Blind and Toothless

I’ve always been amazed at how many translations and variations there are to the Bible. For me, as my Hebrew has improved, I return more and more often to the Hebrew as the source and smile at the many incorrect translations I see. Perhaps the most notorious is the misconception that we are charged with, “Thou shalt not kill.” That’s wrong. There are times and situations in which we are not only allowed to kill, but commanded to kill.

If a gunman is holding your child and you know that you have a clear shot and in doing so, you will save the life of your child – you are commanded to take that shot. It is a kill – allowed by all that is right, by God. The proper translation of the commandment is “Thou shalt not murder.” To murder is very different than to kill. I will live with the reality that my son killed. It is so hard to write that, almost unbearable. And at the same time, I say with complete certainty, he did not murder. Gaza held a gun to the heads of our children, and Elie and his unit – the entire Israeli army, took the shot…and it was clean and not murder, despite the many lies the Palestinians continue to tell to this day.

The mosques that we bombed – had explosives in them. The videos are clear – secondary explosions where our bombs set off the explosives stored within what should have been a holy building. That is war – and in war, you kill…you do not murder, ever. To shoot a rocket into a city is to attempt to murder. Of course, if your elected officials condone putting military installations and shooting rockets from within your cities, there is a huge problem – but there are no military bases IN Beersheva, IN Shderot, IN Ashkelon. The target remains, the crime, when accomplished, is murder.

That is one kind of war; but quietly, Israel is involved in another war and this week, this secondary war made the headlines. When I saw a news article yesterday, it made me think of Fiddler on the Roof and Tevye, in his infinite wisdom, responding to a villager who called for revenge using the Biblical phrase, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

Tevye responded with brilliant disdain, “Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.”

There’s been a cyber-war going on in the Middle East – thankfully not nearly as deadly and dangerous as the real one that we have been living for 64 years, but at times humorous, at times depressing. This week, Arab hackers attacked at least two Israeli hospital websites, a civilian bus company, and a theater. This electronic war will likely increase in the days, months, and years to come.

I think cyber-wars are great when the target is the Iranian nuclear program. They say “all’s fair in love and war” – well, I don’t know if cyber war is fair but in this case, anything that Israel or the US or any hacker can do to slow the Iranian nuclear program will offer the benefit of hopefully avoiding bloodshed on all sides so I’d say, “go for it.”

In recent months, Israeli newspapers came under attack, and even several banks. No harm done, as far as I am concerned – certainly nothing compared to real-life injuries. It’s annoying, it’s childish – whatever. I don’t really care because while it may cause financial loss, it is what it is and the sun continues to shine, we have food in the stores, schools give out report cards, the trains continue to run. In short, real life continues.

Two days ago, Arab hackers attacked two Israeli hospitals – bringing down their websites. That bothered me. What possible gain is there in these targets, probably soft targets after all, and not much of a challenge to a determined hacker? More, it is likely that close to half the people treated in these Israeli hospitals are Arabs – okay, maybe that was my impression, but I can tell you it was well above the percentage of the population the Arab community represents. I can tell you that each time I have had to go to a hospital here in Israel – several of the nurses are Arabs, a few of the doctors are Arabs, and many of the patients as well.

Arabs come from all over – Gaza, Jordan, and beyond to our hospitals (even Iran and Iraq) to get the best care available in the Middle East – by dedicated professionals who do not differentiate between Arab and Jew when it comes to care. Several years ago, Israel was shaken by the image of a young Palestinian woman shrieking out in anger and pain because the soldiers at the checkpoint became suspicious and checked her carefully. As they demanded she stand isolated and remove her coat, they saw the explosives wrapped around her waist and the cameras caught her agonizing scream when she realized she had failed to reach her target.

Years before that day, she had been injured and maimed by a fire (no connection to Israel) – she was taken to the hospital in Beersheva because the burns were so severe. The doctors treated for her wounds and she was discharged. Her goal that day when she was caught by the soldiers was to go to the very same emergency room where her life had been saved – she was going to thank the doctors and caregivers, by blowing up the hospital.

Now, that is real damage, a real attack – but for the most part, a cyber-attack on a newspaper or even a hospital site carries no long term repercussions. The goal of attacking the Iranian nuclear program using cyber weapons will save lives; the goal of attacking an Israeli hospital website just shows again a lack of humanity (again). The only people hurt by this are the ones at the hospitals and patients who need information – including Arab patients.

I was disgusted by the attack, which, like the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, is just wrong. They hit a bus company and a theater in Israel as well. Why? What do they gain by this? Other than well deserved disgust, that is.

And then yesterday, I saw that Israeli hackers (calling themselves the IDF Team) had hacked into the Iranian English language television and the Iranian Health Ministry. Okay, as targets go, I’d rather the cyber war attack governmental targets rather than civilian hospitals, but still, I remembered Tevye’s remark.

I wanted to go back to the source for the Biblical quote – and so I checked various Internet sites. The phrase is known to many of us – or at least in part, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But it continues, “a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound,” etc. It is part of an involved description of legal retribution described in the book of Shemot (Exodus), chapter 21. And the rabbis who have interpreted the Bible for generations and beyond, are quick to point out that it does not refer to gauging out the eye of someone who has hurt you or cutting off the hand of a thief. Rather, it refers to the value of the injury – likely one of the first documented instances of social justice. If you cause harm, the Bible is teaching us, you must take responsibility – not revenge, but social compensation.

The sentence that precedes this one refers to a life for a life – and here there is the Hebrew word אָסֹון which is mistakenly translated by some as “mischief” or “harm.” In Israel, we use this word for tragedy and in the more faithful translations, it is more correctly rendered as a fatality, as a death. There are indeed cases when it is a life for a life, and other cases where it remains a monetary obligation.

Whatever the source or the translation, it is about a life for a life, social justice in a balanced way. It is not our way to attack civilians, hospitals, the innocent – even on the web. I’m not sure what the Israeli hackers accomplished. When I first saw the news item, I was concerned that they had attacked Arab hospital websites in retaliation for what was done to Israeli hospitals. I would have condemned that because, as Tevye said, there’s really no logic in the whole world being blind and toothless.

I’m relieved that it was a government site and hope, if they continue their cyber battles, that the so-called IDF team will continue to differentiate between hurting civilians and targeting their attacks where they belong.
Bring down the Iranian government, its army, its nuclear program and yes, even the health ministry and television. For that, I will say “kol hakavod” – all honor for what you do.

But please, don’t lose who we are in your quest to return to them what they fire on us. Don’t take down their hospital websites – it isn’t our way. Don’t attack their bus companies or theaters – nothing is gained by this and no honor received.

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