Rabbi Saperstein's Remarks at Stand Strong with Israel Rally in Washington, D.C.
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 17, 2014 - At today’s “Stand Strong with Israel” rally in Farragut Square, coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, and sponsored by diverse organizations from the local Jewish community, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, delivered the following remarks:
We stand here today, an extraordinary community of those who support Israel at this time of crisis.
We are Jews and non-Jews. We are Republicans and Democrats. We are hawks, moderates and doves on Israel policy.
We stand here down the road from the White House – with grave concern and with great pride, knowing --as Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ambassador Dermer have taken pains to point out America stands shoulder to shoulder in this crisis with Israel. The Administration, the Congress and overwhelmingly, the American people stand with Israel.
So we gather here as Am Echad – as one people --- all of us joined by certain truths.
One truth above all: Israel remains surrounded by forces – which if they believed they could militarily destroy Israel today, would not hesitate to do so; and only Israel’s strength, enhanced by America’s political, economic, diplomatic, military and intelligence support, stands in the way of that happening. Iron Dome is just the most extraordinary and vivid manifestation of that support. From Hezbollah to Hamas, from ISIS to circles of power in Iran, from Islamic Jihad to an array of Syrian forces – the existential dangers to Israel and its people – all its people: Jews, Muslims and Christians; Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews -- are real, are dangerous and are imminent.
And nothing exemplifies the risks that they pose more than the rockets from Hamas that have rained down on Israel for 13 years now. Five thousand in the seven years Hamas has ruled in Gaza.
The targeting of Hamas’ rockets at civilian populations is a moral abomination and a crime against humanity. Each one was aimed at innocent men, women and children; each intended to murder and maim.
Hamas’ goal is not a secret: its charter still calls for Israel’s destruction. It still refuses to accept any of the quartet’s preconditions for it to have a seat at the table: renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept as binding all prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
It opposes peace with Israel, and it seeks ever to undermine whatever progress is being made.
It places military equipment, missile launchers, and command and control units in the middle of civilian centers, and often, intentionally, places them exactly by the kind of targets (hospitals, schools and community centers) that they know Israel will try to avoid.
And above all, Hamas holds in its hands the power to stop this conflict today. Stop the rocket attacks, accept the quartet’s provisos. That is Hamas’ true power; it can change the course of history, or it can continue to act as the moral pariah it is.
And while Hamas seeks to kill innocents, Israel takes unprecedented steps to avoid it. Never before in the history of warfare has any nation taken the steps that Israel has, to avoid civilian casualties: leaflets, radio broadcasts, phone calls, texts, non-explosive warning munitions. The very effect of this allows even Hamas military personnel to escape so that Israel will avoid killing or harming their families.
No nation on earth can be asked to sustain the kind of attacks Israel’s civilian population has sustained without acting militarily when necessary to defend its citizens. No attack on American, British, French, Russian, Chinese cities would be responded to any differently.
As we see the civilian death and injury counts mount, can Israel be even more consistent in such unprecedented efforts, can it do even better? They would be the first to acknowledge that they must try. For we know that well over 100 civilians, including children, have been killed in Gaza.
God forbid that we should ever be indifferent to the death of innocents. The death of any child, Israeli or Arab, Muslim or Jew is an unspeakable tragedy that rends the heart.
Yet, Israel is criticized by those who claim that the civilian losses are “disproportionate.” As the Union for Reform Judaism’s former President Rabbi Eric Yoffie wrote in this weeks’ TIME Magazine:
The reason that Hamas has not killed more Israelis is not because they haven’t tried […](It is Israel’s preparation, shelters and anti-missile system that have saved lives.) There is something bizarre, in fact, about the idea of “proportionality” being used as a moral criticism against Israel. A proportional response by Israel to the attacks of the last seven years would mean every time a rocket is fired by Hamas at an Israeli civilian center, Israel would respond by firing a rocket at a civilian center in Gaza. Israel, of course rejected that, then and now.
Finally, with so much of Israel now under the range of enemy rockets, we must never lose sight that there will never ultimately be for Israel a purely military solution to stop such attacks. Further there is always the danger that even limited military clashes can spin out of control. Everything should be tried to avoid escalation and Israel’s military responses addressing the short-term dangers must be and will be matched by the long term strategy to forge a peace agreement based on what Ariel Sharon called “painful compromises” – a real peace forged in a way that ensures that Israel’s security will be enhanced. But until that day—may it come soon -- we defend Israel’s right to defend each and every one of its citizens. It is a right it will never abandon.
And neither will we.