Tomorrow is Shabbat Hannukah, the Sabbath that occurs during Hannukah. Exactly one year ago, on Shabbat Hannukah (Saturday December 27, 2008), Israel launched Operation Cast Lead. On that day, Saturday December 27, 2008, at 11:30 in the morning, a time when schoolchildren were still in school, 88 Israeli aircraft simultaneously attacked 100 preplanned targets in Gaza within a span of 4 minutes. This initial attack was followed by another attack and by the end of that Sabbath day, at least 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured. Shabbat Hannukah last year, was the day with the highestone day death toll in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A Reuters report from that day reads as follows:
"Black smoke billowed over Gaza City, where the dead and wounded lay on the ground after Israel bombed more than 40 security compounds, including two where Hamas was hosting graduation ceremonies for new recruits.
At the main Gaza City graduation ceremony, uniformed bodies lay in a pile and the wounded writhed in pain."
Our traditional greeting for Shabbat is Shabbat Shalom/ A Sabbath of Peace. That day was far from a Sabbath of Peace.
Not only did the Israeli military assault start on Hannukah, the name of the campaign, Operation Cast Lead, is from a Hannukah poem by Haim Nachman Bialik about a dreidel made from cast lead that a father bought for his child.
The poem became a popular Hannukah children's song. I learned the song when I was a child and Jewish children in Israel and around the world sing it joyously. From now on the image of the cast lead dreidl will be associated with the lead of armaments and the violence of Operation Cast Lead.
I imagine we all remember those days last year of the military campaign. I remember how shocked I was by the brutality and disproportional nature of the response. Israel with one of the strongest armies in the world bombarded one and a half million people who live in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, in an open air prison, in isolation enforced by the Israeli siege with no way to leave or enter.
Israel claimed it had no choice, any nation-state would do the same thing. Israel has a right and a responsibility to defend itself. The rockets that Palestinian armed groups fired into Israeli civilian areas terrorized the entire population, damaged property and sometimes injured and killed civilians.
Was it true that Israel had no choice?
Was this a wise or an ethical way to defend oneself?
My shock about the campaign grew as the reports of the massive deliberate targeting of civilian targets were revealed: the death of 1100-1400 civilians among them hundreds of children, the extensive wanton destruction of property, evidence of people killed even when they were holding white flags of surrender, the use of white phosphorus and other weaponry not used in congested urban areas, the destruction of thousands of homes, of water wells, the vile graffiti scrawled on the homes of Palestinians and the list goes on and on.
As a Jew, as a rabbi, as a human being I was shocked. Israel is a state that acts in the name of the Jewish people. This attack was neither wise, nor ethical. Is this what the ethical tradition of our people had come to? We say that to be Jewish is to be compassionate, "the compassionate who are also the children of the compassionate"? Isn't the essence of our faith that every human being is created in the image of God?
An Israeli friend told me of her experience at a family Hannukah party. They turned on the television and saw the horrifying images of the bombing of Gaza and the smoke rising from the ground. She was shocked by what she saw. But then without another thought the members of her family turned off the television and resumed their party as if nothing had happened. She was stunned that no one in her family missed a beat. It was not significant enough to interrupt the joy of Hannukah. It was as if the death and misery of Palestinians didn't concern them.
Now a year later this seems an appropriate image to describe our reaction over the past year, we "turned off the TV".
Overwhelmingly Israelis, even liberal Israelis, supported the military campaign assault. Some Israelis called for a ceasefire but opposition to the war was minimal. It is so striking that when Israel allowed the Phalangists to enter the Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila and they killed 700 Palestinians, over 400,000 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv. Last year Israeli soldiers, not someone else with Israeli permission, killed more than 1300 Palestinians and the largest protest in Israel was of 5-6,000 people many of them Palestinian citizens of Israel.