Parting Shot: Blameless, but responsible

It’s funny how much can change in a week.

Last Friday, we were struggling to catch our breath following the staggering onslaught of the week’s events, which had played out under the glaring focus of the world.

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Over 60 dead in the Gaza “March of Return”; the gala ceremony marking the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem; Netta Barzilai’s stunning victory in Eurovision and her triumphant celebration in Rabin Square….

This week? Everyone was talking about the heat wave.

The red, white and purple flower bed in the shape of the American flag marking the entranceway to the US facility is in full bloom, but the staging, the posters and the guests have all gone home.

The Palestinian protesters who gathered in full force last week at the Gaza fence returned home as well, licking their wounds and burying their dead.

Many Israelis – initially alarmed over the high casualty figures or questioning the open-fire tactics of the IDF – breathed a sigh of relief when Hamas official Salah Bardawil bragged in an interview that most of the victims in last Monday’s protest/ riot/invasion along the Gaza border were active Hamas members.

The world mostly ignored that disclosure, preferring instead to continue pointing a finger at Israel with accompanying talk of war crimes investigations and sending UN forces to protect Palestinians against Israeli aggression. But our conscience was eased as we drew the conclusion that our soldiers (our children, neighbors, colleagues) were not randomly picking off peaceful protesters, but actually preventing the bad guys from infiltrating into Israel and staging lethal attacks on civilians.

The thinking is: “We’re off the hook; we have to do whatever needs to be done to protect our border and we can’t be blamed if Hamas sends its men, women and children on suicide missions to the fence. It’s all their fault.” And so, just like those times when there is a lull in terrorist attacks emanating from the West Bank, the relative quiet on the Gaza front mesmerizes us into thinking that everything is normal.

Well, it’s not. Only a few kilometers from our comfortable existence, the people of the Gaza Strip are suffering, with many living in impoverished conditions that include contaminated water, scant electricity and rampant unemployment.

Of course, all fingers point to their leadership, which has spent 12 years building tunnels, launching missiles and waging a war on Israel instead of building a country. (And look no farther than the arson at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which prevented goods from reaching Gazans, for a classic and absurd “cutting off your nose to spite your face” scenario).

Those who blame Israel for creating a virtual prison in the Gaza Strip by controlling all land and sea access ignore the belligerent threat on its border. But again, shifting the burden to Hamas takes us off the hook – if the people wanted, they could throw out Hamas, reach out a hand of conciliation that Israel would gladly grasp, and alleviate their plight. But that’s not going to happen any time soon, it seems. And the situation in Gaza keeps going from bad to worse. But without the protests and the shootings and the deaths to remind us, does anyone really care? The longer it takes for the situation in Gaza to improve, the level of frustration, anger and desperation in the most densely populated piece of land on Earth will continue to rise, resulting in continuing clashes, suffering and possibly renewed military engagement with Israel. After all, summer is approaching, and summer is the high-season of past Israel- Gaza conflicts.

THE US EMBASSY is up and functioning in Jerusalem and the dignitaries have gone home, but the Gaza tragedy and humanitarian crisis remains. Yes, Hamas is mostly to blame, yes, they are holding Israelis, both living and presumed dead, but that doesn’t mean that every effort possible should be made – by the international community, by the US… and by Israel – to help extract the Gazans from their one-way tunnel of despair.

Jewish tradition teaches that we’re responsible for each other, even if it seems like every obstacle is being put in our path. Regarding Gaza, we could be right. But we’re not off the hook.