Fatah fighters’ escape to Israel and what it means


Even for the complex Middle East it was a moment of exceptional irony. Some 180 Fatah loyalists fleeing a series of shootouts and summary executions by Hamas

on the streets of Gaza ran for the border — banking on the mercies of the enemy they usually target.

Remarkably, Israeli soldiers braved Hamas fire to save the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, however, opted to return the fighters to Gaza. The first group of 35 returnees was promptly arrested by Hamas.

Seeing the danger to their erstwhile foes, the Israel Defense Forces balked at transferring the rest of the Fatah men, while the Association for Civil Rights in Israel appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to block the forced repatriation. Finally, Israel prevailed upon Abbas to give safety to his own followers, and they were sent to Jericho.

The reaction in the Arab world to this incredible turn of events is instructive. Writing in Beirut’s Daily Star, columnist Rami Khouri offered an assessment of the larger issue:

“This is the latest and most troubling example of how a once-grand and noble Palestinian national liberation movement has allowed itself to degenerate into ineptitude…. As Fatah and Hamas battle it out like a bunch of armed neighborhood gangs, it will not be surprising to see some friends of Palestine quietly walk away, mumbling that if the Palestinians wish to kill each other and destroy their own society, they are free to do so.”

Writing in Al-Hayat, Mohammad Salah goes even further:

“The flight by Ahmad Hilles and other Palestinians to Israel in search of safety away from the bullying and aggression of Hamas affirms that the Palestinian issue is on its way to disappearing, evaporating and being forgotten. It also proves that Israel, for many Palestinians, is a refuge or objective one seeks and heads toward when Palestinians oppress each other.”

The border episode should have been cheered by nongovernment organizations and church groups who insist that peace will come to the Middle East not through governmental fiat, but when people on both sides recognize the humanity of the other.

Other developments, however, indicate that we are a long way off from moving beyond widely held stereotypes in the Arab World that depict Christians as bloodthirsty crusaders and Jews as the offspring of pigs and monkeys. The reaction to a University of Haifa course shows just how much toxicity prevails in the Arab street.

Professor Ofer Grosbard, assisted in a project by 15 Muslim students, quoted verses from the Quran that would help Muslim psychologists reinforce in their religious patients concepts like respect, responsibility, honesty, dignity and kindness. Their selections were vetted by three Islamic clerics.

Nonetheless, the project drew furious responses. Speaking to Gulf News, Dr. Abdullah Al Mutlaq, of the Senior Ulema Board in Saudi Arabia, insisted that the project should not be trusted by Muslims, because it is run by Jews who openly show their hatred to Islam and Muslims, and that Grosbard’s interpretation of the Quran’s lessons in human dignity and kindness would give Muslims the wrong impression of their religion. Not surprisingly, officials of the Palestinian Authority concurred.

Don’t expect the caretakers of the global civil society to challenge the Arab world anytime soon. Some self-appointed activists, operating in the rarified moral high ground of nongovernmental organizations, refuse to be impacted by the facts. For even as Israelis fought to obtain the safety of Arab fighters on Aug. 5, two boats in Cyprus were preparing a mission to burst through Israel’s sea blockade into an embrace with Hamas. The success of the mission was to be measured by Google hits on BBC and Iranian media coverage, not by any humanitarian cargo for the beleaguered residents of Gaza.

Israel has consistently allowed such supplies in and arranged passage for many critically ill patients to Israeli hospitals. This despite the fact that at least one ill woman from Gaza used the privilege of shuttling back and forth to an Israeli hospital to try to smuggle a bomb that would blow up the very facility and doctors who treated her.

Most nongovernmental organizations (NGO) that see themselves as protectors of Palestinian interests remain blind and silent, both about the Israeli largesse and the rupture of Palestinian society. Have they ever wondered what issues Israelis grapple with, what their needs are in the Gordian knot we call the Holy Land?

Did anyone consider the reaction of the parents of Gilad Shalit to the Fatah rescue? Shalit is the Israeli soldier kidnapped near that very crossing where the Fatah members were saved by other Israeli soldiers.

And what of the bereaved families of Vadim Nurhitz and Yossi Avrahami, two Israeli reservists who took a wrong turn into Ramallah? Taken to a PA police station, they were brutalized and dismembered by a mob. Rather than protect the two soldiers, a PA policeman at the station participated in the lynching.

For too many, repeating empty mantras about the “occupation” is much easier than rethinking the nature of a future Palestinian state and how it would treat its own citizens or its Jewish neighbors. Indeed, too few in the international community care enough to demand a modicum of accountability from the Palestinians.

These events present a microcosm of a clash not between two governments but of two fundamentally different cultures. Nothing will ever change until the world comes to understand the truths that led the Fatah fighters to choose the Israeli enemy over their Palestinian brothers?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of interfaith relations for the Wiesenthal Center.

Cry of the Leper


What do we do with the things that frighten us most? Sometimes we have the will to overcome that which we wish we could run from, choosing not to hide away in the safety of our own bubble. We have the courage to face the demons, either personal or communal; we stare down the fear and come out the better for it.

But too often, when we are afraid of something, be it a person, an idea, a change, an illness or a truth we can’t face, we create real or imaginary barriers that seemingly protect us from that fear — until they don’t.

There comes a time, for each of us, when we stand face to face with our demons; it is in our response to this challenge that we often see some of the more beautiful moments in human life. In this week’s parsha, Tazria, we find one of those opportunities.

Tazria is about people and illness that frighten us the most: lepers and nasty skin afflictions.

Throughout our human history, lepers, and those with physical afflictions that make them appear scary and different, have been treated with disdain and fear — the wretched of the earth. Yet within this parsha of purification rites, we find a line that invites us into the deeper realm of what is possible, into a sod, a more hidden meaning of Torah.

Once a person is deemed by the priest to have leprosy, the Torah says he must run through the community screaming, “Impure, impure!” (Leviticus 13:45). On the face of it, this seems to be quite embarrassing and demeaning for the person, as they are forced to announce their illness in such a public way.

The Talmud, in Moed Katan 5a, articulates two opinions on why a person must scream out. Rabbi Abahu says that the leper calls out to warn the community of his illness, thereby advising us to stay away from him. And at times, this is natural and normal, for we all must protect ourselves and our communities from illnesses that threaten our health. But the Talmud responds with another interpretation of the calling out: the leper is to call out in order to arouse sympathy and mercy from the community. Twice the leper says tamei (impure), such that we are presented with two options for response: fear/protection and sympathy/mercy.

I believe the Talmud is instructing us to do both, for doing one without the other, in either direction, will leave us vulnerable. Fear without sympathy leaves us physically safe but spiritually and morally stricken; sympathy without protection threatens our very lives.

Together, we must find a way to respond to the greatest fears of our time, the greatest illnesses our of communities and the world at large, with this two-fold manifesto. Be it HIV/AIDS, war, genocide, poverty, racism, sexism, hate, vengeance or anything else we fear, we must all hear the cry of “impure, impure,” recognize that there is an affliction and treat it. Fear cannot stop us and mercy cannot blind us; rather by combining the two we can find a holy path to healing and repair.

Rabbi Richard Hirsh teaches that part of our job is to sometimes “stand apart from the community [like the priests], to signal when there is an outbreak of spiritual/moral/interpersonal/communal affliction, to intervene before the contaminant can spread, and to declare when the community has restored itself.” Rabbi Hirsh was speaking to rabbis when he said this, but I think it applies to each one of us. We each have the responsibility to recognize affliction and try to treat it. We cannot run away and say “that doesn’t affect me,” or “I am too afraid to deal with this.” There are needy voices calling out to us from all corners of the earth, from all corners of our own community; the Torah is teaching us this week that we must answer those calls.


Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. He welcomes your comments at rabbijoshua@pjtc.net.

Please God, heal her now


In shuls across the world this Shabbat we will hear five short, simple Hebrew words: El na, refah na lah (Please God, heal her now).

Our prayers are never more heartfelt than when we ask for intervention in the process of sickness and death. God, we are saying, we acknowledge that the control and the timing are ultimately yours. We will provide the doctors and the medicine, the care and the concern, but the ultimate timing is Yours.

Please be gracious. Please.

Once a month we include a special healing service as part of our Saturday morning Torah service at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue. We form a healing circle, first stating the names of all our loved ones who are ill.

“El na, refah na lah,” we chant, “Please God, heal her now.”

Our focus then turns to the personal. We take out the Torah scroll, and pass it around the room, all the while continuing to chant the five words of this week’s portion. Some enter the circle while holding the Torah, receiving the energy of the group, while others quietly complete a silent prayer for their healing while holding on to the Tree of Life. There is no magic, no miracle cure involved. It is merely a formalized way for us to acknowledge the support of the community, and our own vulnerability. It is prayer.

Often, the question is asked, “Does prayer work?” If the proof of the efficacy of prayer is that no one remains ill or, God forbid, dies, then prayer is clearly a bust. Despite the studies of numerous healing groups on the power of prayer, no one can report that prayer defeats death. With proper medication, good support and much “luck,” some will heal from an illness, others will not.

The Hebrew word “na” in our formula for healing means “please.” It takes up two of our five words. Please. It’s all we can ask.

So why do we pray? On one hand, we seek and provide community support for the one who is ill. The misheberach list each week, which asks for the blessing of healing to be bestowed on ill members of the community and all of those who suffer, alerts us to the needs of those around us. In the recitation of healing prayers, there is no need to detail the challenges facing each person mentioned, only their names. It is up to the rest of us to complete the mitzvah of “bikkur cholim,” visiting the sick, in our own timing and our own ways.

For the ill person who prays, prayer provides a direct engagement with the Source of All Being. We can only struggle through the essential questions of why me? Why now? Yet, in the process of prayer, we begin to appreciate and understand the larger perspectives of life and death, and the gratitude for every moment that we enjoy in this life that has been granted to us.

Like Moses, we pray to hold on to life, to be able to fulfill our goals to the end. Please God, please, is all that we can say. Should death occur, the first response of the living must be, baruch dayan ha emet, or blessed is the true Judge. But up until that final moment, we are to beg, wheedle, plead for God’s mercy — and often our very engagement with life will prolong and improve the time we spend on this earth.

Can there be healing even if a person dies? There are those who speak of “healing unto death,” and the process of prayer that opens the lines of communication between the ill person, their inner circle, and the Holy One. To die healed, or consciously, is to heal the wounded relationships of one’s life before passing. It takes tremendous effort but can be done.

Last spring, I was honored by a connection to a young woman who consciously met with, and healed, the relationships with all of the key players in her life before her eventual death. The wounds of mother-daughter, sister-to-sister, even old loves were pursued with conscious love and forgiveness. She healed and entered death in peace. I pray to have the courage to do the same.

It is patently not fair when a young person dies of cancer, no matter what their state of healing. Our Torah portion, in Numbers 12, tells a story that is riddled with inequities. Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses “because of the Cushite woman he married.”

They are also jealous of Moses’ power and position.

“Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they say.

God overhears, and calls them into the front office, along with Moses: “Come out you three to the tent of meeting.”

God chastises Aaron and Miriam, and when the cloud of God’s glory withdraws from the tent, Miriam is stricken with snow-white scales. Not fair! What about Aaron? He was gossiping, too — gossip seen by later sages as the source of her illness. Why only Miriam?

We ask this question every time one person gets cancer and another does not.

There is no fairness, no quid quo pro. All we can do is step up, pray and ask the Source of healing for mercy. Aaron does exactly that saying, “Let her be not as one dead,” and Moses cries out to the Lord, saying “Please God, heal her.”

Miriam is shut out of the camp for one week to heal. But she is not abandoned.

She is but prayed for by her family and community, and perhaps she, too, prays to the God of Mercy. Likewise, we do not turn our backs on those who are ill among us, nor do we despair in illness, no matter how unfair the situation may seem.

Together, we unite, and we pray for those who are ailing with those five words that resound through time, a gift of this Torah portion. El na, refah na la.

Please God, heal her now. May it be so.

Judith HaLevy is rabbi of Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue.