SHABBAT TIMES, LONDON

A Statement on Rafah by Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg

By Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg 13th Feb 2024

These words are written out of deep concern over Israel’s potential actions in Rafah, making it impossible to remain silent.

The calculated barbarity and strategic cruelty of Hamas’s military, and the presence of its forces in tunnels beneath Rafah, are beyond doubt. It suits them, and Iran, cynically to provoke Israel in the most appalling ways, then blame it for the awful consequences.

But over a million Palestinian civilians, many already in flight from the north of Gaza, are now trapped with nowhere to go. In countless references, Judaism has, throughout its history, stressed our duty to refugees and the helpless. How can we be unmoved by their grief and unbearable suffering?

President Biden has warned that without a credible humanitarian plan to evacuate civilians safely, attacking Rafah is unconscionable. This must include safe shelter, food, water and medical aid. Even then, what would the exodus of a million hapless people look like?

Egypt, while bluntly refusing to accept any Palestinian refugees, has warned Israel of dire consequences, including the possible termination of the peace treaty between the countries.

We all have the fate of the hostages in our hearts, and we saw the joyous pictures of two who were rescued and reunited with their families yesterday. But, as thousands of protesting Israelis have said, a major attack on Rafah is unlikely to be the best way to bring the release of many.

I write out of horror at what may ensue and its potential consequences in unimaginable suffering. I write out of dread at the future hatred this is likely to engender, and out of fear that these actions may haunt us, and the good name of Israel and the Jewish People, for generations.

I write in prayer that another political path forward will be forged, and that the God of Israel and all humanity will help us find a way to a peaceful resolution, with security for Israel and a viable future for the civilian population of Gaza, without any more appalling bloodshed.

Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg

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