Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

What is at stake in Gaza?

Posted by rabbibrian on October 19, 2010

Three weeks ago, I had the honor of participating  as a Jewish observer at the United Nations Advocacy week of the World Council of Churches.  This annual event meets in Geneva, Switzerland and focuses on issues of human rights, justice and peace in two different countries each year.  This year the focus was on Israel/Palestine and Nigeria

I was invited as co-founder of Taanit Tzedek-Jewish Fast for Gaza  to be part of a panel on “What is at stake in Gaza?”  and  to address this question from the perspective of participants in Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.  You can read a report about the panel on the World Council of Churches website.

The following is an excerpt from my talk:

What is at stake in Gaza from the perspective of  the rabbis and Jews involved in Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza is our direct and indirect responsibility for the suffering in Gaza.  We have responsibility as Americans and as Jews. As Americans, it is our government — the American government — that has refused to talk to Hamas and that has made it possible for Israel to act with impunity.   As Jews, it is the Israeli government –  that claims to act in our name – that maintains Gaza as an open air prison.  Lastly, it is leaders of major American Jewish organizations who justify Israeli policy and exert enormous pressure on the American government, on American Jews and on all Americans, not to challenge these immoral acts.

Israel has a right to security and rocket attacks on Israel should end.  The rocket attacks, however, do not in any way justify the vicious assault on Gaza and the continuing illegal siege.  We are ashamed of the shocking acts that were committed in our name during Operation Cast Lead and the ongoing suffering of the people of Gaza as a result of the illegal siege.  We stand in solidarity with the victims of this injustice.

On a deeper level, what is at stake for us, is no less than the moral core of our faith.  The central belief of our faith is that every human being is created in the image of God and deserves justice and compassion.  Our faith is based on our liberation from Egypt:  You shall not oppress the stranger/ the “other”, for you know the heart of the “other” because you were the “other” in the land of Egypt.  “Justice, Justice shall you pursue!” commands the Torah.  How can our people who believe in the God of liberation and justice and who suffered so much in many different countries, impose collective punishment on 1.5 million people? Israeli government policy in Gaza and in the West Bank is a shocking betrayal of these very fundamental beliefs of our faith and our historical legacy as a people.

Our liberation as Jews is inextricably bound to justice for the people of Gaza.  We, as Jews, will never be free, as long as Israel oppresses the people of Gaza. Our spiritual core and our very humanity is diminished by the denial of justice and basic human rights to Gazans.

Israel can no longer act with impunity.  We fully support the courage of Judge Richard Goldstone, telling the truth at great cost to himself.  We organized a phone conference call for over 150 rabbis with Judge Goldstone. While many rabbinic and Jewish communal leaders desecrated our faith by justifying the killing of 1400 Palestinians, Judge Richard Goldstone upheld the core of our faith by insisting that his commitment to human rights for all transcended any ethnic or tribal loyalty as a Jew.  To do what is just and right is what being a Jew means.  Judge Goldstone understood this and to us he is a moral hero.  The vicious vilification of him in Israel and the American Jewish community is profoundly disturbing.

The residents of Gaza are largely refugees and the children and grandchildren of refugees from the 1948 war.   For Jews, the creation of the State of Israel after the Holocaust was a liberation, for the Palestinians it was a disaster.  Gaza reminds us again that the  roots of the Israeli Palestinian conflict lie in 1948 and not in the Occupation that began 1967. Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation is dependent on Israel’s acknowledgement of its responsibility for the dispossession of the Palestinian people. The occupation of the West Bank and the control over Gaza are a continuation of the dispossession in 1948.

One of the programs of Taanit Tzedek is to sponsor a phone conference on our monthly fast day, the third Thursday, for fast participants and others who are interested.  Recently our guest was Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha, the Israeli human rights group dedicated to protecting the right to freedom of movement.  Bashi explained that in Gaza Israel imposes maximum control with minimum responsibility by Israel for the fate of the inhabitants.   She suggested that this was what Israel planned to do on the West Bank as well.  Israel may agree eventually to a Palestinian state but it would resemble Gaza.  Israel would control the air, the electromagnetic fields, the water and would control movement just as it does in Gaza.

This is a recipe for continued conflict.  Palestinians deserve justice and Israelis deserve not to live in a garrison state, fearing for their security.  The only path to ensure security for Israel is through a negotiated settlement.  A negotiated settlement that  begins the long process of breaking down the years of mistrust, injustice, suspicion and violence, is the only path that offers hope for all.

In the American Jewish community Taanit Tzedek is only one very small example of an important change in the Jewish community in relation to Israel policy.  The eighty rabbis who have joined our effort have all taken a risk for justice and many more support us privately.  Especially since the Israeli attack on Gaza, many more liberal Jews are disturbed by Israeli policy.  American Jews who have been very liberal on all issues except the issue of Israel, are beginning to apply their liberal values to Israeli policy as well. Younger Jews, horrified by Israeli policy, and are making their their voice heard  and to take actions in solidarity with the struggle for justice for the Palestinians.

Peter Beinart, who supported the Iraq war, and was the editor of New Republic, wrote an article on “The Failure of the Jewish Establishment” that has stimulated much important debate in the Jewish community.  Beinart pointed out that the major American Jewish organizations had asked young Jews to leave their liberal values at the door and to their surprise, young Jews have left their Zionism at the door.  Many young Jews are involved in Jewish Voice for Peace, in J Street and other organizations and in the B.D.S movement.   The emergence of J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace as a counter to the Israel lobby, is another indication of the important change in the American Jewish community.  There is a growing number of excellent blogs of American Jews and Israelis that deal with these issues that are still rarely covered in the mainstream press.

The power of the Israel lobby is still enormous but the opposition to the lobby is growing within America in general and within the American Jewish community.  While this is a very hopeful development, it is not at all clear when this development will be significant enough to have a direct impact in providing justice for the victims.

While Taanit Tzedek was initiated by rabbis, it is an interfaith project.   We need to work together, Jews, Chritians and Muslims, as people of faith for a just solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.  This interfaith partnership for justice models a world where people of different faiths and nationalities can work together for the common good.

Lastly I want to offer a teaching of hope.  Today is the seventh day of Sukkot/The Feast of Tabernacles, the Jewish harvest festival.  Jews spend these seven days eating and some even live in a sukkah/a hut that is open to the sky.  The sukkah reminds us of our blessings and that we are most secure when we are open to other human beings and to nature.

The sukkah is the opposite of huge walls, checkpoints, limits on freedom of movement that characterise Gaza and the West Bank.  Sukkot teaches that true security comes from openness to others and to nature, accepting our vulnerability and relying on God’s protection.   We pray: Ufros aleynu sukkat shlomecha/ Spread over us the sukkah of your peace.

Jews, Muslims and Christians need to build a sukkah of peace together.  Israelis and Palestinians need a sukkah of peace built from difficult direct negotiation, by knowing one another as human beings, and by creating a peace settlement that provides justice for Palestinians, security for Israel and for all who live on the land.  The prophet Isaiah teaches the justice results in peace.  It is only through justice that there will be peace, a peace that will end Palestinian suffering, a peace that will end Israeli fear and insecurity, a peace that will give our  people, the Jewish people, security and will allow us to return to the core spiritual teachings of our faith.

May God spread over us a sukkah of peace and may God bless all of you and all around the world who are working to build that sukkah.   Blessed is the One who works through us to spread a sukkah of peace, over us and over all who live in Jerusalem, and all who live in our world.

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6 Responses to “What is at stake in Gaza?”

  1. Keren Batiyov said

    Brian, thank you, as always your voice is a clarion call for engaging in active justice, for championing those whose voice are ignored and disdained. Thank you!!!!

  2. tony Gaenslen said

    Dear Rabbi Brian Walt:

    Thank you for this courageous and informative reporting on Gaza, and the moral issues involved. Ongoing enforced occupation of Gaza, and the West Bank cannot in the end lead to security for Israel, but rather for unparalleled violent disaster for both Israelis and Palestinians. In the end, the only true security, for Israel as well as the Palestinians, lies in a just peace.

    Tony Gaenslen

  3. Henry di Suvero said

    I don’t think the “two sides” can negotiate a settlement that will hold. Abbas and Fatah are now American puppets with America under General Dayton having generously funded the retraining of the militant Fatah elements into a security force working in cooperation with Israeli security forces. Another 348 million of US dollars for this project this year. See the recent NYReview article on this. Neutered and gelded, the West Bank was held under a tight lid during the infamous Operation Cast Lead massacre in Gaza in 2007-8. That would not have happened under Arafat, (as compromised as he even was).

    The only answer is one nation with complete equality. We must no longer entertain the idea of two states. It is an illusion designed to hide the repression. Palestine is one nation ruled by Israel. Israel and the Occuppied Territories constitute one nation. Only there is no equality.

    The BDS movement is the best, moral, and I think only way to force the issue. It worked for South Africa and can work here.

  4. Martin Hirschhorn said

    The definition of a “just peace” is clouded by some peoples need to seek retribution or revenge for past wrongs. A 2 state solution is by necessity a compromise by all sides and will only happen when leaders decide to stop sacrficing ordinary people to satisfy their egos. A single non-religiously defined state is probably too big a leap for most to accept at this time. But, “Imagine there were no countries”. We are all God’s children.
    Marty Hirschhorn

  5. David Marchesi said

    I once helped to build sukkahs for Jews in Britain to celebrate and give thanks, and to welcome strangers. I mention this because, for me, the “facts on the ground”, including the rampant militarisation of Israelis are materially eloquent. I would ask American Jews, especially the young, to visit Israel/Palestine and see for themselves. It would be, perhaps, risky to walk around the West Bank, although, if dressed inconspicuously and respectful of local practices , the danger would be minimal. Palestinians are decidedly NOT violent people in general. The decades of humiliation from heavily armed Israelis have had their effect, naturally, and young men everywhere can be threatening, but the atmosphere of fear and aggression in Palestine virtually all relates directly to the Occupation, as you will see. Young Israelis are taught to despise and brutalise Palestinians. Go there and see for yourselves, in a non-paranoiac spirit and without sticking to the “safe”, settlement areas etc.

    • Chris Berel said

      “Palestinians are decidedly NOT violent people in general. The decades of humiliation from heavily armed Israelis have had their effect…”

      Please explain that fact to all the dead Jews from the 1929 Hebron riots. Unless you can prove the murderers were not Palestinians, but Arabs from another country. Perhaps the years of Arab violence, coupled with the world’s inaction during the holocaust have affected the Israelis to the point where they believe they must over-react to every Arab provocation?

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