“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
The commandment to love our neighbors is not exclusive to any particular ethnicity or religion. If it were so, it would have stated love thy faithful neighbor as you love yourself. But the Bible is ambiguous in this instant – teaching us that all of God’s creation must be treated with dignity, respect, and love, no matter if they are similar to us or as different as the east is from the west.
Nonetheless, in Judaism we are also commanded to defend ourselves against our neighbors if and when they rise up against us. But this law of self-defense does not contradict the commandment to love one’s neighbor. Love does not entail surrendering our wellbeing. And when we defend ourselves from evil, we are also defending the very love of liberty, dignity, and freedom the Bible commands us to live by.
Here in Israel, the lines between loving one’s neighbor and defending oneself from said neighbor are all too often quite blurry. The recent attack by a Palestinian father of four in the West Bank town of Har Adar is a perfect example of the conundrum we find ourselves in when dealing with our Palestinian neighbors.
As an Israeli, I come into contact with Palestinians on a daily basis. My dentist is Palestinian. The pharmacist at our local drugstore is Palestinian. I meet Palestinians every time I shop at the supermarket, and we smile and wish each other well, especially during our respective holidays.
And yet, we are in a seemingly never-ending war of survival against one another.
The Har Adar attack showcased the two sides of the conflict. On one hand, you had a Palestinian who had been employed by Israeli families – families who knew him well, who invited him into their homes, and whose children often offered him food and drink. On the other, this same man opened fire this week, killing three people who were protecting the same West Bank town in which he had worked for years.
As for the victims, one was an Arab security guard who worked in Har Adar. His loved ones, a traditional Arabic family living inside the Israeli Green Line, were proud that their son worked security in a Jewish West Bank town, and visitors of all faiths pay their respects as the family sat in mourning.
This attack, its aftermath, its terrorist perpetrator, and his tragic victims all illustrate how difficult it is to keep one’s humanity – and obey God’s simple commandment to love one’s neighbor – in a country constantly ravaged by ongoing violence and war. So many Palestinians deserve our respect and our trust, yet others have shown how dangerous it can be to open our hearts and homes to an enemy with no scruples about murdering innocent men, women, and children.
As we approach Yom Kippur, I pray that this will be the year we see good prevail over evil, that decent and moral people will be victorious, and that we might spend more time loving our neighbors, instead of defending ourselves and our families from them.