The three Jewish teenagers had already been kidnapped when the group from Temple Beth-el, led by Rabbis Meir and Tara Feldman, arrived in Israel. They prayed for their safe return.
But it was only days later when they learned with the rest of Israel that the boys had been murdered.
A day later, a Palestinian boy was kidnapped and soon after, was discovered brutally burned to death.
Then the sirens began and the rockets started streaming over from Gaza by the hundreds.
The Beth-el congregants completed their 10-day trip and returned. The Feldmans stayed on and so had a front seat as the violence escalated to out-and-out war.
On Friday, June 18, having just returned from Israel, they led Sabbath services outdoors on the roof garden of Temple Beth-el.
Even as Meir's Smart-Phone lay on the podium, an app that would have sounded an alarm and told them where a rocket would fall. Had they still be in Israel, they would have had 30-seconds to find cover, they shared their experiences - the spiritual, human side - deliberately leaving out any political commentary or offering any solutions.
Instead, they related meeting with groups like Kids for Peace, dedicated to forging relationships across what seems a culturally ingrained wall - and not the actual wall that is designed to keep terrorists from Gaza out, rather than keep in the Palestinians - who regularly cross into Israel to work.
Kids for Peace, they related, consists of Jewish, Muslim and Christian Israeli children - many of whom had never met or interacted with "others" before. Rebecca, for example, grew up never knowing an Arab. On one fateful day, she chanced to miss Bus 18, which subsequently blew up. "I didn't want my life to be about hate," Rabbi Tara quoted her saying as the reason she joined the group. Mohammed grew up in East Jerusalem but had never met a Jew - instead, as a child, he joined is friends in rock throwing, grew up hating Jews and hating Israel, but at some point decided, "I didn't want my life to be like that."
The rabbis told several anecdotes like that, carrying a message of hope - hope for change. Hope for progress, which I suppose ultimately would lead to peace.
The Rabbis have been to Israel many times before - for extended periods - but had never been there during a full-blown assault.
Temple President Ronald Epstein, though, did offer political commentary, noting the support for Israel expressed by world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. French Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave, Canadian PM Stephen Harper. and "even the Chinese."
But because of the intensity of Israel's response - the imbalance between the reports of hundreds of Gazans killed, the majority being civilians, compared to dozens of Israelis (which is a lot for a country of 6 million) which is reported as almost disappointment there aren't more Israelis killed - there is grave concern that Israel may win the battle - actually it could easily win the battle if the Israelis weren't so concerned about civilian deaths - but still lose the war of public support, so vital to such a small country surrounded by enemies calling for its destruction.
He expressed "outright frustration when my attentions turned to the reporting by the news media and I am not talking about Al-Jazeera. The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and whole host of other publications and broadcasts continue to portray Israel as the root cause of the conflict.
"Writer Ethan Bronner, of The Times called Israel 'jailors'. 'Imprisoning women and children behind a wall of shame.' Mr. Bronner unfortunately fails to recognize that the wall isn’t designed to keep anyone in, the wall is designed to keep terrorists out. No mention of the fact that since its construction, suicide attacks on restaurants, bars and buses in Israel has dropped an astonishing 73%. No mention of the fact that Egypt has a similar boarder construction designed to keep their Arab brothers at bay. No mention of the fact that thousands of Arabs cross into Israel each day to work and return home each evening safely.
"CNN Reporter Diana Magnay, first called the Israelis 'occupiers' of Arab lands and just moments later – in the same report - called the impending Israeli ground assault an 'invasion'. I’m not sure how you invade lands you already occupy....If Ms. Magnay would have done her homework she would have known that Israel occupies no land in the Gaza. Has not in over nine years, having turned over authority to the PLO in yet another unrewarded effort for peace.
"MSNBC reporter, Andrea Mitchell, in her broadcast earlier this week did an analysis of the casualties on each side. Portraying Israeli forces as 'heavy handed,' she pointed to the one-sided nature of the death count as if somehow disappointed that more Israelis weren’t killed. No mention by Ms. Mitchell of the fact that despite the low casualty count, citizens continue to be terrorized each and every day. No mention of the hundreds of millions of dollars the Israelis have invested in obtaining and then perfecting a defense system to protect the lives of her citizens. No mention by Ms. Mitchell that Hamas makes no such effort to protect their population and in fact encourages them to act as “human martyrs” – storing weapons in homes, schools and mosques.
"And that, my friends, is the true nature of this conflict. The murder of our three boys, Eyal, Gilad & Naftali, weeks back was celebrated in the streets of Gaza and praised by Hamas leadership. The heinous retaliatory murder of a young Arab boy, Muhammed, on the other hand - horrified Israeli society. It led to an immediate investigation and arrest. Those responsible will likely spend the rest of their days behind bars.
"It is the conflict between a people who wish for and pray for long, productive, fulfilling lives for their children versus an ideology that lauds teenagers who blow themselves up on buses taking as many Jews as they can with them. It is the conflict between a people who value each and every life as sacred versus an ideology which views human life as cheap and expendable. This is quite clear to me. Why it is not evident to those within certain portions of the political spectrum, and in particular those in the media who report on it - I can’t really say. Perhaps, the old double standard when it comes to Jews is rearing its ugly head yet again."
But the Palestinians have been winning the "image" war. The success of this tactic is clear from the calls to boycott Israel or divest from companies invested or operating in Israel - from college campuses around the country, and even by the Park Slope Coop in Brooklyn (the resolution was defeated). In June, Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from three multinational corporations that it said supply Israel with products that promote violence in occupied Palestinian territories.
"We are grateful the church voted not to profit from the suffering of Palestinians under Israel's 47-year-old occupation," said Cecilie Surasky, the organization's deputy director. "Now that U.S.-backed peace talks have proven to be ineffective, we hope that others, including Jewish institutions, will follow suit. Divestment has become one of our best hopes for change."
The Palestinians portray themselves as victims, just like the soccer players taking a dive to get a favorable call from a referee to get an advantage.
The Palestinians could have peace tomorrow, except they are controlled by Hamas, a terror group, which has declared in its "constitution" (whatever that is), a commitment to kill every Jew, drive Israel into the sea, making Israel nonexistent.
And Abbas, the so-called president of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, double-dealt with Israel, pretending to be interested in that latest round of US-orchestrated peace talks, but at the same time, forging a reconciliation agreement with Hamas which is committed to Israel's destruction.
So even if Abbas superficially seems "reasonable" and willing to talk about a ceasefire, he is not a legitimate "partner for peace."
Let's be clear: Israel is not occupying Gaza (or at least wasn't occupying Gaza before) - the government forcibly removed Jewish settlers in 2005 at the point of a gun. They left all this infrastructure and offered support, but Hamas, which needs desperate, angry, murderous people in order to exist at all, destroyed the infrastructure. Instead of using the aid that came pouring in from the US and other nations for food, education, it built tunnels, acquires rockets (largely from Iran). Even Egypt has closed its border with Gaza.
And it seems that the attacks accelerate whenever there is progress in peace negotiations.
Indeed, just about everyone misses the point - this is not about a two-state solution - Israel accepted the idea of a two-state solution years ago. It's not even about religion - in fact, most of these conflicts that appear to be religiously based are not about religion but about one group's power and control. Religion is what is used to inflame the masses to the point of giving up their lives.
Few who sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians realize that it isn't about dividing up into two states - the border is relatively simple to decide (though can you imagine Mexico wanting to take back Texas, grabbed by war? and most of the nations of Europe and AFrica were fabricated as the result of World War I and II).
No, the stumbling blocks have been the Palestinians' demand for the "right of return" - which essentially would overrun Israel - and to either take Jerusalem or divide it, just as they have taken the Dome of the Rock (which is arguably even more significant to Jews as the place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac to show his devotion to his God, establishing the covenant with the House of Israel).
As Howard F. Jaeckel wrote in a letter to the New York Times, "But the Palestinian Authority has never shown that it is ready for genuine peace with the Jewish state. If it were, it would call a halt to the vicious anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish incitement that pervades its media. It would stop lionizing the murderers of Israeli civilians and naming public squares after them. And it would accept that peace means an end to the conflict, which requires renunciation of the historical claims at its root.
"To insist, as the Palestinian Authority does, on a “right of return” of the 1948 refugees and their millions of descendants is to seek the end of Israel as it now exists. It is a demand for surrender, not an offer of peace."
And in the case of Hamas, the refusal to accept Israel's right to exist at all - that is not a "two-state" solution.
Israel has never been the aggressor in any of these conflicts - only responding to direct attacks - though they have applied their resources and talent to make their defenses as strong as possible. What seems so shocking to the world is when Jews fight back instead of being led to a slaughter.
What part of "Never Again" don't you get?
But there is no moral equivalence at all, because if there is suffering, it is suffering the Palestinians have brought on themselves, and as Epstein notes, it is the difference between a people who for whom people are merely pawns, and a people who value life (which is why else do Hamas terrorists come with handcuffs to try to kidnap a soldier. because to Israel, even a dead soldier, Gilad Shalit, was worth the release of 1,000 Palestinian terrorists).
“The difference between us, we are using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles," said Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel has an app that will alert its citizens to an incoming attack and has built shelters to protect them; Hamas has no such protection for its people, who are forced to seek shelter at UN schools.
Here's another example - Israel is so small and Gaza is armed with so much more powerful rockets (even targeting Israel's Dimona nuclear plant, 50 miles from Gaza) that they are actually overshooting into the West Bank.
"Today we have come to see the rockets hitting our cities occupied since 1948 and to see these moments of dignity and pride carried out by the resistance in Gaza," a resident was quoted as saying.
"With cries of 'Allahu akbar' (God is Greatest), Palestinians in the Gaza Strip cheered as rockets streaked overhead toward Israel, in attacks that could provide a popularity boost for Islamist Hamas, whose rift with neighboring Egypt's military-backed government has deepened economic hardship," Reuters reported.
In contrast, there probably has been no more humane military action in history: the Israeli's actually warn the Gazans of impending strikes, pleading with them to leave - sending leaflets by air (a dangerous move) and even calling by phone.
When Netanyahu declared the decision to further intensify the attacks on Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza. he said, "We do so with a heavy heart. There is no more moral army in the world than the IDF. While the Arabs hide their missiles behind human shields, we strive to preserve every single innocent life. We gave the Egyptian cease fire a try. We gave the UN call for calm a try. Still the rockets flew against our people. We will now put a stop to it.”
President Obama has consistently struck the right tone, definitively stating America's support for Israel, but also to extend an opening to Palestinians to negotiate in order to end the perpetual violence.
“No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory,” Obama said flatly on Friday.
And on Monday, as Secretary of State John Kerry was traveling to Egypt to try to negotiate ceasefire terms, Obama said, "As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas, And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel."
And let's reflect back to March, when Obama welcomed Netanyahu to the White House, and made these comments about the Israel-Palestinian negotiations (before they were suspended):
"They are tough negotiations. The issues are profound. Obviously if they were easy they would have been resolved many years ago....It's my belief that ultimately it is still possible to create two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine in which people are living side by side in peace and security. But it's difficult and it requires compromise on all sides. And I just want to publicly again commend the Prime Minister for the seriousness with which he’s taken these discussions."
Netanyahu responded at the time and it warrants repeating now:
"The 20 years that have passed since Israel entered the peace process have been marked by unprecedented steps that Israel has taken to advance peace. I mean, we vacated cities in Judea and Samaria. We left entirely Gaza. We’ve not only frozen settlements, we’ve uprooted entire settlements. We’ve released hundreds of terrorist prisoners, including dozens in recent months.
"And when you look at what we got in return, it’s been scores of suicide bombings, thousands of rockets on our cities fired from the areas we vacated, and just incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel. So Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t.
"Now, I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but it’s the truth. And the people of Israel know that it’s the truth because they’ve been living it. What they want is peace. What we all want fervently is peace. Not a piece a paper –- although that, too -- but a real peace; a peace that is anchored in mutual recognition of two nation states that recognize and respect one another, and solid security arrangements on the ground.
"Mr. President, you rightly said that Israel, the Jewish state, is the realization of the Jewish people’s self-determination in our ancestral homeland. So the Palestinians expect us to recognize a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people, a nation state for the Palestinian people. I think it’s about time they recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. We’ve only been there for 4,000 years.
"And I hope President Abbas does this, as I hope that he’ll take seriously Israel’s genuine security needs. Because, as you know and I think everybody does, in the Middle East, which is definitely the most turbulent and violent part of the Earth, the only peace that will endure is a peace that we can defend. And we’ve learned from our history -- Jewish history, but I think from general history -- that the best way to guarantee peace is to be strong. And that’s what the people of Israel expect me to do –- to stand strong against criticism, against pressure, stand strong to secure the future of the one and only Jewish state.
"And I think there is a partnership there, a partnership between Israel and America, that I think is important for this end."
The Obama Administration has done more than to cheerlead, but has provided more military aid to Israel than any other.
The Iron Dome that has been so vital to saving Israeli lives, was largely paid for by the Obama Administration - in March, the US committed nearly half a billion dollars in the system, bringing our total investment to nearly $900 million, "a sign of our continued commitment to Israel’s security," National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in May while touring Israel
"We’re going to fund additional batteries that will protect more Israeli communities, military bases, and critical infrastructure from rocket and mortar attacks. And that’s why, here at Palmachim Air Force Base, where brave Israeli men and women in uniform operate cutting edge American and Israeli technology, there can be no doubt whatsoever: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering and ironclad.
"Together, we’ve made enormous progress in our missile defense technology, including in the Arrow 3 and David’s Sling programs. But obviously, our work is not done. We will continue our joint research, our joint investment and our joint training. We remain deeply committed to Israel’s qualitative military edge, and this impressive facility and all the work being done here is a wonderful example of that enduring partnership.
"The American people care deeply about the people of Israel," Rice said. "We admire your commitment to advancing the values of a free and open society, while facing the uncertainties of living in a very challenging neighborhood. Our two nations are forever bound by our shared history and our shared values, and every American dollar spent on Israel’s security is an investment in protecting the many interests that our nations share—whether that’s preventing rockets from terrorizing the Israeli people, defending against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region, or advancing our commitment to defend freedom and democracy."
Golda Meir said, "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us." She said that in 1957 at the National Press Club in Washington DC.
"I believe the PM was so right when she said this over 40 years ago," Epstein said. "Tragically, we still have a very, very long way to go."
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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