Virtual Talmud

If someone wants to destroy you, are you obligated to help them? How humanitarian is aid when it supports hate?

This stopped being a theoretical question when Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinian people, because Hamas continues to be dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel.

The Torah teaches us we are our brother’s keeper. An example is given: If the donkey of our enemy falls down, we are obligated to help raise up the donkey of our enemy even before the donkey of a friend. The goal here is that we should not even appear to be vindictive. The hope is that such an act of kindness would stimulate a cycle of rapproachment leading to reconciliation.

If only such a strategy would work in the world of Middle East realpolitik.

The Torah also teaches, however, that self-preservation is a mitzvah (a commandment). U’v’hai bahem, you should live by them (the mitzvot), the Torah reads. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, Rabbi Akiva explains, but not more than ourselves. In other words, we are not required to endanger ourselves so that our neighbors can live.

If we were to apply these moral lessons from our tradition, we could say that since Hamas is unrepentant in its commitment to destroy Israel, and if providing aide to Hamas shores up its support among the Palestinian people, there seems to be a very good reason why such support should be withheld.

However, what about the Palestinian people who are suffering because of their leaders’ decisions? Well, they are not really innocent, of course, having elected Hamas in the first place. Nevertheless, how can we just stand by and see individuals, particularly children, suffer?

We can’t, which is why Israel is providing humanitarian aid directly to the Palestinians by using the tax money Israel collects on behalf of the PA to pay Palestinian water and electric bills. (For the record, Israel offered to have the PA take over its own collections, and it preferred to have Israel continue to run the collections.) Israel is also shuttling medical supplies directly to Palestinian hospitals. America and our Western allies can follow suit.

What shouldn’t be overlooked is that Israel doesn’t need to provide the aid it is providing. If the situation were reversed, I have no doubt Hamas would revel in Jewish pain rather than seek to alleviate it. Too often overlooked is the fact that Israel is trying to help its neighbor, even when that neighbor is an enemy who wants to destroy it. In effect, Israel is trying to help individual Palestinians while trying to avoid contributing to a situation that strengthens Hamas.

What is happening in the West Bank and Gaza is a terrible tragedy. Unfortunately, it is a tragedy of the Palestinians’ own making. The majority of Israelis are willing to recognize a Palestinian State. If only the majority of Palestinians could feel the same about Israel, recognizing its right to exist, they would quickly have a secure and prosperous state of their own. It comes down to whether they love their children more than they hate Israel.

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