Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

Lift your voice like a Shofar! Reflections on Fasting and Gaza

Posted by rabbibrian on August 19, 2009

Rabbis at the Liberty BellRabbi Rebecca Alpert blows Shofar at Fast for Gaza event at the  Liberty BellToday, the second monthly fast day of Taanit Tzedek-Jewish Fast for Gaza, I am fasting along with hundreds of others, including over 70 rabbinic colleagues, many imams and Christian ministers, people of many different faiths and people of conscience.  We are fasting to break the silence about the suffering in Gaza and to call for: the lifting of the blockade that punishes every resident in Gaza; negotiations with all Palestinian partners including Hamas; vigorous engagement by the U.S. government in promoting a just and peaceful settlement of the Israeli –Palestinian conflict.

Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind as I think about why I have chosen to fast today is the issue of food.   As a Jew and a rabbi, I can’t be silent as Israel controls and limits the amount of food that is allowed into Gaza.

During our first fast day we heard the testimony of Mona Abu Ramadan, the director of the American Near East Refugee Aid’s Milk for Toddlers Campaign in Gaza.   Participants in Taanit Tzedek –Jewish Fast for Gaza make contributions to this program that provides fortified milk and high-energy biscuits to Gazan pre-schoolers.   Ms. Abu Ramadan told us that the kind and amount of food available to families is limited by the blockade resulting in the stunted growth of many children in Gaza.  How could I as a Jew, as a rabbi, as a human being, be silent in the face of a policy that leads to the stunted growth of children?

Moreover, why should Israel decide how much food is allowed into Gaza?   The passage of food is not an issue of security, it is an immoral act of collective punishment.

The control of food supplies is only one way in which the blockade causes suffering in Gaza.  Human Rights organizations in Israel and around the world have documented many other devastating effects of the blockade.

For example, a report issued by Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization last week focused on the issue of fuel.

Here are some of their conclusions:

Israel (is) preventing the European Union (the donor of fuel to Gaza) from providing sufficient quantities of fuel to the Gaza power plant.

The Gaza electric system is missing hundreds of items, with more than 30,000 stockpiled items waiting months for Israeli approval.

More than 40% of spare parts needed for the water system awaiting permits, some for two years.”

These are some of the consequences:

Tens of millions of liters of raw sewage dumped into sea and the groundwater, endangering Israel as well.

The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company informed 1.5 million people in Gaza that, beginning this week, it will institute power outages of up to 10 hours a day, five days a week..

The resulting shortage seriously disrupts activities that are usually taken for granted: pumping running water, treating sewage, refrigerating medications and food, using washing machines, cooking and other basic needs.”

Several human rights organizations document other effects of the of the blockade including: insufficient access to healthcare, severe restrictions on imports and exports, limits on farming and fishing, denial of access to health care outside of Gaza for some critically ill Gazans, denial of the right to travel to Gazan students who have received scholarships from foreign universities.

This is an incomplete list.  In the war, the Gazans suffered the loss of thousands of houses, businesses, and farmland.  The blockade of materials makes it impossible for Gaza to rebuild.

Some claim that all these reports by human rights organizations are “anti-Israel” or even “anti-Semitic.” While there may be illegitimate bias against Israel in some quarters, the discrediting of all these reports is simply an effort to protect us from confronting the disturbing facts of the suffering in Gaza.   For too long now, several Jewish organizations have avoided confronting the suffering of Palestinians by leveling the charge of anti-Israel bias at human rights organizations, often claiming or implying that the only source of unbiased information is the Israeli government or military.  There are several well-funded organizations in Israel and America that level this charge at a broad range of organizations and individuals in Israel and around the world.  Their mission is to allow Jews and others to avoid confronting the difficult truth of the effects of the blockade and of Israeli government policy.  They will undoubtedly level this charge against Jewish Fast for Gaza and it’s leaders and participants.  Eight Israeli human rights organizations just launched a video on the effects of the blockade entitled  “Lift the closure – give life a chance.”  Are all these Israeli organizations “anti-Israel”?

But what about the rockets fired into Israel?   What about the trauma suffered by Israeli children and adults?  We condemn the firing of rockets as a war crime and we are as dedicated to the wellbeing of Israeli children as we are to the children of Gaza.  Israel has the right to defend itself but the suffering of the children in Sderot and other cities in Israel doesn’t in any way justify inflicting punishment on the entire population of Gaza.   The blockade and its effects only makes the people of Israel less secure as it maintains the cycle of violence and hatred.  The only alternative is the resolution of the conflict through negotiation between the parties.  Military power, the blockade, the firing of rockets will never provide security for Israelis or Palestinians.

Tomorrow, the first of the month of Jewish month of Elul, marks the beginning of a forty-day period ending on Yom Kippur, devoted to repentance (teshuva).   It is a time when Jews are called to do a moral reckoning, examining our deeds and making amends for actions that are hurtful, sinful or destructive.  Every morning we sound the shofar as a call to repentance.

It is time for us as Jews, people of all faiths, and all Americans to break our silence about the blockade of Gaza.  In 40 days on Yom Kippur we will read the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Shout out with full throat, don’t hold back. Lift up your voice like a shofar.”  Today participants in Jewish Fast for Gaza sounded the shofar in public ceremonies at the Liberty Bell and in Chicago.  We of Jewish Fast for Gaza, Jews and people of many faiths, will continue lift our voices like a shofar crying out: Break the Silence; Lift the Blockade, Pursue Peace! We invite you to join us.

To join or for more information: www.fastforgaza.net

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7 Responses to “Lift your voice like a Shofar! Reflections on Fasting and Gaza”

  1. Rabbi Brian, your points are indeed salient and extremely important. As the publisher of two magazine of interest to the Jewish community, I have been called anti-Israel and well as anti-Semitic because I am against the Gaza blockade as well as the overly severe military actions that have been taken there against the entire civilian population. I do not fully understand why some Jews cannot understand that criticism of a particular government does not make someone an enemy of the state. I am sick to death at how the right-wing Israel lobby groups foster the idea that criticism of the Israel goverment is tantamount to being a traitor to Jews everywhere.

    • Y. Ben-David said

      Michael states that “criticism of a particular government does not make someone an enemy of the state” but then says “Right-wing Israel lobby groups foster the idea that criticism….is tantamount to being a traitor…”.

      The fact is that Israel’s policy towards Gaza, including the recent War and the partial blockade of the Gaza Strip enjoys basically wall-to-wall support in Israel from all political trends. It was under the Kadima-Labor Center-Left government that this policy was initiated (in the wake of HAMAS taking control of the Palestinian Authority regime and their subsequent violent coup in the Gaza Strip) and the war prosecuted. So it has nothing to do with the political “Right”. Michael’s later comment about the “Right-wing lobby groups” supposedly doing things he doesn’t approve of has nothing to do with reality but is simply introducing terms that serve as a “red flag” for “progressives” which are intended to serve narrow partisan interests by mobilizing “progressive” groups who easily get inflamed when confronting those whom they view as the political “enemy”. Israel’s interests transcend petty manipulations like this. One who opposes the current policy is obligated to provide answers to questions about HAMAS terrorist act against Israel (e.g. holding Gilad Shalit incommunicado for years) in addition to indiscriminate rocket fire directed at Israeli civilian population centers.

      • Lola said

        “One who opposes the current policy is obligated to provide answers to questions about HAMAS terrorist act against Israel (e.g. holding Gilad Shalit incommunicado for years) in addition to indiscriminate rocket fire directed at Israeli civilian population centers.”

        I’m just curious to know how “holding Gilad Shalit incommunicado for years” can compared and/or be justified by “holding 11,000 Palestinians incommunicado for years” — just a wonderin’…

  2. Lola said

    Good job! Kudos to you Rabi and to all the others who see clearly thru Israel’s atrocities and inhumanity and who dare raise your voice to bring justice to the much battered people of Palestine.

    Thank you!

  3. L. Bettani said

    If there is any critricism the fasting rabbis made of the thousands of deadly rockets that have been raining down on Sderot, Ashkelon, and other Israeli communities from Gaza, I’ve failed to see it! The Gazans chose Hamas terrorists to lead them. They didn’t have to make that choice. And the Hamas thugs are even quite willing to murder other Palestinians who disagree with them.

  4. Nicholas Boonin said

    Dear Brian:

    Seeing you at Mishkan Shalom always makes Mishkan feel more like home. It was wonderful to be with you again.

    As I try to understand your own personal struggle, I hope you know that you are not alone.

    During the war in I967 I was a proud chauvinist. Somewhat leery of war but proud to see Jews, and Israel, as heros and not victims.

    During the 1984 Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon with the aid of the SLA my thoughts began to change and. The result was that these atrocities began to take the “bloom off the rose”

    By the time the 1987 Intifada Israeli solders using weapons of war to control riots. They were obviously equipped with the wrong tools & the wrong training. When you need a plumber you don’t use a carpenter. The right people with the right skills must be applied properly to each situation. Many nations have trained riot police (not soldiers) to deal with civil disturbances. By this time my pride was turning to shame.

    There always has been tension and injustice between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It has become a stain on the foundation of the Jewish State. It has become a stain like that of slavery during the birth of our nation. It made us imperfect and less pure. It is no different for the state of Israel. It too, has to deal with its stain of injustice.

    I can think of no nation born from revolution that does not cary scares from it’s birthing.

    I still hope and pray for the safety of Israel and its prosperity, I also pray for a just and compassionate peace for both Israel And Palestine.

    Your quest for Palestinian civil and human rights is mirrored in many histories. You have not abandoned your values. It is the State of Israel that has gone of course. With prophetic voices such as yours there will be a simple moment when a Rosa Parks will say, “This Is Enough” and a long healing will begin.

    Keep up the good work. The long moral arc of history is at your back.

    Be safe, be well

    Best always

    Nicholas Boonin

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