Crossposted with permission from Jewish Peace News
Jewish Peace News
Jan. 5, 2008
1) Ashkelon, Past and Present. Article by Robert Fisk and Blog post by Benny Tzffer
2) Ali Abunimah: “Inheriting Bush’s Blinkers”
3) Safa Jouudeh, in Gaza, has published her third piece
4) Ghada Ageel: “I can’t hug my mother in Gaza”
5) Starhawk: “On Gaza”
Ashkelon, past and present:
Below are two pieces that address the Palestinian history of Ashkelon, a city in the news lately for the qassams falling there, causing the death of at least one person. One of the backstories of this historic town is that it was home to tens of thousands of Palestinians who were expelled to Gaza by Israeli forces in 1948 and the early years of Israeli statehood. 80% of Gazans come from refugee families with roots inside of Israel proper. This history does not justify the rocket attacks. The people under threat of rockets from Gaza aren’t responsible for designing or executing Israeli policy in Gaza; they are innocent civilians. What the history does give us, though, is yet another angle from which to look at this conflict and more layers of human life to sift through as we try to understand its meaning and implications for the many generations of people whose lives it effects.
Robert Fisk notes how history is left out of most news reports; he says “watching the news shows, you’d think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.”
Benny Tziffer, an Israeli journalist who blogs on Ha’aretz’s website, published a piece in Hebrew about a trip he made this past week to Sderot and Ashkelon. In Ashkelon, he went to the Museum on the Origins of the city, where he met a city resident who plainly and openly explained both the expulsion of Palestinians and the deliberate Hebraisation / Judaization of the city. Tziper writes, “I think that nobody makes the connection today between the fact that the Qassams land on Ashkelon and the fact that poor Arabs who did nothing wrong to anybody were put on trucks and expelled from their city to Gaza fifty five years ago, and since then they are there and Ashkelon is here.”
As I’m gorging myself on news of and from Israel-Palestine over the last few days, especially, the absence of discussion of the occupation – the one begun in 1967, and which did not end in Gaza in 2005 – is so blatant and horrible as the mainstream news does more to obfuscate the situation than explain it. But what these two pieces below make clear is that, once again, the crimes of 1948 are alive and relevant. War crimes of 60 years ago are reflected in the war crimes of today, and again the perpetrators have yet to be held accountable and outside forces have yet to intervene to stop the killing.
Many thanks to Phil Weiss for his excellent blog and for posting the excerpt from Benny Tziffer. More can be found about the attacks on Majdal (now Ashkelon) in Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: One World Publications, 2007) and Benny Morris’ books.
Sarah Anne Minkin
Ali Abunimah looks at Obama’s record, a record that is almost indistinguishable from Bush’s record when it comes to Israel. He writes: “The problem is much wider than Obama: American liberals in general see no contradiction in espousing positions supporting Israel that they would deem extremist and racist in any other context.” Abunimah concludes the article by saying: “There is no silver lining to Israel’s slaughter in Gaza, but the reactions to it should at least serve as a wake-up call: when it comes to the struggle for peace and justice in Palestine, the American liberal elites who are about to assume power present as formidable an obstacle as the outgoing Bush administration and its neoconservative backers.”
In this powerful piece, Ghada Ageel – a third-generation Palestinian refugee who can’t return to Gaza because of its sealed borders – calls on the international community to examine the double standard it practices in regard to Israel and the Palestinians.
She asks: “Does the world know that ending the siege imposed on Gaza’s 1.5 million people, opening the borders and stopping Israel’s ongoing invasions and killings, which were the Palestinians’ three main conditions for truce, have not been fulfilled by Israel?…”Is the goal of the aggression to bring peace to the people of Sderot or is it to destroy any potential opportunity for peace?”
Why is it that Israel can get away with barbaric acts and in the eyes of many keep its untarnished image, while acts in self-defense by Palestinians are invariably described as acts of terror? Can humanity be considered alive when some children’s blood is considered more valuable, more sacred, than the blood of other children?
Robert Fisk: Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza which – in any other conflict – journalists would be writing about in their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.
That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don’t come from Gaza.
But watching the news shows, you’d think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.
Both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said back in the 1990s that they wished Gaza would just go away, drop into the sea, and you can see why. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years ago, when tidal waves of refugees had washed over Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War and when a bunch of Arabs kicked out of their property didn’t worry the world.
Well, the world should worry now. Crammed into the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world are a dispossessed people who have been living in refuse and sewage and, for the past six months, in hunger and darkness, and who have been sanctioned by us, the West. Gaza was always an insurrectionary place. It took two years for Ariel Sharon’s bloody “pacification”, starting in 1971, to be completed, and Gaza is not going to be tamed now.
Alas for the Palestinians, their most powerful political voice – I’m talking about the late Edward Said, not the corrupt Yassir Arafat (and how the Israelis must miss him now) – is silent and their predicament largely unexplained by their deplorable, foolish spokesmen. “It’s the most terrifying place I’ve ever been in,” Said once said of Gaza. “It’s a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse than anything I saw in South Africa.”
Of course, it was left to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to admit that “sometimes also civilians pay the price,” an argument she would not make, of course, if the fatality statistics were reversed. Indeed, it was instructive yesterday to hear a member of the American Enterprise Institute – faithfully parroting Israel’s arguments – defending the outrageous Palestinian death toll by saying that it was “pointless to play the numbers game”. Yet if more than 300 Israelis had been killed – against two dead Palestinians – be sure that the “numbers game” and the disproportionate violence would be all too relevant. The simple fact is that Palestinian deaths matter far less than Israeli deaths. True, we know that 180 of the dead were Hamas members. But what of the rest? If the UN’s conservative figure of 57 civilian fatalities is correct, the death toll is still a disgrace.
To find both the US and Britain failing to condemn the Israeli onslaught while blaming Hamas is not surprising. US Middle East policy and Israeli policy are now indistinguishable and Gordon Brown is following the same dog-like devotion to the Bush administration as his predecessor.
As usual, the Arab satraps – largely paid and armed by the West – are silent, preposterously calling for an Arab summit on the crisis which will (if it even takes place), appoint an “action committee” to draw up a report which will never be written. For that is the way with the Arab world and its corrupt rulers. As for Hamas, they will, of course, enjoy the discomfiture of the Arab potentates while cynically waiting for Israel to talk to them. Which they will. Indeed, within a few months, we’ll be hearing that Israel and Hamas have been having “secret talks” – just as we once did about Israel and the even more corrupt PLO. But by then, the dead will be long buried and we will be facing the next crisis since the last crisis.
December 30, 2008
To explain Hamas rockets, Haaretz describes ethnic cleansing of Majdl (Ashkelon) in 1953!!
Skyredoubt translated portions of a piece in Hebrew by Benny Tziper, in Haaretz, only Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.co.il/… sID=2), and posted it on his flickr site (http://www.flickr.com/photos/skyredoubt/3150756856/)
[…]A nice man was there at the entrance to the museum [Museum of the Origins of Ashkelon], an invalid of IDF from the Yom Kippur War, who was born and lived all his life in Ashkelon. From his knowledge and enthusiasm one could tell that he loves the city very much. He had no problem telling me how in 1953 the Arabs were expelled, and the long process of looking for a new name for the place started (the Arab name was Majdl), till it was decided to call the place Ashkelon. The entire communications between the authorities regarding the cleansing of the city of Arabs and Hebrewisation of the name is exhibited in the museum. I think that nobody makes the connection today between the fact that the Qassams land on Ashkelon and the fact that poor Arabs who did nothing wrong to anybody were put on trucks and expelled from their city to Gaza fifty five years ago, and since then they are there and Ashkelon is here. And this did not happen in wartime or as a result of hostilities, but from a cold calculation that the area must be cleansed of Arabs. There is a picture in the museum that shows the Arabs sitting and waiting in front of the of Israeli military government building. It sends shivers down my spine because it happens in the year I was born. And it is really, really hard for me to realize that at the time that my parents were happy with my birth, other people were put on trucks and expelled from their homes.[…]
[…]If we come back to the question of the immortality of Am Yisrael [the nation of Israel] in contrast to other peoples, then I think that what keeps us alive is this insularity we developed to the suffering of the other. In India less than a month ago scores were killed in a brutal act of terror that here got the moniker “The Chabad House Massacre,” because we consider only the Jewish victims and all the rest can go to hell. In Gaza there live more than a million people that have no connection to what Hamas does to us, but nobody here minds to starve them and enclose them and prevent them from getting the most basic supplies. Gaza is indeed a chronic disease. The virus that causes it is called “insularitis” and, by the way, it is quite lethal.
Weiss gets to comment first:
1. When scholars Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer wrote in 2006 that the Israeli new historians’ revelations about Israel/Palestine lessened the moral case in the U.S. for unswerving support for Israel, they were smeared as antisemites. Tziper’s piece was published in Israel, and no one in our press will touch it. No one in our press will talk about the history of southern Israel and how those people got to Gaza. No one in the MSM [mainstream media] will publish op-eds about ethnic cleansing. No one will put Tziper, or Ilan Pappe, or Tom Segev, or Lila Abu-Lughod, or Raja Shehadeh, or Lubna Hammad, or Saif Ammous, or Norman Finkelstein, or Adam Horowitz on TV to talk about the Nakba and the creation of Israel. 2. There are great things about Israeli society. The free press, the Hebrew culture, democratic institutions, and the great Haaretz. Let these things be shared with the people who were there first.
Inheriting Bush’s blinkers
By Ali Abunimah
2 January 2009 11.30 GMT
“I would like to ask President-elect Obama to say something please about the humanitarian crisis that is being experienced right now by the people of Gaza.” Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney made her plea after disembarking from the badly damaged SS Dignity that had limped to the Lebanese port of Tyre while taking on water.
The small boat, carrying McKinney, the Green Party’s recent presidential candidate, other volunteers, and several tons of donated medical supplies, had been trying to reach the coast of Gaza when it was rammed by an Israeli gunboat in international waters. (http://bit.ly/islI)
But as more than 2,400 Palestinians have been killed or injured – the majority civilians – since Israel began its savage bombardment of Gaza on 27 December, Obama has maintained his silence. “There is only one president at a time,” his spokesmen tell the media. This convenient excuse has not applied, say, to Obama’s detailed interventions on the economy, or his condemnation of the “coordinated attacks on innocent civilians” in Mumbai in November.
The Mumbai attacks were a clear-cut case of innocent people being slaughtered. The situation in the Middle East however is seen as more “complicated” and so polite opinion accepts Obama’s silence not as the approval for Israel’s actions that it certainly is, but as responsible statesmanship.
It ought not to be difficult to condemn Israel’s murder of civilians and bombing of civilian infrastructure including hundreds of private homes, universities, schools, mosques, civil police stations and ministries, and the building housing the only freely-elected Arab parliament. (http://bit.ly/16VlX)
It ought not to be risky or disruptive to US foreign policy to say that Israel has an unconditional obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention to lift its lethal, months-old blockade preventing adequate food, fuel, surgical supplies, medications and other basic necessities from reaching Gaza.
But in the looking-glass world of American politics, Israel, with its powerful first-world army, is the victim, and Gaza – the besieged and blockaded home to 1.5 million immiserated people, half of them children and eighty percent refugees – is the aggressor against whom no cruelty is apparently too extreme. While feigning restraint, Obama has telegraphed where he really stands; senior adviser David Axelrod told CBS on 28 December that Obama understood Israel’s urge to “respond” to attacks on its citizens. Axelrod claimed that “this situation has become even more complicated in the last couple of days and weeks as Hamas began its shelling [and] Israel responded”.
The truce Hamas had meticulously upheld was shattered when Israel attacked Gaza, killing six Palestinians, as The Guardian itself reported on 5 November. A blatant disregard for the facts, it seems, will not leave the White House with George Bush on 20 January. (http://bit.ly/bRVh)
Axelrod also recalled Obama’s visit to Israel last July when he ignored Palestinians and visited the Israeli town of Sderot (http://bit.ly/9gEpQ). There, Obama declared: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” (http://bit.ly/324H)
This should not surprise anyone. Despite pervasive wishful thinking that Obama would abandon America’s pro-Israel bias, his approach has been almost indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s (as I showed in a longer analysis: http://bit.ly/1zCC)
Along with Tony Blair and George Bush, Obama staunchly supported Israel’s war against Lebanon in July-August 2006, where it used cluster bombs on civilian areas, killing more than 1,000 people.
Obama’s comments in Sderot echoed what he said in a speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, in March 2007. He recalled an earlier visit to the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona near the border with Lebanon which he said reminded him of an American suburb. There, he could imagine the sounds of Israeli children at “joyful play just like my own daughters”. He saw a home the Israelis told him was damaged by a Hizbullah rocket (no one had been hurt in the
Obama has identified his daughters repeatedly with Israeli children, while never having uttered a word about the thousands – thousands – of Palestinian and Lebanese children killed and permanently maimed by Israeli attacks just since 2006. This allegedly post-racial president appears fully invested in the racist worldview that considers Arab lives to be worth less than those of Israelis and in which Arabs are always “terrorists”.
The problem is much wider than Obama: American liberals in general see no contradiction in espousing positions supporting Israel that they would deem extremist and racist in any other context. The cream of America’s allegedly “progressive” Democratic party vanguard – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Howard Berman, New York Senator Charles Schumer, among others – have all offered unequivocal support for Israel’s massacres in Gaza, describing them as “self-defence”.
And then there’s Hillary Clinton, the incoming secretary of state and self-styled champion of women and the working classes, who won’t let anyone outbid her anti-Palestinian positions.
Democrats are not simply indifferent to Palestinians. In the recent presidential election, their efforts to win swing states like Florida often involved espousing positions dehumanising to Palestinians in particular and Arabs and Muslims in general. Many liberals know this is wrong but tolerate it silently as a price worth paying (though not to be paid by them) to see a Democrat in
Even those further to the left implicitly accept Israel’s logic. Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, criticised Israel’s attacks on Gaza as a “reckless” and “disproportionate response” to Hamas rocket attacks that he deemed “immoral”. There are many others who do nothing to support nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation and colonisation, such as boycott, divestment and sanctions but who are quick to condemn any desperate Palestinian effort – no matter how ineffectual and symbolic – to resist Israel’s relentless aggression. Similarly, we can expect that the American university professors who have publicly opposed the academic boycott of Israel on grounds of protecting “academic freedom” will remain just as silent about Israel’s bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza as they have about Israel’s other attacks on Palestinian academic institutions.
There is no silver lining to Israel’s slaughter in Gaza, but the reactions to it should at least serve as a wake-up call: when it comes to the struggle for peace and justice in Palestine, the American liberal elites who are about to assume power present as formidable an obstacle as the outgoing Bush administration and its neoconservative
(Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada (http://electronicintifada.net) and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse)
guardian.co.uk (c) Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
Safa Jouudeh, in Gaza
January 1st 2009
It’s interesting how, at the most terrifying and horrific of times, we still manage to make light of the events, and even enjoy a dark sense of humor that surprisingly comes out not inappropriate and even the more amusing given the constant state of tenseness and apprehension.
My 10 year old cousin was eating a sandwich, when my younger brother, 12, looked at him and, quoting a line from one of his favorite video games in his dead on imitation of the characters voice, while being extremely amused by the fear in the younger boys eyes, said “enjoy it, it could be your last!” I looked at him for a second and began laughing almost hysterically.
On another occasion, we looked around for my twelve year old and 14 year old brothers during an intense bout of air strikes and realized that they had snuck back to the living room, the room directly in front of the area being bombed, and were watching a sports channel. “But we had to see the scores” they retorted after being severely reproached”. They’re becoming desensitized, I thought, I went through this before while living in Ramallah in 2002. I laughed so hard, they had become totally oblivious!
I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate, the last few days, and looking at my siblings, I wonder how the rest of the world envisions the people who occupy the most despondent and unruly military zones in the world.
My younger brothers spend their free time out with their friends, or playing basketball and soccer at youth clubs. They are passionate about sports, play station, and music. They play the guitar and are exceptional students. My brother who’s in collage is obsessed with computers and gadgets, he’s an engineering student who comes up with the most ingenious projects for his classes. He listens to music and plays the guitar and prays regularly. He’s an honor student who has big goals and big dreams.
So please understand why I am infuriated when I see how we are portrayed on television. Hordes of bearded, teeth-gnashing, stone throwing blood thirsty savages in rags and tatters. And please don’t blame me for feeling utter rage against the state of Israel, that has been intentionally targeting the unwary, guiltless, promising children and youth of the Gaza Strip in its vicious attacks over the past 5 days. Already, between 40 and 50 children are dead while hundreds lie in the hospitals, seriously injured or disabled for life.
The people of Gaza have been suffering for decades under systematic and tyrannical oppression by Israel, the latest of its measures has been the siege and closures imposed on the strip that have completely devastated the livelihoods of Gaza residents and caused the economy to fall into an unprecedented and crippling depression. The people of Gaza have long been denied the means that have been afforded to the residents of countries with the same, possibly less, resources. And yet the amount of resourcefulness and zeal we demonstrate is a testimony to the potential of progress and advancement that lies within us.
To the rest of the world, Israel represents the democratic, civilized, patriotic, western, state whose representatives are well groomed, clad in smart suits and silk ties and talking all sorts of political correctness, stringed with terms such as self defense, civilian population, Palestinian terrorists and middle east peace.
And so after Israel launched its military offensive against Gaza 5 days ago, claiming that offensive was a retaliation against Hamas’ firing rockets into Israel following the cessation of the period of calm, to many, the Israeli attacks were justified. Never mind that Israel failed to at least ease the siege that has been slowly killing us over the past year (to be more precise over the last 3 years.) Never mind that Israel continued its incursions into the strip and its murder of innocent civilians throughout the truce. Never mind that compared to Isaeli gunships, war planes, tanks and other weaponry, Hamas rockets seem like toys. Never mind that our children are robbed of anything that resembles a normal life and future.
And yet we are continuously accused of being on equal terms with one of the strongest military forces in the world.
So while being cooped up in the house, watching local news stations when we have electricity, still in a state of disbelief, I wonder if the rest of the world would be so harsh in its judgments if they had the opportunity to understand. I wonder if people would as easily accept the unsubstantiated claims that the engineering faculty building of the Islamic university, which has been flattened during the attacks, was a workshop that produced qassams, if they had seen my brothers reaction. When he came back from a walk to the university building the next day, his face was white as a sheet and he had tears in his eyes. “Its all gone he said, even the project (electric car) we’ve been working on all semester.” We’d seen pictures, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Did he seriously have any hope that the car had survived.
A few hours ago, the home of one of Hamas’ senior leaders, Nizar Rayan, was struck by 4 missiles. Not only was the entire building flattened, killing all who were in it, but several other buildings surrounding it looked like they were about ready to collapse. It is said that there were over 19 deaths, most of them women and children, and scores of injuries. The entire street was littered with debris and rubble. We saw the images on tv, children being lifted from beneath the rubble, headless corpses loaded into plastic body bags, the whole works. We sent a taxi to pick up my aunt, whose home lies 100 meters away from the Rayan building, and had caved in due to the attack. She and her children arrived, shaken, but all in one piece.
Today the temporary halt of rocket fire coincided with the restoration of power to our home, at least for a few hours, at about 5pm. My brothers went to their rooms and played their videogames, I sat on the couch and read, and my sister went to take a nap. We tried to busy ourselves with regular daily activities in a situation that is anything but commonplace.
I can’t hug my mother in Gaza
Ghada Ageel writing from the UK, Live from Palestine, 1 January 2009
There is nothing worse in life than being glued to the TV screen, watching one’s nation being slaughtered on an hourly basis while able to do nothing. There is nothing more painful in this universe than hearing the tears and cries of one’s mother on the phone and be unable to hug her, to wipe her tears or to comfort her with any words or means. There is nothing more terrifying than living through every night in fear that the coming morning will bring the worst possible news a person can bear, that a member of one’s immediate family has been killed. And last but not least there is nothing more horrible on this globe than something happening to a family member when he or she is barred from returning to his or her family and home.
Like many other members of my community, I wonder what is happening to humanity in the 21st century that makes it deaf to the cries of Gaza’s children and of its entire population, trapped in their open-air prison for more than two years now. Why is this so-called free world blind, deaf and dumb towards these atrocities, again and again?
There must be something wrong when families all over the world gather to celebrate the eve of a new year while Palestinian families remain shattered and scattered. There must be something wrong when five sisters of the Balousha family — Jawaher, Dunia, Samar, Ikram and Tahreer, all children — were buried under the rubble of their home in Jabaliya camp when their home was bombed by Israeli war jets, and no world leader has condemned this barbaric crime. There must be something wrong when Gaza universities, mosques, United Nations and government schools, homes, clinics, ministries and charities are bombarded from US-manufactured and -supplied F-16 war planes on the pretext of stopping the rockets coming out of Gaza. How can the world accept the Israeli claim that this bloodiest of air strikes, the worst in Gaza since 1967, is an act of self-defense against the crude rockets launched by Hamas and other resistance groups?
Does the world ever dig deeper behind the reasons for the launching of these rockets after they were fired so rarely during the past six months of the cease fire brokered in June by Egypt? Does the world know that ending the siege imposed on Gaza’s 1.5 million people, opening the borders and stopping Israel’s ongoing invasions and killings, which were the Palestinians’ three main conditions for truce, have not been fulfilled by Israel? All international and human rights reports released during the past few months confirm this unequivocally. During the truce, 23 Palestinians were killed by Israel and Gaza’s borders remained sealed, and the entire population was starved.
Is this really a war against Hamas and the rockets it launches from Gaza or is it something else? Is the goal of the aggression to bring peace to the people of Sderot or is it to destroy any potential opportunity for peace? And if Hamas and other resistance groups are terrorist organizations because they demand an end to the siege on Gaza and opening the borders for basic humanitarian needs, then doesn’t the near-starvation of a population, the lethal power cuts, the bombing of infrastructure and the killing of hundreds of Palestinians make Israel a terrorist state as well? If Israel has the right to such heavy-handed self-defense exercised against the civilian population of Gaza, how would the world wish the Palestinians to defend themselves and end the siege? And if the world understands that protecting civilians involves the bombing of other civilians by F-16 jet fighters, then how would the world want the people under occupation and siege to defend themselves?
Like the people of British, the US, the UK, and elsewhere, the Palestinians are humans and belong to humanity. The blood of all Palestinians including those in Gaza is just as valuable as the blood of Israelis. If these barbaric acts and this systematic, criminal destruction of a nation are acceptable to the world then Palestinians, as all oppressed people in the world, have every right to declare the death of humanity.
December 30, 2008
All day I’ve been thinking about Gaza, listening to reports on NPR, following the news on the internet when I can spare a moment. I’ve been thinking about the friends I made there four years ago, and wondering how they are faring, and imagining their terror as the bombs fall on that giant, open-air prison.
The Israeli ambassador speaks movingly of the terror felt by Israeli children as Hamas rockets explode in the night. I agree with him-that no child should have her sleep menaced by rocket fire, or wake in the night fearing death.
But I can’t help but remember one night on the Rafah border, sleeping in a house close to the line, watching the children dive for cover as bullets thudded into the walls. There was a shell-hole in the back room they liked to jump through into the garden, which at that time still held fruit trees and chickens. Their mother fed me eggs, and their grandmother stuffed oranges into my pockets with the shy pride every gardener shares.
That house is gone, now, along with all of its neighbors. Those children wake in the night, every night of their lives, in terror. I don’t know if they have survived the hunger, the lack of medical supplies, the bombs. I only know that they are children, too.
I’ve ridden on busses in Israel. I understand that gnawing fear, the squirrely feeling in the pit or your stomach, how you eye your fellow passengers wondering if any of them are too thick around the middle. Could that portly fellow be wearing a suicide belt, or just too many late night snacks of hummus? That’s no way to live.
But I’ve also walked the pock-marked streets of Rafah, where every house bears the scars of Israeli snipers, where tanks prowled the border every night, where children played in the rubble, sometimes under fire, and this was all four years ago, when things were much, much better there.
And I just don’t get it. I mean, I get why suicide bombs and homemade rockets that kill innocent civilians are wrong. I just don’t get why bombs from F16s that kill far more innocent civilians are right. Why a kid from the ghetto who shoots a cop is a criminal, but a pilot who bombs a police station from the air is a hero.
Is it a distance thing? Does the air or the altitude confer a purifying effect? Or is it a matter of scale? Individual murder is vile, but mass murder, carried out by a state as an aspect of national policy, that’s a fine and noble thing?
I don’t get how my own people can be doing this. Or rather, I do get it. I am a Jew, by birth and upbringing, born six years after the Holocaust ended, raised on the myth and hope of Israel. The myth goes like this:
“For two thousand years we wandered in exile, homeless and persecuted, nearly destroyed utterly by the Nazis. But out of that suffering was born one good thing-the homeland that we have come back to, our own land at last, where we can be safe, and proud, and strong.”
That’s a powerful story, a moving story. There’s only one problem with it-it leaves the Palestinians out. It has to leave them out, for if we were to admit that the homeland belonged to another people, well, that spoils the story.
The result is a kind of psychic blind spot where the Palestinians are concerned. If you are truly invested in Israel as the Jewish homeland, the Jewish state, then you can’t let the Palestinians be real to you. It’s like you can’t really focus on them. Golda Meir said, “The Palestinians, who are they? They don’t exist.” We hear, “There is no partner for peace,” “There is no one to talk to.”
And so Israel, a modern state with high standards of hygiene, a state rooted in a religion that requires washing your hands before you eat and regular, ritual baths, builds settlements that don’t bother to construct sewage treatment plants. They just dump raw sewage onto the Palestinian fields across the fence, somewhat like a spaceship ejecting its wastes into the void. I am truly not making this up-I’ve seen it, smelled it, and it’s a known though shameful fact. But if the Palestinians aren’t really real-who are they? They don’t exist!-then the land they inhabit becomes a kind of void in the psyche, and it isn’t really real, either. At times, in those border villages, walking the fencelines of settlements, you feel like you have slipped into a science fiction movie, where parallel universes exist in the same space, but in different strands of reality, that never touch.
When I was on the West Bank, during Israeli incursions the Israeli military would often take over a Palestinian house to billet their soldiers. Many times, they would simply lock the family who owned it into one room, and keep them there, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days parents, grandparents, kids and all. I’ve sat with a family, singing to the children while soldiers trashed their house, and I’ve been detained by a group of soldiers playing cards in the kitchen with a family locked in the other room. (I got out of that one-but that’s another story.)
It’s a kind of uneasy feeling, having something locked away in a room in your house that you can’t look at. Ever caught a mouse in a glue trap? And you can’t bear to watch it suffer, so you leave the room and close the door and don’t come back until it’s really, really dead.
Like a horrific fractal, the locked room repeats on different scales. The Israelis have built a wall to lock away the West Bank. And Gaza itself is one huge, locked room. Close the borders, keep food and medical supplies and necessities from getting through, and perhaps they will just quietly fade out of existence and stop spoiling our story.
“All we want is a return to calm,” the Israeli ambassador says. “All we want is peace.”
One way to get peace is to exterminate what threatens you. In fact, that may be the prime directive of the last few thousand years.
But attempts to exterminate pests breed resistance, whether you’re dealing with insects or bacteria or people. The more insecticides you pour on a field, the more pests you have to deal with-because insecticides are always more potent at killing the beneficial bugs than the pesky ones.
The harshness, the crackdowns, the border closings, the checkpoints, the assassinations, the incursions, the building of settlements deep into Palestinian territory, all the daily frustrations and humiliations of occupation, have been breeding the conditions for Hamas, or something like it, to thrive. If Israel truly wants peace, there’s a more subtle, a more intelligent and more effective strategy to pursue than simply trying to kill the enemy and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity.
It’s this-instead of killing what threatens you, feed what you want to grow.
Consider in what conditions peace can thrive, and create them, just as you would prepare the bed for the crops you want to plant. Find those among your opponents who also want peace, and support them. Make alliances. Offer your enemies incentives to change, and reward your friends.
Of course, to follow such a strategy, you must actually see and know your enemy. If they are nothing to you but cartoon characters of terrorists, you will not be able to tell one from another, to discern the religious fanatic from the guy muttering under his breath, “F-ing Hammas, they closed the cinema again!”
And you must be willing to give something up. No one gets peace if your basic bargaining position is, “I get everything I want, and you eat my shit.” You might get a temporary victory, but it will never be a peaceful one.
To know and see the enemy, you must let them into the story. They must become real to you, nuanced, distinctive as individuals. But when we let the Palestinians into the story, it changes. Oh, how painfully it changes! For there is no way to tell a new story, one that includes both peoples of the land, without starting like this:
“In our yearning for a homeland, in our attempts as a threatened and traumatized people to find safety and power, we have done a great wrong to another people, and now we must atone.”
Just try saying it. If you, like me, were raised on that other story, just try this one out. Say it three times. It hurts, yes, but it might also bring a great, liberating sense of relief with it.
And if you’re not Jewish, if you’re American, if you’re white, if you’re German, if you’re a thousand other things, really, if you’re a human being, there’s probably some version of that story that is true for you.
Out of our own great need and fear and pain, we have often done great harm, and we are called to atone. To atone is to be at one-to stop drawing a circle that includes our tribe and excludes the other, and start drawing a larger circle that takes everyone in.
How do we atone? Open your eyes. Look into the face of the enemy, and see a human being, flawed, distinct, unique and precious. Stop killing. Start talking. Compost the shit and the rot and feed the olive trees.
Act. Cross the line. There are Israelis who do it all the time, joining with Palestinians on the West Bank to protest the wall, watching at checkpoints, refusing to serve in the occupying army, standing for peace. Thousands have demonstrated this week in Tel Aviv.
There are Palestinians who advocate nonviolent resistance, who have
organized their villages to protest the wall, who face tear gas, beatings, arrests, rubber bullets and real bullets to make their stand.
There are internationals who have put themselves on the line-like the boatload of human rights activists, journalists and doctors on board the Dignity, the ship from the Free Gaza movement that was rammed and fired on by the Israeli navy yesterday as it attempted to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid.
Maybe we can’t all do that. But we can all write a letter, make a phone call, send an email. We can make the Palestinian people visible to us, and to the world. When we do so, we make a world that is safer for every child.
Below is a good summary of some of the actions we can take. Please feel free to repost this. In fact, send it to someone you think will disagree with it.