When Iron Dome Can’t Protect Us From Our Enemies

Author’s note-7/30/2014: I am no longer proud of the fact that I wrote this. I apologize for it, and recommit to never writing like this again. I have written an apology for it on this blog. Please see it here.

It’s been interesting following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalate over the past few weeks. It feels different this time. I think the world is taking notice of that. The completely unprovoked kidnappings and murders of those three boys, the non-stop rocket barrages, the media circus constructing its three rings, and the arguments for both sides: Israel’s right to defend itself vs. the disproportionate amount of casualties experienced by the Palestinians. Of course, if Hamas had its way, there would either be no disproportion, or the disproportion would be in their favor. Thank God for Iron Dome, a short range missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy rockets before they reach their destinations. It’s an impressive bit of technology, with close to 90% accuracy. Since the beginning of the most recent conflict, only one person has died as a direct result of rocket attacks in Israel. Iron Dome, with God’s help, is keeping our brothers and sisters safe.

As the conflict drags on and the argument continues to rage, I’ve noticed certain similarities in the arguments between the pro-Israelis and the pro-Palestinians and the arguments I have with people who are part of the cover-up culture concerning sexual abuse (whether out of malice or out of ignorance).

What I find most interesting, is that many of the people, specifically the more right wing communities, which are typically the most pro-Israel and its right to defend itself,  no matter the cost in collateral damage, are the same people who condemn victims and their relatives for coming forward to the authorities as mosrim (informants) because of the slightest chance that the accusations may be false, and because of the devastating effect the indictment, trial, and incarceration of an abuser with a wife and children may cause to his family. Never mind the fact that the likelihood of an allegation being false is miniscule, and the number of reported rapes is only 40%. Never mind the fact that of the 40% reported, only 10% are arrested, and only 3% will actually sit in a prison. So careful are these people with the lives and reputations of alleged abusers and the potential damage to their families, that they would force the victim into silence, further revictimizing him and endangering the community. And yet they have no problem with the amount of collateral damage Israel inflicts while fighting Hamas in Gaza. I’m not taking a position on Israel’s acceptable threshold for collateral damage, but the hypocrisy is clear.

I can hear you rolling your eyes, accusing me of building straw-men in favor of an argument for a cause many feel is overblown and exaggerated, but just spend an hour or two listening to Curtis and Kuby, or Geraldo Rivera in the morning, and you’ll hear tens of people, from every Jewish community in New York and New Jersey, calling in and unanimously supporting the bombing of and military incursions into Gaza—many of those communities have covered up and continue to cover up abuse.

Fewer than 50 Israelis have been killed in the recent conflict. According to Al-Jazeera, approximately 800 Palestinians have been killed. Not many frum (right-wing- religious) Jews would disagree with Israel’s tactics in Gaza. Hamodia, a frum newspaper which refuses to publish any stories about sexual abuse in the community because its editor is protecting her readers’ “right not to know,” has published several editorials justifying Israel’s tactics and collateral damage. The same with Yated, another frum paper that will never print a single word about sexual abuse. Fewer than 50 Israelis have been killed. Close to 800 Palestinians. Apparently that price is acceptable. 800 Palestinians for 50 Israelis.

1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men will be sexually abused in their lifetimes. According to RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network), sexual abuse victims are 4 times more likely to kill themselves, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol. Of course the frum world likes to tell itself that the numbers are way lower in its communities, a theory which can never be refuted because people are too scared of the consequences to ever answer a survey on the subject. They’re scared of losing shidduchim (prospective marriage partners) for themselves or their families, of being thrown out of or denied admission to schools, and being shunned in their synagogues. The consequences have been made very clear, and the stakes have been set very high; reporting, except under very specific, limited, and completely arbitrary circumstances, is unacceptable, and will result in your life being made a living hell within the community.

I’ve worked with sexual abuse victims, victims whose abusers were never reported because of pressure, either implied or direct, from their community to stay silent. I’ve seen the effect silence has on victims. I’ve seen kids turn to drugs and the streets, seen them kill themselves, seen them throw their lives away because they’ve been so devastated by monsters who are elevated and respected while they’ve been discarded by their community. Thousands of our children die every year, and even more leave their religion behind, and hundreds of abusers are allowed to walk free, because of the remote possibility of 2% collateral damage. And yet, somehow, an 800 to 50 ratio of dead Israelis to dead Palestinians is ok.

My aim is not to take a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’m not qualified to make the decision on how much collateral damage is acceptable to protect a country’s citizens. I’m not a learned man, nor am I the leader of a nation. I prefer to leave that determination to my betters, to people more experienced. My aim is to provide perspective, and ask for consistency in our fights against our enemies. I am not minimizing the loss of Israeli lives and the tragedy each loss is, not only to the families of the victims, but to the nation as a whole. That is not my goal. I am simply imploring the people in a position to affect change, the people who are faced, every day, with life and death decisions, the people who are aware of abuse and have thus far chosen not to report it, to please value the lives of your children, the lives of your loved ones, the lives of your brothers and sisters who are suffering and dying because of sexual abuse, as much as you value the lives of your brothers and sisters who are suffering and dying because of Hamas.

Israel, thank God, has Iron Dome, which protects it from 90% of Hamas’ rocket attacks. Please help be the Iron Dome for our children. God willing, Israel will see peace soon and never know war again, and never again will a child know the pain of sexual abuse.



Couples Counseling

There’s only so much you can talk about a topic before it starts to make you sick, before you want to just lock it away in some dark corner of your basement and pray you never have to see it again. Especially if you’ve devoted years to the subject. Or, perhaps, a lifetime. It starts to eat away at you, tearing off little pieces of your soul which leave you, borne on your tears. It’s how idealists become cynics, activists become bitter, and the passionate become apathetic. It’s how someone who, deep down, truly cares, comes to look at tragedy, at suffering, and simply walks away. It’s anger replaced by depression, drive replaced by defeat, dreams crushed by reality.

It’s why, since Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel were kidnapped, I haven’t said a word to anyone about the tragedy. I joined in with everyone else saying tehillim, and praying for their safe return, and I have to say I did appreciate the unity we as a people managed to exhibit, if only for a week or two, but when they were found dead, I knew that was over. I cried when I saw the news, especially when I found out that they had been dead the entire time. It wasn’t just for our nation’s bereavement, and the incredible pain the parents of those boys would be experiencing, but for what was inevitably about to follow—Jew fighting Jew as bitterly as Israel would fight the Palestinians over how exactly Israel should fight the Palestinians, and whose “fault” the kidnappings were. And my people met my expectations. Within an hour, whatever unity we had, whatever common experience we’d shared was over. We were back to fighting.

I’ve been watching the arguments in shul (synagogue), and online, in stores, at my office, and I must give credit where credit is due. Hamas sure knows how to bring us to our knees. Their rockets don’t do much thanks to Iron Dome, and they’ll never get what they want through their relatively small terror attacks, but they’ve got us pegged. All they have to do is kill a few of us, and watch as we tear ourselves apart. They don’t have to blame us for forcing their hand, we’ll do that on our own, and we’ll do it better. They don’t have to worry about disseminating their propaganda, calling Israel illegal occupiers, or accusing Israel of apartheid—they know that the Jews, capable as we are, can do whatever they can do, and do it better. They know that they don’t have to waste time tearing our families and friendships apart physically, because we’ll do a much better job of it emotionally and spiritually.

But the crowning jewel in Hamas’ arsenal, a weapon so powerful it managed to drag me out of my silence and back onto my blog, is far and away the Niturei Karta (Lit. Guardians of the City; They are of the belief that the State of Israel has no right to exist until the Messiah comes and establishes it). I’ve read about them in news articles and magazines, and seen pictures of their infamous meetings with terror leaders in Palestine and Iran, but it was different seeing them up close, on my turf. I was driving by the UN, stopped at a stop sign, looked out of my window to the left, and there they were by the Sharansky Steps, two chassidim (Hassidic Jews), one waving a Palestinian flag, and the other a sign beseeching people to boycott the “Satanic” State of Israel.

That hurt. More than the hundreds of rockets I knew had fallen and the millions forced into bomb shelters, seeing them hurt me. I expect an enemy of Hamas. I expect them to try and hurt me. I don’t expect it of my fellow Jew. And yet, there they were. And in that moment, what made it hurt even more, was imagining a terrorist seeing that image and laughing with glee and triumph because he knew that he had managed to reach across the world and hurt more Jews without even trying, through a proxy that makes him even happier for the irony—A chassidic Jew.

And you know what? The two of them there was worse than a whole protest. I’ve been to protests. They’re fun. You go not only because you believe in the cause, but because your friends go; they’re there to support you. Protests feel lonely when they’re poorly attended, and you start to lose your resolve, and you feel silly standing there with your sign, shouting at passersby who at best don’t care and at worst hate you for your message. Seeing only two of them standing there told me that they believe so strongly in and are so committed to their message that they were willing to stand there alone delivering it. That takes a special kind of commitment—it not only drove the knife deeper, it twisted.

I know unity is a little too much to ask from the Jewish people. We’ve been fighting for as long as we’ve existed. It’s too much a part of who we are. What I can ask, though, is that we fight like a couple who love each other very much; they fight, but they never hit as hard as they could. They keep what hurts the most on the tip of their tongues but never let it out because, while fighting may be part and parcel of being in a couple, that doesn’t mean it has to hurt more than absolutely necessary. They fight in a way that makes it possible for them to still love each other in the morning. And I suppose that’s the best I can hope for the Jewish people—that we only fight like we love each other.