We look on with horror at the events unfolding in Aleppo. I know friends who have transfixed to the twitter feed of children, possibly tweeting their final days of life. The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League has said the humanitarian crisis and the responsibility of the international community has reached levels that force us to think about Cambodia, Sarajevo, Rwanda, The Congo and Darfur. As if the refugee crisis was not enough, the death of innocents has now triggered a search for a means to reach victims with humanitarian aid and the proposal of safe havens to protect them from further conflict.
So what do we ask of ourselves and our leaders at this time? Is there a Jewish imperative to respond and how do we frame this response.
The prophet Jeremiah, living at the time of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE remarks: “Seek the peace of the city to which I have caused you to be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:7). We can read this as the capitulation to ruling powers and surrender to whatever lot is thrown at you. But I rather read it as the beginning of Jewish reflections on power and powerlessness at a national level. This is reframed in light of the Roman conquest, some six centuries later by the sage Rabbi Chanina, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for without the fear of it, man would swallow his fellow alive” (Mishnah Avot 3:2). Jews know the experience of powerlessness and to pray for our safety.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in 1966, wrote the following which still seems a distant dream, one which we pray will come to pass:
“Let us assume that the religions represent moral powers in the world. They could do something, but they are scarcely on speaking terms. The ecumenical movement has made some progress in human relations, but on the top level I don’t see much progress. It is conceivable for states to get together and have a United Nations, but it is still inconceivable to have a United Religions…We ought to mobilize all our forces everywhere in the service of trying to find ways to achieve peace. The problems are complex: power is involved, industry is involved, trade is involved. But what about life itself? What about humanity itself? We are doing too little, next to nothing, about peace. We leave it to a few individuals in Washington. Do they have the wisdom? Can I turn over my soul and conscience to them? Peace is our most important challenge and task, from every point of view and for all religions. But we leave it to others. We have delegated our conscience to a few diplomats and generals, and this is a very, very grave sin.”
A post-script to this is that colleagues and friends have posted various ways to act in this moment. Here is a list of their suggestions (obviously some might change as things change on the ground):
1. You can email or call your MP – contact details via http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/
2. You can call the Foreign Office on 020 7008 1500
3. You can email them via email@example.com
4. You can email the Prime Minister using this form: https://email.number10.gov.uk/
5. White Helmets
7. MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres)
In terms of specific policies – these have been suggested to maintain the pressure:
1. a ceasefire (maintained, not one-off)
2. immediate humanitarian assistance
3. medical care and continued evacuation of all children and other civilians
4. further sanctions
5. a no-fly zone imposed by NATO