WASHINGTON.: Late in March, tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip marched to the edge of their 140-acre territory. The Palestinians protested an Israeli blockade started in 2017 that resulted in poverty and sense of hopelessness of the people. The United Nations, U.S. allies and most nations consider Palestine as being occupied territory. It is because Israel maintains “effective control.” Is this really the values of the Jewish State in Gaza?
The movement of goods and people has been severely restricted. Gaza is under blockade by land, sea, and air. This has resulted in restrictions on freedom of movement. Residents rarely leave Gaza, no matter what the reason. This includes educational, family or medical reasons. In 2017, 54 Gazans died while waiting for medical treatment.
Previously, Israeli troops occupied Gaza after the Six Day War of 1967, withdrawing in 2005.
Gaza has been described as an “open-air prison.”
Restrictions on food aid mean that 80% of Gazans rely on humanitarian assistance. Israel allows just enough food to avert starvation. Because of restrictions on medical aid, supplies and medications are running out. There is a crisis in water and electricity. Nearly 100% of water is contaminated and Gazans receive an average of only 2-4 hours of electricity per day.
This amounts to collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. The economy is destroyed which culminated in high levels of unemployment and poverty.
By 2020 Gaza will be uninhabitable
The U.N. has predicted that at the current rate of destruction, by 2020 Gaza will be uninhabitable. This will happen using a combination of Israel’s military attacks and “de-development,” a process or reversing development:
“Three Israeli military operations in the past six years, in addition to eight years of economic blockade, have ravaged the already debilitated infrastructure of Gaza, shattered its productive base, left no time for meaningful reconstruction or economic recovery and impoverished the Palestinian population in Gaza, rendering their economic well-being worse than the level of two decades previous.”
In March, as 30,000 Palestinians engaged in peaceful protests against these conditions, the Israelis responded with live gunfire. Eighteen people perished and 1,400 were injured. Among those most outraged at Israel’s action are those committed to Judaism’s moral and ethical values.
They were saddened that a state repeatedly calling itself “Jewish” would act in this way.
Death in Palestine
Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun, declares:
“We are in mourning for…the Palestinians killed and wounded by the Israeli army on the eve of Passover. We are outraged by the use of violence and force by the Israeli soldiers who faced no threat to their safety or to the security of the State of Israel (though there were a handful of violent provocateurs among the thousands of nonviolent Gazans who came to the border with Israel to protest the ongoing blockade that has caused incredible suffering and many deaths among those living in that tiny area of mostly Palestinian refugees.) We are also grieving for a Judaism that is being trampled by those Jewish leaders who turn a blind eye to the brutality orchestrated by the Israeli army and justified by the Israeli government.”
In Rabbi Lerner’s view,
“We should not allow those who support the policies of Occupation to call themselves ‘pro-Israel’ when, in fact, they are following a path that may lead to Israel’s destruction…Jewish values require us to speak out on behalf of ‘the stranger’ amongst us and to stand with them when the power of the Israeli government comes crashing down on them…The actions of the current Israeli government do not represent Judaism or Jews as a whole…”
Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, notes that,
“The Israeli military evidently believes that any time Palestinians assert their basic rights in any way, they will be considered violent, and met with deadly violence. This cannot stand. It seems impossible that this should be true. Like Sharpeville, Selma or Kent State, again and again into 2018. I know in my heart the right to peaceful protest is sacrosanct, these protesters, people like you and me, prove that there’s another way, one we have to recommit to. I think the only way truly forward is to recognize that there is a root cause: 70 years of Nakba, the catastrophe of Palestinian dispossession and expulsion by the Israeli government has gone on for too long.”
Robert Herbst, a civil rights lawyer and an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, says in Mondoweiss:
“Before we had a Jewish state, we had Jewish books…We discussed, debated, argued about and perfected Jewish moral, ethical and religious values. We knew what they were and when they were violated. And we knew what it was like to be victimized by others who did not share those values. We were against racism. We were for taking in the stranger, the immigrant, treating him or her like our own. But now we have a Jewish state. Now, instead of a book and values, we have power. And it turns out that we are every bit as good at abusing that power as the goyim. In fact, we may be better.”
Israel, he points out, has
“propagated and maintained the myth of Israeli democracy for American Jews while running a white Jewish supremacist regime for five million Palestinians…that accords Palestinians no civil rights, steals their land and water, demolishes their homes and has no reservations about killing and wounding them in large numbers. I am ashamed. I am a Jew ashamed of the Jewish state that perpetrates all this, purportedly in my name and in the name of the entire Jewish people. The Israeli leaders who perpetrate these crimes against humanity, and their citizens who are indifferent to it, maybe Jews, but they are not Jewish.”
David Rothkopf, the former editor of Foreign Policy Magazine says,
“Until every resident of the land over which Israel enforces control has equal rights and protections under the law, it’s not a democracy. Israel’s brutal treatment of the demonstrators in Gaza, and Gaza itself, is the anti-Passover. It represents the height of hypocrisy. A supposedly Jewish state violates the most basic concepts of the religion.”
There is much soul-searching in Israel itself.
Writing in the Israel newspaper Haaretz, Bradley Burston makes the point,
“I know where much of this comes from. Jews of all ethnicities bear the scars and the genetic memory of every manner of heinous racism, up to and including genocide. It’s all too true, at the same time, that in a tragic given of human nature, the abused is at great risk of becoming an abuser. In the case of Zionists, can the victims of antisemitism come to acknowledge their, our, own bigotry, our own ingrained prejudices, our own sense of superiority and entitlement, our own history of justice to the minorities in our midst?”
Human Rights Watch calls the killings of nonviolent Palestinians “unlawful, calculated” and said the soldiers fired because of a “longstanding culture of impunity.” And it is clear that Palestinians were not the only victims.
The Jewish moral and ethical tradition, and the humane Jewish tradition is just as much a victim.