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Parshat Acharei Mot: Are the People of Gaza Innocent Victims?

As the war continues on between Israel and Hamas, and as more and more life is lost, and as we see increased protests against Israel primarily on college campuses, the issue arises as to how we – as Jews, as proud Jews, as supporters of Israel – view the death of so many men, women and children in Gaza. 

It is being called a Genocide, which we know is an absurdity not even worthy of addressing. That, coupled with the hypocrisy of the lack of protests over the half-million killed Syrians and many more millions who have been left homeless, along with so many other world atrocities that go unnoticed where barely a peep is heard from these so-called justice warriors, is also self-evident. 

But what about the over 30,000 dead Gazans, assuming those numbers are somewhat accurate? Leaving aside the Hamas fighters who have been killed, shall we view them as innocent, as many are wont to declare? Are there innocents among the Gazan citizens who have lost their lives in this conflict or does this go without saying to be true? Of course the 1200 Israelis who were killed on October 7 were innocent, but what about the many Gazans who have died and been left homeless? Do we feel bad? Should we feel bad?

The issue of how blameless the Gazan citizenry are has to be reckoned with the following facts:

1.     They as a collective voted for Hamas, knowing full well its platform for utter destruction of Israel and Jews all over the world. So in essence they voted for a party with the full knowledge of imminent conflict and its repercussions.

2.     They reacted with joy, glee and celebration whenever any act of violence and terror was committed against Israelis and Jews – on October 7th and at other times. 

3.     Not only did they react with joy, but they joined in as well since it was not just Hamas fighters committing the atrocities but civilians who jumped on the bandwagon of destruction and participated, much the way many Poles joined in on the Nazi carnage. 

4.     They were fully aware of Hamas’s goals of destroying Israel, not only from Hamas’ policy but from their actions in building the vast array of tunnels that have been the mainstay of their attack. Nobody could claim they were unaware of these tunnels inasmuch as Gaza is not a large geographical area and very concentrated. Certainly they would have heard and known of the construction. That plus the fact that everyone must have had an uncle, a brother, a cousin who was personally involved in the enterprise of the tunnels or employed by Hamas.   

5.     There seemed to be no dissent of Hamas from the people of Gaza on Oct. 7. When people commit horrible atrocities in the name of a religion or national movement, we often hear of how their co-religionists or co-nationalists are embarrassed by their actions. In no uncertain terms they publically declare their horror and that such deeds do not reflect their nation or religion, as the case may be. Have we heard of any such opposition from anyone in Gaza, or from anyone in the Arab world for that matter? Not a peep. 

6.     It has been well-documented that the educational system has indoctrinated young boys and girls to hate Israel and view Israel and Jews as an evil cancer that must be eradicated. From an early age jihad, shaheed and violence have been part of their culture and upbringing. 

In light of all this it is difficult to not think of the collective in a negative light, much the same way those who fought Hitler and the Nazis had to view the German nation as a whole as the enemy and not innocent.

Still, perhaps, the recently passed holiday of Pesach might shine some light on this issue. Jewish tradition gives us a bit of a mixed message regarding the Egyptians who lost their lives during the Redemption – both in the death of the first-born and when Pharaoh’s army drowned after pursuing the Israelites into the sea when it split. 

There is a famous Midrash that when the Heavenly Angels wished to sing songs of praise to God when they saw the Egyptian army drowned at the Splitting of the Sea, that God quieted them. “My creations are dying and you wish to sing praises to Me?!” Which would indicate that one should not rejoice in the downfall of anyone, even when they are bad and evil as were the Egyptian army. And so maybe we too should feel bad at the death of our enemies. 

On the other hand, the Israelites did in fact sing and praise God for the destruction of their enemies in the famous Az Yashir Moshe song when they saw the dead Egyptian army washed up on the sea shore. And not only were they not told to be quiet, but this song is recited in our daily morning prayers – every day of the year!

The resolution to this contradiction is that Angels do not live in a world of good versus evil. And as such, they don’t need to develop a notion of hating evil and fighting against it. But we humans who live in such a world and must work for good to overcome evil, should rejoice when we see the downfall of evil, not from a personal vendetta perspective but from the perspective that our world is better off when evil people and their ideologies are destroyed. 

And yet again, on the other hand, we do spill out some of our wine when we recite the 10 plagues as we note that many Egyptians suffered and were killed during the plagues, especially in the final one of the death of the first-born. Because when all is said and done, we would have preferred that it would not have ever reached this point to begin with where anyone had to die.

Putting all this together we need to conclude that a) The Gazans are not as innocent as many would like to believe b) We need to do everything in our power to destroy our enemies, who are also enemies of the free-world and enemies of the Jewish ethics we are trying to teach Mankind. As such we should be glad when evil is vanquished and removed from our world and c) Ultimately we wished that it would never have gotten to this point where anyone had to lose their life. And for this, yes, we should and do feel bad and remove a bit of wine from our cup of rejoicing when our enemies are vanquished. 

And this is our hope and prayer for the Final Redemption with the arrival of the Mashiach when all nations, peoples and religions will live harmoniously in Peace and there will no longer be any conflict where anyone has to lose the precious gift of Life that God has given us.   

Some day you’ll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn
To be Brothers in Arms
-Dire Straits

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