As part of Rabbis for Human Rights’ series featuring the reflections, both human rights related and not, of our staff and rabbis during Operation Protective Shield, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, RHR’s director of human rights in the occupied territories, shares his feelings as son serves in Gaza. A dedicated Israeli activist, Rabbi Grenimann has spent much of his life committed to justice and equality in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Yet Rabbi Grenimann is also a husband and a father, and his son was recently called up as a reservist.
I am concerned about the safety of my peace-loving son who is a soldier down south, possibly already in Gaza, in Hermesh unit. There are people there who want to kill him, as they want to kill as many other Israelis as they can. The difference is that as a soldier he is a “legitimate” target, unlike the innocent civilians on both sides of this conflict. No one, of course, is really innocent in the eyes of those who live, preach and act on hate here.
I’m a human rights activist, who served as a soldier in reserves for 25 years just as my son does now. I know that a soldier is no less a human being for being engaged in attempting to defend his people from missiles, terrorist murders, kidnappings. Nor are the Hamas militants any less human for acting on their hatred in these ways.
I have been involved, personally and politically, for decades now in the dialogue with Palestinians in search of peace and understanding. The defense of human rights of all and respect for human dignity in Israeli society has been a concern as long as I can remember. It led me to get involved in Rabbis For Human Rights from its founding in 1988 and has been my professional calling in my work for RHR over the past eight years.
In that time I have faced many personal and professional dilemmas in dealing with our reality on the ground in the West Bank (known in the Jewish narrative as Judea and Samaria). I am often torn between my own concern for the security and well being of my people, the Jewish people, and their country, the State of Israel and the heart-breaking phenomenon of ongoing military occupation, and the injustice that this causes the Palestinian people with which we “share” this holy land.
My son, Neriya, a combat soldier, received an emergency call-up on the evening of July 17th. He shares my values and religious and moral commitments as well as some of my dilemmas. He too has been an activist for peace and environmental justice. He has studied Arabic, has Palestinian friends with whom he studied environmental issues and who have visited him in our home and he has been hosted in theirs.
My involvement in human rights work is something he is proud of and supports, though he sometimes questions some of the things RHR supports or does. I too am proud and support him in his defense of his country.
We both share a healthy degree of skepticism regarding the official explanations given by governments and the political groups in play in this tragic situation, having experienced inaccurate and even deceitful reports of events in the past.
With a son on the front lines and a sense of existential threat from a mortal enemy, it is hard to maintain a critical stance. We are caught up in events and are as yet unable to have the perspective and information needed to judge as to what we have done as a nation. The time for that will come.
I pray that he will return unscathed both physically and morally from his experience of war and continue to work for peace, and share with me his view of events.
There are thousands more like him in the Israeli army. Decent people who have no intention to kill civilians, want an end to violence but believe that the Jewish people in the Land of Israel have a right to defend themselves, for whom the right to life both as individuals and as a people is a basic human right, a right we would like to see our enemies realize as well in the only way that is possible in this tiny country – mutual respect and willingness to compromise.
It is time to end this conflict so young people like my son can devote themselves to life and fulfill the words of Torah: “Uvaharta BaHaim” – choose life.
Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann is the head of the rights in the OT department in Rabbis for Human Rights. The views he expresses here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Rabbis for Human Rights.