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The below email contains information I hadn't heard or seen before. Without agreeing or disagreeing on the views expressed, or independent verification of whether the information is accurate, I'm quoting extensively in the hope that readers with further information will bring links/citations to help clarify facts of what is actually happening and how it is happening. My assumption is that facts may help understanding, and perhaps thereby assist us in seeing how to contribute concrete resources and efforts for peace, and for safe prosperity for all concerned, as an alternative to heated opinion alone. My assumption could be wrong, of course...

From: Rabbi Steven Wernick [mailto:aglick@uscj.org],
                           United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Sent: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 10:44 AM
Subject: Update #2 from Israel

July 15, 2014 / 17 Tammuz 5774
A Fast Day

Today is the 17th of Tammuz.  It's what is called a minor fast in our tradition.  Minor because like Ramadan it is a day fast and not a full 25 hour fast like Yom Kippur or Tisha B'av.  According to tradition, it was on the 17th of Tammuz that the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army, leading to the destruction of the First Temple and first exile of the Jewish people...

With regard to this fast I tend to follow the ruling of the Geonim... of Halakhah, that when Israel is at peace, one may choose not to fast. For them "at peace" meant Israel reestablished and the coming of Mashiah. For me, it means Israel reestablished and not in a shooting war. So this year, as during the Second Lebanon War, I fast.

The day began with a little bit of hope. The Egyptians offered a cease fire. Israel accepted it. Hamas did not and continued to fire on Israel. The government waited six hours for quiet before returning fire around 3 pm.

At 7pm I got my first experience of what a typical Israeli goes through in this war. On our bus to Tel Aviv the siren sounded. We found shelter under a bridge, bent over and covered the back of our heads with our hands and waited. The sound of the Iron Dome deploying (the same one we visited yesterday) was audible. Its interception of the rocket was a loud boom. Then we waited two full minutes to allow any debris to settle. And went on our way (at right, as people began returning to the streets). It was a fast experience.

It was a surreal experience. My mind knew what it meant. My spirit is still trying to figure it out. Thank God for the Iron Dome. Had the missile been able to hit a target, many would have been killed or injured.  

And then, as yesterday, Israelis went about their business. Back to the beach, back to work, back to the playground, back to the abnormal normalcy of Israel under fire.

Today our group met with a number of policy experts and politicians.

President-elect Ruby Rivlin thanked us for coming and shared with us a glimpse of his vision of the presidency as someone who enables the critical dialogue of Israeli and Jewish society to occur... We also met with [President Peres, who is in the final week of his incumbency], the chair of the Knesset's security committee, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Minister Naftali Bennet, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner of the IDF Spokepersons Bureau [picture was not copyable-embeddable at this time] and former National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror.

From Lt. Col. Lerner we learned the extent to which the IDF goes to protect and reduce civilian casualties. It's a three-pronged approach.  

First the IDF calls residents and drops leaflets for those who live in the vicinity of a [military] target, telling them that they should leave.

Then they "knock on the building" by deploying a lightweight device on the roof.

As a result... [enemy forces] will likely also get the message and leave the vicinity... The [IDF] is prepared to take that risk, because they value every human life.
[They then] choose the type of ordnance needed to destroy the target, and only the target [to destroy enemy operational capacity by destroying the facility], and deploy it.

Lerner shared with us video of how the chosen ordnance destroys its target and...what happens when there is a secondary explosion, much larger than Israel's action...caused by Hamas munitions [detonating] in the target area. It's this explosion which causes more damage and is responsible for the majority of civilian deaths...by  storing munitions in homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals [resulting in] Palestinian losses.

The challenge the IDF has in all of this is that the reporters only see the aftermath and destruction. And with news cycles being what they are today, the story is skewed, though thus far, Lerner feels the press has been fairly balanced in its reporting. That could change, and probably will as the operation continues and [Palestinian] losses mount.

But with more than 1,000 rockets fired on Israel, what alternatives does it have? And the numbers game is a perversion of morality. Read a piece on this concept (Time Magazine, 14 July 2014)  by my colleague Rabbi Eric Yoffe, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Finally, Yaakov Amidror, who only 4 months ago was the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, gave a sobering analysis of the choices Israel has. Basically there are only two.

It can have a limited engagement to destroy current stockpiles and create a period of calm that might last two, three, maybe even five years, knowing it will have to fight this fight again.

Or it can re-conquer Gaza and stop the rockets for good.

Both come at a price. The only relevant decision is which... is the wise one? ...
I am reminded of the wisdom of Golda Meir who said: “There will be peace when the Palestinians learn to love their children more than they hate ours.” And “I can forgive the Palestinians for killing us. I can't forgive them for causing us to kill them.”

And yet, life goes on. An abnormal normalcy. Right now it's quiet. I'm sitting on the balcony of my hotel overlooking the New Train Station in Jerusalem.  It's a beautiful day. The beginning of day three.

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