Jonathan Wittenberg: A rabbi's plea for a ceasefire in Gaza

Religious leaders of every faith have a duty to assert the value of life, all life
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The Independent Online

As a rabbi living in London, I have a heavy and torn heart. The terrible events unfolding in Israel and Gaza have immense significance for the hope of peace in the Middle East and also affect the future of Jewish-Muslim relations, and relationships within wider society, Europe and the world.

Last weekend's open letter from UK Jewish leaders, including some of my rabbinical colleagues, that called on the Israeli government to agree to an immediate and permanent ceasefire based on the end of all rocket attacks by Hamas, was an important and timely contribution to public reflections on the conflict in Gaza. I support its hopes. It has prompted serious reflection within my community.

I realise as I write that, unlike many members of the community and their children, I do not know what it is like to fight, or see my children fight, for my country. I do not know what it has been like to live in Sderot for years with constant danger, or indeed now in Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. I do not know and cannot imagine what it must be like to be an ordinary person in Gaza for all these hopeless years, with children, in utter fear now, caught between Hamas and Israel, with the ceaseless sounds of gunfire and rockets.

My abhorrence for Hamas and its culture of terror and murder is clear and strong. I have seen the tears and heard the cry of many whose beloved children and relatives have been killed. There is an utter cynicism and culture of death within Hamas which is terrifying. They have killed huge numbers of their own population. That Israel could not tolerate thousands of rockets being fired with the deliberate intention of killing anyone and everyone, is to my mind unarguable.

I am a strong supporter of Israel and its right to exist and respond to Hamas. But at the same time, I am horrified, pained and fearful about the terrible loss of life in this war. How much blood has been shed? How many people are wounded, terrified, grief-stricken? What suffering on both sides, about which we have thought too little, lies behind all this? How much new hatred is now being born? That Hamas criminally and cynically uses innocent people as human shields does not clear us of all moral responsibility for whatever happens. I long for the fighting and the rockets to end so that no more innocent lives lost. That is why we must call out for the sake of life and peace.

Now it is more important than ever to reach out across a widening gulf of fear, anger and pain to friends and colleagues in the Muslim community, where we can and should talk together, mourn together, hope together. Otherwise we too will be unable to look each other in the face, without anything we can say or anyone we can say it to. This is urgent and it is for us to do here, in London, in Britain now.

All religious leaders of every faith have a duty to assert and strive adequately for the value of life, all life, every life. I understand spiritual ethics to teach the inestimable value of every single life and that human rights know no boundaries of race or nation.

We should pray, for our loved ones, for Israel and Gaza, for the wounded and the grief-stricken, and for a swift, enduring end to this fighting. But we also need to call for a durable solution for peace, including a swift and sustainable ceasefire that ends all rocket attacks, and the complete and permanent lifting of the Gaza blockade. May peace come quickly.

The author wrote The Three Pillars of Judaism and The Silence Of Dark Water: An Inner Journey