Lamentations For Jews And Palestinians – OpEd


Three thousand Hamas gunmen invaded southern Israel on October 7 2023, killing 1,200 people and taking another 250+ back to Gaza as hostages. As of February 19, 2024, 29,000 Palestinians, including about 10,000 Hamas fighters, have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched a major military campaign in response. If Hezbollah attacks Israel there will be three to four times more deaths. 

The Nakba (catastrophe), the displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel and the War of Independence, could have been avoided if the Palestinian leadership had accepted the UN two state solution. Indeed, if the Palestinian leadership had accepted the British 1937 two state solution; millions of Jews would have been able to escape the Holocaust (catastrophe).

Though other Bible books contain laments (see 2 Samuel 1:17-27; Job 3), only the Biblical Book of Lamentations is composed entirely in this literary style. The Book of Lamentations was written by Prophet Jeremiah according to Jewish tradition, although I think that Prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22:14–20) wrote much of the Book of Lamentations, especially the tender parts.  

According to Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU: “From the time Israel was established in 1948, the Palestinians missed many opportunities to make peace. The late Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban put it succinctly when he stated: “the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” a fact that prevented a multitude of young Palestinians from enjoying the fruits of peace and becoming constructive players in nation-building and who are able to take pride in their achievements.

Starting with their refusal to accept the UN partition plan in 1947, (which would have avoided the ensuing military defeat and decades of displacement) the Palestinians have indisputably missed a number of other opportunities. Following the Six Day War in 1967, the Palestinians turned down Israel’s offer to return all the territories captured in war in exchange for peace (with the exception of the final status of Jerusalem). In 1977, the Palestinians rejected the invitation to join the Israeli-Egyptian peace negotiations which could have resulted in an Israeli-Palestinian peace along with the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement signed in 1979.

At Camp David in 2000, the Palestinians missed another historic opportunity and walked away at the last minute when a comprehensive agreement was afoot. The most violent uprising—the Second Intifada—that began a few months later stunned the Israelis who concluded that the Palestinians are simply not very interested in peace. And finally, in 2007-2008 the Palestinians once more walked away from negotiations, this time over a disagreement in connection with percentages of land swaps.

Since then, largely under Netanyahu and Abbas’ leadership, no substantive peace negotiations have taken place, and sadly a fourth generation of Palestinians is now caught between corrupt dictatorial leadership and self-destructive extremism, with no prospect for any meaningful life. 

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any plans or strategy that will bring an end to the most destructive conflict to which they have subjected their youth for 75 years and counting.

This is how the Palestinians lost their way. As they continue to revel in the illusion that they can destroy Israel, they in fact are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. They should wake up before they forfeit the next generation’s chance to live in peace and realize their dreams and aspirations to prosper in their own country, which they richly deserve.” Both sides should always keep in mind the profound words of Pascal: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it following their (own) conscience”

The rabbis decreed a special blessing to be said when any Jew see a very large population of Jews, who because of their great numbers must include more sects of Jews than we ourselves would normally associate with: “Blessed is the Sage of Esoterica, for the opinion of each (Jew) is different from the other, just as the face of each (Jew) is different from the other.” (Berakhot 58a)  

The problem was not that they differed with each other. The problem was that some of them hated each other with a hatred that was unrestrained by their teachers and unfettered by the leaders who were close to them. Although it was too late to save Jerusalem and its Holy Temple, our sages learned a very important lesson from that bitter experience. 

It wasn’t Babylonian or Roman power that banished God from the world, but the inability of the Jewish people to find common cause, and to temper and restrain their internecine conflicts. We couldn’t get along, so God departed. Jews may be an eternal people, but never underestimate our self-destructive capacities.This same lesson is the only way that the Palestinians can make the compromises necessary for making peace and establishing their own state next to Israel.

The Biblical Book of Lamentations for Palestinians is an excellent example of how to deal with a national disaster. It does not blame the Babylonians for the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple. Instead, it blames the leaders of the Jewish People. And to this day Jews have avoided scapegoating others and concentrated on critical self-examination. 

For example; an Israeli poll released back in 10/19/1917 found that Israel’s  political leaders are the most widely seen culprits for Israeli society’s deep rifts, according to 75% of Israeli Jewish respondents. Sadly, 67% said rabbis and the religious establishment were also to blame.

A Midrash relates that an Arab declared that the Messiah was born on the very day the second Temple was destroyed. (Midrash Eicha Rabbah I, 16, 51) The Rabbis preached again and again that out of darkness and despair, hope and trust could be reborn. 

Even the emotional book of Lamentations says “I call this to mind, and so have hope, the kindness of the Lord has not ended, His mercies are not spent. (Lamentations 3:21-2)  Oppressed  communities and nations die without hope and faith; but with hope and optimism they can survive and even overcome, 

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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