Mourning The Jewish Soul

Echoes of Qibya in Gaza

Matthew Gindin
5 min readDec 22, 2023

“Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who retain her.”

Mishlei 3:17–18, a verse held to be about the Torah, the traditional guide at the heart of Jewish life.

Qibya is now a Palestinian village in the Occupied West Bank, located 30 kilometers northwest of Ramallah.

In October 1953 Unit 101, an Israeli commando unit led by Ariel Sharon, the future Prime Minister of Israel, undertook a revenge attack on the village in reaction to the murder of an Israeli woman and her two children by displaced Palestinians who had been raiding and attacking Israeli border communities.

The Israeli soldiers detonated a large group of homes in the village, killing nearly 70 unarmed civilians inside the buildings. They were mostly women and children. Sharon is on record as considering the attack “a success” although he regretted that other Israeli mitary actions on Arab villages had not been as “successful.” The attack caused international outrage, including a condemnation from the UN.

David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister, issued a statement expressing regret over the deaths, although in private he considered the mission successful for causing fear among Arabs and approved of its tactics. In his public statement he knowingly lied about what had happened, saying that no Israeli military had been involved in the unfortunate action, which — he said — was carried out by Mizrachi Jews and Holocaust survivors in the border towns who had run out of patience with the Palestinian border raids.

On October 18, 1953, the U.S. State Department issued a bulletin expressing its “deepest sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives” in Qibya as well as the conviction that those responsible “should be brought to account and that effective measures should be taken to prevent such incidents in the future.” In a move which startles us today, the United States temporarily suspended economic aid to Israel.

Mikhael Manekin, in his excellent new book The End of Days, points out that in the aftermath of the assault, Yeshayahu Leibovitz, the famed Orthodox Jewish university professor, Israeli intellectual, and gadfly, compared the attack to the assault on Shechem in the Bible, where Shimon and Levy, two of Jacob’s sons, murdered all of the men of the village in revenge for the rape of their sister by a Shechemite. In the Bible Jacob curses them for doing this, and Leibovitz echoed that the attack on Qibya was similarly “cursed.”

Manekin also quotes at length from a religious Zionist Rabbi, Shaul Yisraeli, a prominent figure who became Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz HaRav, the flagship yeshiva for Religious Zionism. Yisraeli issued a responsa arguing that the attack was in fact not only just but obligatory. Arguing from the Biblical revenge attack conducted by Israel against Midian, the Rabbi asserted that revenge attacks which kill innocent civilians, including children, are in fact not only allowed but required by Jewish law. As Manekin points out, in making this argument Yisraeli ignored hundreds of years of Rabbinic rulings on conduct in warfare which argue against revenge and the killing of innocent civilians, instead jumping over them to make a chiddish- an innovative argument, from the Biblical text itself.

Religious Zionist Rabbis have made somewhat of a specialty, in recent years, of overturning traditions of compassion and restraint in Jewish legal thinking in order to officially allow the murder of non-Jews in a way which would put to shame the most feverish jihadi Islamic fatwa. The most egregious example of this is Torah HaMelech, a book by Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, which received an official seal of approval from prominent orthodox rabbis in Israel including Rabbi Dov Lior, who was employed by the State as the rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, and is currently the head of the “Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria,” or in other words the council of Rabbis of the Occupied West Bank. “There are times in which we will want to harm the innocent from the outset. And their presence and their killing is actually beneficial and helpful to us. For example, harming the infants from the wicked king’s family, who are currently innocent; their killing helps us to harm and pain the king so that he will stop fighting us,” says the chipper genocidal manifesto and guide to child murder.

Have you heard the one about how Jews have a culture of life, and Islamic jihadis a culture of death? Well, don’t believe everything you hear. Jews were once a people of life, I believe, but those were the halcyon days before militarist Zionism moved into the Jewish heart and took up its bloated, festering residence there. The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esav.

After the massacre at Qibya, Manekin tells us, the famous American Yiddish poet Jacob Glatstein (Yankev Glatshteyn, 1896–1971) published the following untitled poem, a condemnation of the actions of the Israeli government, a mourning for traditional Jewish values, and a thought of resistance:


Anger, revenge, smoke.
A small camp with murder in their eyes.
Girded with bow and arrow,
In treachery of night,
My brothers
Annihilated the mercy within,
And defiled the parchment of my life.
My God of the patient study-house.
It is difficult to forgive such devilish bravery.


My People, my People of mercy,
My familiar Jew.
I won’t give you up
For the greatest arsenals of bravery.
People of my good father,
On foreign Polish soil.
How much did you train me in goodness,
From my cheder years onward.
My pride, my chosen one.
Exilic determination.
Do not liberate yourself from my righteous little corner.
Do not go away to life imprisonment,
With bloody chains on your hands.


My dear enemy, my strong hand
Will also be just.
The Yiddish word will not be desecrated.
The place where the peace stone
Will be laid,
Will be rock-solid and pure.
And when we count all the dead,
We will heal the mournful wounds,
With compassion, with faith;
That even on the battlefield,
In the shameful, dark night,
Our sons must be Jews of light,
Not murderous aggressors,
But defenders, victors, exalted.

Today no one will think of Qibya without thinking of Gaza. The revenge attack of Operation Iron Swords is ongoing in its nearly unimaginable brutality, betrayal of traditional Jewish values, and desecration of the name — and image — of God.

This is not the first revenge attack on Gaza- such attacks date back to the 1950s — but it is the worst. As Glatstein saw so clearly in 1953, the parchment of Jewish life has been defiled and there beneathe the rubble, along with over 10,000 children, lies the dead Jewish soul.

Will it be revived by our children, new “Jews of light”?

Time will tell.