crowded. It doesn’t have enough water to support the number of people who call it home. Climate change and population growth are only exacerbating that deficit.


In 2021, the UCC General Synod passed a resolution in support of the Palestinian people. It did not mention Hamas being a terrorist organization. It described the situation for Palestinians as being apartheid.


Here’s what I know: I don’t know the whole story. I have never been to that part of the world. I don’t speak the languages or know the cultures. I don’t understand the history of conflicts between peoples in that land that go back for thousands of years. In our first reading today, God tells Abram that his descendants will receive the Promised Land, which is then described by the people already living there. The Israelites will sweep into a region that is already full of other people. So these conflicts have a history.


Here’s what I know: There are a lot of Israelis and Palestinians who are grieving, who are suffering, who are terrified. In this respect, they have more in common.


So sometime after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, I reached out to Sue Erber, because I knew that she would have a perspective that would broaden my own understanding. She is Jewish, she has been to Israel, she knows people there—this is much more immediate for her than it is for me. She and I have been having a series of rich conversations for the past month, and we wanted to share with you some of our reflections—our wrestlings with difficult questions. Neither of us are experts. We don’t have answers. We can only share what we know, grieve with those who grieve, and try to figure out how to move forward as compassionate people standing in this space of war and suffering.


I now turn to Sue Erber for Part II of wrestling with these questions.



Part II: Sue


Thoughts on Israel for UCC Sunday, November 12, 2023

I am honored to be invited to share my thoughts with you, and hope that this

will generate respectful debate and discussion about an incredibly difficult

and complicated topic.

First, a disclaimer; I am not an authority on Middle Eastern history or politics

and I am biased. Actually, every one of us has biases based on our life

experiences and where we find ourselves in this moment. I have family in

Israel, cousins who fled Hungary with their parents as small children during

the Shoah. The part of my family who remained in southern Hungary, my

grandparents, two aunts, my 3 year old cousin, and father were all deported

to Auschwitz in May of 1944. My Dad was the only one who survived.

Growing up as the child of a survivor was different than what I observed at

the homes of my friends. My Dad was always afraid for our safety and so we

were secret Jews. I remember once trying to reassure him, saying that we

are in America and totally safe. He said that he thought he had been safe too

and in the blink of an eye, everything was gone.

Jews have always been surrounded by people who want to kill them; the

state of Israel hadn’t even existed for a week when they were attacked from

all sides. I only have a slight inkling of what it feels like to live that way, the

way Israelis have always lived.

I have friends in Israel too, people who have been close to me for more than

30 years. Even babies I delivered who are now fine adults. My children lived

in Israel one on Kibbutz Tzuba and one in the dorms at Bet Shmuel College

in Jerusalem during part of High School. Every time I visit Israel, I feel like I

have come home in way I have a difficult time describing. I was supposed to

leave in a few days to visit family and friends.

Having said all that, you are probably expecting that I firmly support Israel;

and I do. I love Israel in a very profound, visceral way. But that doesn’t mean

I have to agree with everything the leadership has done. I love my country

here too, and vehemently disagree with a lot of its current and past policies

and actions both here and abroad, many of which are inhumane and unjust

and fly in the face of what I believe our Constitution guarantees and how we

should behave as human beings.

The Kingdom of David encompassing modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon,

Jordan and Syria, existed about 3,000 years ago. There is archeological

evidence that Jews have occupied the land that has become known as Israel

for more than 4,000 years. Since then, the Jewish people have been

conquered, dispersed, exiled, and killed by various groups; this has

continued until now. Jews comprise 2.4% of the population of the US and are

the victims of 55% of hate crimes committed here. Hence a calendar filled

with commemorations and holidays marking all the attempts to exterminate


Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization, has declared its mission to be to

exterminate the Jews and the state of Israel. But Hamas is not all the

Palestinian people. Nor is Netanyahu and his radical fringe representative of

all Jews or Israelis. And I can lament for two peoples at the same time.

As has come to be pervasive, there is a lot of misinformation; as always, the

bias is based on who is saying these things. Hitler was supremely successful

spreading propaganda and we have witnessed the results of propaganda

here in our own country again and again.

Some of the things heard repeatedly for example;

-The Palestinians are denied statehood, but in reality, they have repeatedly


Prior to 1918 and the Balfour Declaration by Britain stating support for a

Jewish State, Palestine, which has never been a sovereign nation, belonged

to the Ottoman Empire. It came under British control at that point.

Palestinians were offered statehood in 1937 by the Peel Commission; there

were many Jews who had already emigrated to the region and bought land.

In 1948 the UN Partition split the region nearly 50/50. In both instances the

Arab League rejected it outright saying they opposed any formal Jewish

State and that all should be Arab lands.

After the 1967 war, a partition was proposed; an Arab summit was held in

Khartoum which resulted in a resolution to destroy the state of Israel.

In 2000 at Camp David, the right of return was addressed, people were

offered monetary compensation for their losses and this was refused by

Arafat and the PLO

In 2005, Israeli settlements were evacuated.

In 2008, 2010, 2020 Palestinian representatives refused on the grounds that

they would not “share” with Jews. Part of the deal was also to establish a

legitimate government because the US and Israel refuse to recognize a

terrorist organization as such.

The 2010 meeting also included a moratorium on expansion of Jewish

settlements in West Bank, but a referendum by the Palestinian people

rejected peace-making with Israel 61% to 34% to oppose a two state

solution; demonstrators shouted "Death to America and Death to Israel”.

It is being said that Israel is an Apartheid state: One of the things my children

brought up and remember about living in Israel is that it’s a melting pot for

many people and cultures. Moslems enjoy more freedom there than in any

Moslem country, from reproductive rights and related health care to sexual

orientation to women’s rights.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; as you can see, we, on the outside can

never know the whole story, but we are still obligated to try to help.

It’s overwhelming and it seems impossible for the actions of one person to

make any difference.

Rabbi Tarfon who lived in the time of the second Temple, (1st-2nd century)

likened us to a hill of walnuts; you cannot move one walnut without shaking

the entire hill.

He also taught that

מימנה להיבתל חורין בן אתה בלו ליגמור המלחה אלחה לו

You are not required to complete the task, neither are you free to desist from

doing what you can.

BT*, Pesahim 66a states that we must argue for justice and plead for mercy.

If we are to learn from Abraham and Moses who argued with God, how much

more are we called upon to speak out in the face of human injustice?

Further, in Shabbat 54b in the BT it is clearly stated that “whoever is able to

protest against the transgressions of his own family and does not do so is

held responsible for the transgressions of his family”. It continues, “whoever is

able to protest against the transgressions of the people of his community and

against the transgressions of the entire world and does not do so is held

responsible for the transgressions of the community and the entire world.” We

cannot just sit by silently.

I asked my daughters what immediately comes to mind about the time they

lived in Israel. Sarah said it was the only place outside the walls of our

synagogue she had ever been where she felt spiritually at home, and where

she wasn’t an oddity or made fun of as she had been in Maine. She loved

that on Sukkoth**, everywhere she looked, people were in a Sukkah and that

by 3:00 every Friday afternoon, the country closes until sundown Saturday

and everyone walks, sits together, talks and sings and plays together.

Jennie remembers it as a cultural melting pot. She loved Ben Jehudah St in

Jerusalem where everyone gathered every day at coffee shops, restaurants,

clubs and in the streets to talk, sing, dance, and make music together.

It’s very obvious in the Old City…Arab, Jewish, Armenian and Christian

quarters all together inside the walls, with different languages, food, music

and cultures, all melded together.

She learned that what happens on the other side of the world matters to

everyone of us. We have to pay attention, and we have to care. Connection

makes people more likely to take responsibility and care about what’s

happening in another place. She pointed out that US didn’t feel obligated to

step in and intervene in WWII even when it was known what was happening.

Likewise the Rwandan genocide because it was “them” not “us”, but we are

all “us” and need to act accordingly.

This notion was one of my major motivators to make global health my career;

I wanted to meet and learn about others, live in many places very different

from my home, so I could teach my students that what happens to people

on the other side of the world matters and that each of us have a

responsibility in that. It’s a powerful way to fight xenophobia; sit with

someone, talk, share some bread and suddenly that person isn’t scary. You

realize that in fact, they are pretty much like you.

It’s a bit simplistic, but that is how we begin to fight propaganda and


,עומד העולם דברים שלושה על

חסדים גמילות ןעל ,תפילה ועל ,צדקה על

The world is sustained by three things; righteousness and the pursuit of

justice, prayer and devotion, and acts of loving kindness.

This is what my father modeled for me, taught me; it is how I try to live my

life and I hope and pray that on occasion, I succeed.

At the end of Vayikra (Leviticus) we are taught that 5 people together can

defeat an army of 100, and 100 together an army of 10,000. Our strength or

our failure increases exponentially as we either work together or fail to do so.

In Jeremiah, we are told to utter 100 blessings; 100 that become 10,000. In

between noticing the wonders before you, and thanking God for your

blessings, consider that which is disturbing. Consider your personal role in

preventing others from leaving their own Mitzrayim (those narrow places).

Change one thing, one idea, one interaction. If you do the math, just 5 of you

with one change, will change 100.

Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on

you. Martin Buber said “When people come to you for help, do not turn them

off with pious words, saying “Have faith and take your troubles to God”. Act

instead as if there were no God, as though there were only one person in all

the world who could help—-only yourself.

It is true that the plagues on our earth and our society will not magically be

lifted in one day, by one person, changing one thing. It is also equally true,

that without each person doing just that, we are doomed to languish in our

misery, our plagues never ending. There is a midrash of a man hosting a

community-wide party. He asked only that each person bring a flask of wine

to pour into the communal cask that all may share. One man thought that he

would not bring wine, but water instead. No one would notice it in the large

cask of wine he thought, “Why should I give away my good wine?”. When

the time came to pour the wine, only water came out as each person had

.behaved in the same way

Consider your role in community, your responsibility in the world not only

when you make your big choices, even more as you make the seemingly

small, mindless choices. Stop allowing them to be mindless, and think about

what you are doing and what you are saying, the attitudes and behavior you

are modeling. Think about what you are omitting. All those disturbing,

difficult things....think about them and do not omit the wine; share it and

yourselves. Life will be so much sweeter with the real thing.

May each of us find the strength in ourselves and within our community to

be a light, a beacon in the world for

חסדים גמילות ןעל ,תפילה ,צדקה

Justice, righteousness, prayer and devotion, and acts of loving kindness

every day at every moment; maybe it will catch on!


**Babylonian Talmud: The Talmud is a compendium of Rabbinic Jewish civil

and ceremonial law compiled between the 2nd and 5th centuries of the

Common Era. There are two, the Palestinian or Jerusalem Talmud, and the

more commonly cited Babylonian Talmud.


*** Sukkoth is one of the three harvest festivals and a celebration of

Creation during which we build a Sukkah (a booth) and live in it for 8 days

There is archeological evidence that Jews have occupied the land that has

become known as Israel for more than 4,000 years. We are currently in the

year 5784 according to the Hebrew calendar which corresponds to the year

3761 BCE. The term "ancient Israel" is used by scholars to refer to the tribes,

kingdoms and dynasties formed by ancient Jewish people in the Levant (an

area that encompasses modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and


Researchers at Harvard University have analyzed genetic material from

dozens of skeletons found at Canaanite sites across Israel and neighboring

countries, and compared it to the genomes of other ancient populations as

well as to modern-day groups.

The studies suggest there is a deep genetic connection of many Jewish

groups today across the Diaspora as well as many Arab groups to this part

of the world thousands of years ago.

Experts know the ancient Canaanites were divided into independent city

states, such as Megiddo, Hazor, and Acre. Most of the texts about them

come from outsiders or later sources. While it is generally accepted that the

Canaanites probably did not exist as a coherent entity, the new study shows

that genetically at least, the Canaanites did have a lot in common with each


Most of the recovered genomes have a roughly 50/50 contribution of ancestry

from local Neolithic inhabitants and from a group that hailed from the

Caucasus or the Northwestern Zagros mountains, in today’s Iran. For the

ancestry of the Canaanites to be split halfway between locals and

newcomers there would have had to be an influx of a significant number of

people; did this represent an invasion or a peaceful migration?

Prof. Finkelstein writes that there is no archaeological evidence of

destruction or a major disruption in the Early Bronze Age. It is not consistent

with an invasion.

1918 Balfour Declaration: a public statement issued by the British

government in 1917 during the First World War announcing its support for

the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine.

Before that it was part of the Ottoman Empire. “Palestine” has never been a

discreet, sovereign nation.

1937 Peel Commission; Partition of the British area (Palestine) proposed;

Arab High Committee refused stating opposition to a Jewish state, calling for

Palestine as a wholly Arab state. (Already several waves of Jewish

immigrants from Yemen, Europe, Africa who bought land when they settled

there beginning late 19th century.)

1947 UN Partition Plan; Proposed by United Nations to follow the end of

the British Mandate. It split the region into Arab and Jewish sections nearly

50/50 with Jerusalem being an international region. The Arab League

rejected it outright saying they opposed any formal Jewish State and that all

should be Arab lands

1967 Khartoum summit; following the 6 day war, an Arab resolution to

destroy the state of Israel

1991 Madrid Conference; no real accomplishment, but led to Oslo Accord

of 1993, an Israel-Jordan peace agreement

2000 Camp David meeting; No accord reached; right of return and issue;

~700,000 refugees displaced in 1948; their descendants now numbered ~4

million. Israel could not accommodate that influx; proposed 100k-150k/year

return. $30 billion fund to compensate them for their losses. Arafat refused

this and demand that its terrorist faction be dismantled. Israel also proposed

the sharing of water and PLO refused.

2001 Taba summit; Offer of Israeli withdrawal from West Bank land. Change

of governments in Israel and US. By the time Arafat accepted the terms, the

new governments were no longer in agreement

2005 disengagement from Gaza and some of the West Bank; Palestinian

controlled their own borders, Israeli settlements evacuated so Israel is not an

occupying force.

2007 Annapolis conference; Palestinian leader Abbas refused to sign

agreement. Led to Gaza War 2008-2009; both sides charged with war

crimes, IDF acquitted by UN tribunal.

2008 realignment plan; plan for disengagement from West Bank. Refused

by Abbas

2010 joint peace talks; offer of two state solution, moratorium on expansion

of Jewish settlements in West Bank; referendum by the Palestinian people

rejecting peace-making with Israel; Palestinian people vote 61% to 34% to

oppose a two state solution; demonstrators shouting "Death to America and

Death to Israel"

2019 Bahrain workshop; economic, Bahrain endorses independent

Palestinian State

2020 trump peace plan; opposed by PLO/Hamas because US will not

recognize terrorists (Hamas) as a legitimate government and it (Hamas and

PLO) will not recognize Israel as an independent Jewish state

Other claims:

Occupation is the reason for Hamas attacks; 1929: Before the state of

Israel existed, before any occupation, Arabs attacked Jews in Hebron

Israel is committing genocide: Between 1990 and 2022 the population of

Gaza increased from 1.98 million to 5.04 million; and, when Israel warned

Gazans about the danger, IDF soldiers protected people trying to escape the

bombs launched by Hamas. IDF made 20,000 calls, dropped 1.5 million

leaflets and sent 4.4 million SMS messages urging civilians in Northern Gaza

to evacuate temporarily for their safety.

Israel is an Apartheid state: It’s one of the things my children brought up

and remember about living in Israel; it’s a melting pot for many people and

cultures; Palestinians and Arabs who live there are politicians, actors,

athletes, etc. Moslems enjoy more freedom there than in any Moslem

country, from reproductive rights and related health care to sexual orientation

to women’s rights.

Palestinians have nowhere to go: Egypt borders Gaza but Egypt has

blocked that border. Jordan borders the West Bank territory and they can’t

go there either. Their own people will not come to their aid

Hamas Charter states; “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam

will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”…”The Day of

Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them.

Israel is bombing hospitals: Hamas uses hospitals and schools as rocket

launching pads. Israel does do what it can to minimize civilian deaths while

these same rockets have hit Israeli hospitals at least three times. The alleged

hospital in Gaza that was bombed turned out to be a parking lot.

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