Brothers in Arms

I have three sons: Shemer will soon be nine years old, Maytav is six and Osher is two-and-a-half. They fight a lot. That seems to be what brothers do. I don’t think they fight any more than other brothers, but it does get to be overwhelming at times.

It is not by chance that one of the first stories in the Bible is of extreme sibling rivalry. This is one of the themes throughout the Torah and this land has always been a source of conflict between brothers.

There are times when my sons fight in jest and other times when it turns more serious. My wife and I use our judgment when to intervene. We can not stop all the fighting all the time. It is in our sons’ nature to fight. We can set some rules and restrictions, but even these do not always have the desired effect. While we do not allow toy guns in our home, our boys can turn anything into a toy weapon: a stick, a block, magnets, even the arm of a baby-doll.

There are times that we know the play-fighting will end with someone getting hurt, but we let it continue as long as it is all in good fun. We use our judgment. When the fighting escalates and one side starts to take it too seriously, we separate our boys so that they cool down.

In other instances, we try to address the cause of the fighting which goes beyond the immediate circumstances that our boys can see. Perhaps they are tired or hungry. Perhaps they are feeling insecure because of a fight with a friend or overwhelmed by school. Sometimes we can address these issues easily, by feeding them or enforcing an early bedtime. Other times the issue is more difficult to address and requires a thoughtful talk, some one-on-one “special time” or even intervention, talking to a teacher, another parent or one of my son’s friends.

In this land, there are plenty of fights going on. The Jews fight each other, the Arabs fight each other and of course the Jews and the Arabs fight each other.

While Hamas and Fatah combat each other, Gaza lashes out against Israel. Since the first Kassam rocket landed at Kibbutz Nir Am in January of 2001, about 8,000 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli civilian targets. In the last half year, since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in mid-June 2007, more than 600 missiles and 700 mortar bombs have been fired at Israel.

For years, Israel, as part of the family of man has continued to supply Gaza with electricity, water, food and medical supplies. This as the rockets flew at Israeli homes and schools. Brothers fight, but limits must be set.

In mid-January, a missile fired from Gaza fell neat a tennis court in the Israeli city of Ashkelon and in the days following over another 130 rockets and 80 mortars were fired at Israeli civilians. The violence is getting worse and closer to Israel’s major population centers.

In response to the latest escalation of violence coming from Gaza, Israel closed their border. The border closing blocked an average of 120 trucks of food, fuel and humanitarian supplies which entered Gaza from Israel every day. Fuel stoppages caused blackouts in the parts of Gaza supplied with electricity from their own power plant, although Israel continued to directly supply power to residents of the Gaza strip who live outside of the city.

Humanitarian organizations condemned the Israeli move. While the UN urged Israel to avoid a humanitarian crisis, sitting in Israel I had to ask where is the action against the leadership of Gaza who have allowed thousands of weapons to be fired against us?

How long can I ask my oldest son to restrain himself against his younger brothers before I must take action to ensure their safety?

Is it coincidence that Israel has decided to act days after President Bush visited the region?

After all, if I continue to reward my younger sons with gifts while they fight with their brother, how effective can I expect my rebukes to be? And how can I expect the younger sons to learn independence if they always turn to me for intervention when their big brother decides to get serious and exercises his strength in response to their provocations?

As a parent, I use my judgment every day to act in response to these questions. I set limits, selectively enforce rules and allow a certain amount of freedom which may even result in my children getting hurt.

I admit that I have higher expectations from my oldest son than I do of his brothers. I expect him to use more restraint, to have better judgment and even, to a certain extent, to put himself in his brothers’ places and understand the situation fro their perspective.

Sometimes, however, it is difficult for me to remember not to set my expectations of him too high. I must remember to listen to his voice as well.

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