Israel’s War on Gaza: American Jews Must Speak Out

(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on August 1, 2014 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-herbst/israels-rain-of-terror-on_b_5642396.html.)

I know how tough this is, but at some point, we have to overcome our tribal loyalties and speak out. The injustice we are seeing inflicted on a defenseless civilian population is just too massive to tolerate any longer, notwithstanding that those inflicting it are our landsmen, using weapons provided by our country. It is so profoundly disturbing that I cannot stay silent anymore.

I know the arguments put out there to excuse the carnage. I have no brief for Hamas rockets stored in civilian areas that target Israeli civilians, nor for tunnels using concrete that should be put to better use. But we know in our hearts that these largely ineffectual weapons do not justify bombing and shelling cafes, beaches, mosques, schools, shelters and homes containing large families, knowing that thousands of innocent civilians will be killed and wounded. It is pounding into the ground a weak, impoverished, demoralized, virtually-imprisoned population of almost two million souls, and it is sickening to behold.

I know the argument that if Canada started lobbing rockets or kidnapping our soldiers or our kids, we wouldn’t tolerate it. But we are not occupying or blockading Canada. We know that the occupation of the Palestinian territories, going on now for at least 47 years, is illegal under international law. We know that the settlement project, which just keeps going and going, is not kosher either. Nor is the blockade which effectively locks up the Gazan population, with control so severe that virtually nothing and no one can go in or out without Israeli approval and great difficulty, making life there hellish even before the latest bombing. Who among us would not have the inclination to resist if the roles were reversed? Indeed, do we not praise historic examples of Jewish resistance, and bemoan those where such spirit was missing?

We also know that back in 1993, the PLO, legitimately speaking at that time for the Palestinians, agreed to the principle that Israel has a right to live in peace and security. I may have missed it, but where is the explicit Israeli statement that Palestinians have a right to their own state which includes most of the West Bank? If not the fundamentalist, irredentist dream of a greater Israel which includes Judea and Samaria, what explains the continual expansion of settlements, year after year, through good times and bad, changing the facts on the ground to make less and less likely a separate, viable State of Palestine? Didn’t Prime Minister Netanyahu repeat only recently his earlier-expressed view that Israel should never give up the West Bank? If so, there can be no Palestinian state, and the question arises whether there is any real desire for the two-state solution from the right wing government that has set Israeli policy in recent years. The harsh Israeli reaction to the Palestinian unity government of technicians, which did not include one Hamas member, suggests not, because Palestinian unity is a good rather than bad thing if one hopes to make a genuine, binding and long-lasting peace agreement. If the Israeli government intends to continue its occupation of Palestinian territory for the foreseeable future, then all the talk of a desire for a peaceful resolution of the conflict has been just that — talk — and the recent bombing and shelling of Gaza may be viewed, not primarily as defensive, but rather as oppressive collective punishment of the civilian population to further demoralize it and discourage the spirit of resistance to the illegal occupation and blockade.

This is what the world sees. That is why there have been large marches on behalf of Gaza in the streets of Amman, Amsterdam, Bahrain, Barcelona, Belfast, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Cape Town, Dublin, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Greece, the Hague, Iceland, Karachi, Lebanon, London (Canada and UK), Madrid, Maldives, Manchester, Montreal, Morocco, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Paris, Philippines, Rome, Rotterdam, Santiago, Sarajevo, South Korea, Stockholm, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo, Tunisia, Vienna and Zimbabwe. These are not all anti-Semites. They are speaking truth to power.

 

We also need to speak up. For those of us who have been uneasy, occasionally expressing concern only among ourselves about what Israel is doing in the name of the Jewish People, the time is now to find our public voice. Our beloved Israel is losing its way. We need to say out loud that our wholehearted support — financial, moral and political — does not include disproportionate military action certain to kill and maim hundreds or thousands of civilians, or otherwise to punish collectively the civilian population. With that much all American Jews should be comfortable, but particularly those who have opposed disproportionate American military action which severely punished civilians in wars from Vietnam to Iraq.

We should also make clear that we do not support long-term policies that make impossible the accommodation of Palestinian aspirations for a state in which they can live with dignity, freedom and justice. An Israel which continues on this path, and thereby isolates itself from the international community, may or may not be sustainable, but it won’t be worthy of the name (“Triumphant with God” or “God rules” or “God judges”), or of the Jewish hopes and dreams which conceived it.

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