After a rather lengthy sleep we have suddenly been jolted back to reality with the latest conflagration in the Middle East.
Is anyone shocked?
We children of the West, born in freedom, have been spoiled by the façade of our many distractions that have allowed us the luxury of denial of the stark battles of good and evil, creating an illusion of false security.
The reverie of a peaceful siesta is far more comfortable, but one need not be very intelligent to recognize that the Middle East is a combustion chamber, a fermenting hotbed of noxious toxins always ready to explode.
September 11 and other attacks remind us sporadically from time to time that there are powerful brewing forces that must be reckoned with before we enter an age of true peace, but it is so easy to sink back into our comfortable cushions. Such is the nature of the beast of denial.
Just a bit of history can surely wake you up:
Hezbollah, which means the Party of G-d, views the conflict with Israel as “an existential struggle” as opposed to “conflict over land” (as Lebanese scholar Amal Saad-Ghorayeb underscores in her book, Hizbu’llah: Politics and Ideology). In the words of Sheikh Naim Qasim, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, “Even if hundreds of years pass by, Israel’s existence will continue to be an illegal existence.”
Although Hezbollah has denounced attacks on Western civilians, they make an exception in the case of Israel. As Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah puts it,
“in occupied Palestine there is no difference between a soldier and a civilian, for they are all invaders, occupiers and usurpers of the land.”
After Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, some analysts predicted—and many Lebanese hoped—that Hezbollah would soon wind down its military operations and become a purely political party. But Nasrallah has greater ambitions than to win more seats in Lebanon’s parliament, and he has had the firm backing of Iran and Syria. At once a determined radical and an astute pragmatist, he views Hezbollah both as a Lebanese party committed to assuring the welfare of its constituents and as a vanguard in the pan-Islamic struggle to destroy Israel and restore Palestine to its native inhabitants.
By no means did this restrict Hezbollah’s action to Israel alone. In the early 1990s, Hezbollah members were connected to two notorious attacks in Buenos Aires: the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy, which killed twenty-nine people, ostensibly in retaliation for Israel’s assassination of Sheikh Musawi; and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, which killed eighty-five civilians.
Tragically, it doesn’t end there. In March 2004, after the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, Nasrallah said to Hamas: “We are under your command. Your blood is our blood; our fight is one.” Hezbollah demonstrated its solidarity with the Palestinian group by firing more than sixty-five rockets at six different Israeli military positions in the Shebaa Farms in southern Lebanon.
You may recall that Hamas, now controlling the activities in Gaza and the West Bank, initiated the current crisis by kidnapping an Israeli soldier. Hamas clearly views the Arab-Israeli conflict as a religious struggle between Islam and Judaism that can only be resolved by the destruction of the State of Israel, and thus opposes any Arab-Israeli peace talks.
If you’re still asleep, here are a few quotes from the Hamas covenant (or charter):
Preface: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” (A quote by Imam Hassan al Banna)
Article 6: “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned…”
Article 7:”The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharqad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”
Article 11: “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.”
Article 13: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.”
Article 28: “The Zionist invasion is a vicious invasion … It relies greatly in its infiltration and espionage operations on the secret organizations it gave rise to, such as the Freemasons, The Rotary and Lions clubs, and other sabotage groups. All these organizations, whether secret or open, work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions… When the Jews conquered the Holy City in 1967, they stood on the threshold of the Aqsa Mosque and proclaimed that “Mohammed is dead, and his descendants are all women.” Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people. “May the cowards never sleep.”
Article 32: “After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”
What to be done?
As in all serious confrontations one needs a short-term plan and a long-term one. Obviously, first and foremost everything possible must be done in the short term to protect innocent lives and never allow anyone – terrorists or sovereign states – to violate the security of a peace-loving nation. A show of strength is often necessary to serve as a deterrent.
We all would wish that this short-term approach would be enough. But the fact remains that even when these immediate fires are quelled (hopefully sooner than later), the region is festering with centuries of old toxins, driven by religious passions and often fanatical faith (misguided or not), and the resulting hostility to Israel will not just go away. It is built on a philosophy and unwavering belief system of millions.
Thus, one thing is for sure: Until we don’t come to honest terms with the brutal truth about the true nature of the conflict – religious and spiritual as opposed to political – we will not know how to fight this war and we will never win it. Fires may be suppressed, but the underlying forces will not be tamed.
It is no surprise therefore that the current outbreak began on the 17th of Tammuz, the day when the Jerusalem walls were breached, leading three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, to the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the first Temple 2428 years ago, the second one 1938 years ago.
This saddest time in the year, called ‘The Three Weeks’ (Tammuz 17-Av 9), is a national period of mourning for the holiness that was lost with the destruction. The Western Wall in Jerusalem – which symbolizes, more than any other object, the Jewish presence in Israel today – is the only remaining remnant of the wall surrounding the Temple.
During the Three Weeks we traditionally increase our Torah study, prayer and charity. Above all, we intensify our love and kindness to each other – counterbalancing the baseless hatred that was the ultimate cause for the Temple’s destruction.
What exactly are we mourning over for close to two millennia? Why do we pray for the Temple’s restoration? And what connection is there between human hatred and a Holy building’s destruction?!
The answer is that the Temple wasn’t a mere structure of bricks and mortar. It was a window – a literal gate – between heaven and earth. “Build Me a Sanctuary,” G-d says, “and I will rest among you.” The Temple’s destruction marked the closing of the window between spirit and matter, between the Divine purpose of existence and existence itself. Think of it as a traveler losing sight of his destination, an entity losing touch of its mission – a world losing direction.
The first symptom of a dichotomy between matter and spirit – the misalignment of existence and purpose – is expressed in personal disunity. When an individual loses touch with his own raison d’etre, his fragmented self has to cause anxiety and ultimate insecurity and erosion of self-respect. In its extreme it escalates into a self-loathing (the purposeful soul loathing the aimless life). This inevitably spills over into our relationships with others: When you hate another it is a projection – or deflection – of hating yourself. A secure person can co-exist with anyone. Even if he may disagree with or be attacked by another, the secure person distinguishes between the actions of the enemy and his person.
From the personal, divisiveness carries over to the collective: To the splits between communities, religions and nations.
Once divisiveness infected the people, the Holy Temple – which bridged spirit and matter – could simply no longer stand. There was no room for it in a fractured world. It no longer was appreciated and no longer served its purpose…
Just as divisiveness destroys the Temple, unity rebuilds it. And mind you, unity here means on a universal scale. Indeed, the Midrash tells us that had the nations of the world known how the Temple protected them, they would have built legions around it shielding it from any harm!
How uncanny and ironic is it that the current battles in the Middle East – over Israel and Jerusalem at its heart – began and continue in the Three Weeks?!
It only underscores the true nature of the war.
As mentioned, everything must be done in the immediate to protect the innocent. But in the long term big picture, we must remember that this – as in past battles in Israel, all the way back to the Babylonian and Roman destruction of the Temples – is ultimately a spiritual and religious battle, reflecting the battle of all life.
The true battle of life is not for land, honor or wealth. It is for the dominance of spirit over matter. Our greatest challenge is not political but spiritual. It is about finding purpose and direction.
And that is why we grieve over the Temple’s destruction and pray for its restoration: We are yearning, aspiring and doing everything in our power to reconnect with the direction, mission and destination of our lives – something we lost close to two millennia ago.
And we thus intensify our efforts in reconnecting with out inner purpose, through our increased study, prayer and charity, thereby creating internal harmony. Above all – we do all we can to battle divisiveness and foster love between each other.
As long as we do not understand the current confrontation – some call it a “clash of civilizations” – we will continue to be its victim, and putting out fires in a never-ending, slowly bleeding vicious cycle.
The ultimate victor will be not the one with the most powerful weapons. It will be the one with the most powerful spiritual vision.
What exactly this battle entails has been discussed at length in this column.
So while all peace-loving people grieve over the tragic loss of any life, and pray for the end of all hostilities – we must always remember that even while we are forced to deal with the short-term challenges, there looms a much larger picture.
The universe is at war and has always been at war – the raging battle between materialism and spirituality, between personal gain and higher purpose, between matter and spirit. Center stage of this war – now and throughout history – has always been Israel.
So ladies and gentlemen: Time to wake up. “Everybody up, up, up, up” was the annoying sound of the reveille call we would hear each morning in summer camp, abruptly disturbing our peaceful sleep. Annoying indeed.
Perhaps this is the power of the promise “hineh lo yonum v’lo yishan shomer Yisroel,” “Behold, the protector of Israel does not slumber nor sleep” – even when we may.
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Question for the week: What should be done about the never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict?