Gerald Kaufman was elected to the House of Commons in 1970. From 1987-1992 he served as Shadow Foreign Secretary under Neil McKinock. In 2002 he made a TV documentary “The End of the Affair” in which he recounted his early support and later disillusionment with Israel. Comparing the Jewish state to apartheid South Africa, he has called for economic sanctions and an arms embargo against Israel. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has declared him a self-hating Jew. In 2004 he was knighted for his services to Parliament. On the 15th of January 2009, Sir Gerald Kaufman delivered the following speech to the British House of Commons:
I was brought up as an orthodox Jew and a Zionist. On a shelf in our kitchen there was a tin box for the Jewish National Fund, into which we put coins to help the pioneers build a Jewish presence in Palestine.
My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the holocaust. My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed.
My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count.
On Sky News a few days ago, the spokesman for the Israeli army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that time, 800 Palestinians— the total is now 1,000. She replied instantly that “500 of them were militants.”
That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose that the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.
However many Palestinians the Israelis murder in Gaza, they cannot solve this existential problem by military means. Whenever and however the fighting ends, there will still be 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and 2.5 million more on the West Bank. They are treated like dirt by the Israelis, with hundreds of road blocks and with the ghastly denizens of the illegal Jewish settlements harassing them as well. The time will come, not so long from now, when they will outnumber the Jewish population in Israel.
It is time for our Government to make clear to the Israeli Government that their conduct and policies are unacceptable, and to impose a total arms ban on Israel. It is time for peace, but real peace, not the solution by conquest which is the Israelis’ real goal but which it is impossible for them to achieve. They are not simply war criminals; they are fools.
Jeff Halper was aboard one of the two ships that left Cyprus on August 23 to break Israel’s naval blockade and to bring humanitarian relief to the besieged population. The ships also brought 44 peace activists from 17 countries, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth. When Halper, an Israeli citizen, returned to Israel, he was arrested.
A retired anthropologist from Ben Gurion University, Dr. Halper is chairman of ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an organization that works to block the Israeli military’s demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories. In 2006 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. “I can no more passively witness my government’s destruction of another people than I can watch the occupation destroy the moral fabric of my own country,” he said prior to defying Israel’s 18-month siege of Gaza.
In January, 2009, during Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Halper flew to Canada, where he delivered a lecture at Dalhousie University. The room was packed, with audience members sitting in the aisles and on the stage. In a clear voice, he praised the Gazans for their resistance to the Jewish state’s attempted “massacre,” explaining “When you lock the Palestinians in a cage, what do you expect these people to do. Palestinians have a right to resist.”
Halper concluded his talk by urging the international community to acknowledge and openly condemn Israel’s furtive program of testing military weaponry and counter-insurgency tactics on the Palestinian people. The effects of Gaza are global, he charged. Israel is field testing chemical weaponry and its nanotechnology research on Palestinians for the purpose of selling its technology abroad.
Halper was also scheduled to give a talk at the Gelber Conference Center in Montreal. Sponsored by the Federation Combined Jewish Appeal, it had been scheduled months in advance, but was cancelled at the last minute because a local Jewish group, Les Amis d’Israel, had objected to the speaker. As it turned out, Halper gave his talk anyway—in the Unitarian Church of Montreal.
Sara Roy is a researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and one of the most respected academic authorities on Gaza today.
She acknowledges that the Holocaust has been the defining feature of her life. Her father was one of the two known survivors of the Chelmno extermination camp; her mother was a survivor of Holbstadt and Auschwitz. Some 100 members of her extended family did not survive.
Her focus in the Arab-Israeli issue, she writes, provided several examples of parallels between Nazi treatment of Jews and the treatment by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians. Both, she claims, “were absolutely equivalent in principle, intent, and impact to humiliate and dehumanize.”
Such comments by a Harvard professor have stirred controversy. The Jewish psychologist Phyllis Chesler, for whom criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism, has called Roy one of the most savage critics of America and Israel.
On the other hand, journalist Richard Silverstein hails her as a prophet whose denunciations of Israel’s militarism challenge the corrosive attempt by American Jewish organizations to impose a false unity in blind support of whatever Israel does.
Dr. Roy raised her voice against Israel’s most recent use of excessive military force in an article she wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, January 2, 2009. It read, in part:
I hear the voices of my friends in Gaza as clearly as if we were still on the phone; their agony echoes inside me. They weep and moan over the death of their children, some, little girls like mine, taken, their bodies burned and destroyed so senselessly.
One Palestinian friend asked me, “Why did Israel attack when the children were leaving school and the women were in the markets?” There are reports that some parents cannot find their dead children and are desperately roaming overflowing hospitals.
As Jews celebrate the last night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights commemorating our resurgence as a people, I asked myself: How am I to celebrate my Jewishness while Palestinians are being killed? …
The lucky ones in Gaza are locked in their homes living lives that have long been suspended—hungry, thirsty, and without light but their children are alive…
On Nov. 5, Israel sealed all crossing points into Gaza, vastly reducing and at times denying food supplies, medicines, fuel, cooking gas, and parts for water and sanitation systems. A colleague of mine in Jerusalem said, “this siege is in a league of its own. The Israelis have not done something like this before.”…
In nearly 25 years of involvement with Gaza and Palestinians, I have not had to confront the horrific image of burned children — until today…
It is one thing to take an individual’s land, his home, his livelihood, to denigrate his claims, or ignore his emotions. It is another to destroy his child. What happens to a society where renewal is denied and all possibility has ended?
And what will happen to Jews as a people whether we live in Israel or not? Why have we been unable to accept the fundamental humanity of Palestinians and include them within our moral boundries? Rather, we reject any human connection with the people we are oppressing. Ultimately, our goal is to tribalize pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone…
Jewish intellectuals oppose racism, repression, and injustice almost everywhere in the world and yet it is still unacceptable—indeed, for some, it’s an act of heresy — to oppose it when Israel is the oppressor. This double standard must end. Israel’s victories are pyrric and reveal the limits of Israeli power and our own limitations as a people: our inability to live a life without barriers. Are these the boundaries of our rebirth after the Holocaust?
As Jews in a post-Holocaust world empowered by a Jewish state, how do we as a people emerge from atrocity and abjection, empowered and also humane? How do we move beyond fear to envision something different, even if uncertain?
The answer will determine who we are and what, in the end, we become.
Randall Kuhn is a member of the Denver chapter of the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. Founded in 2002, JAJP describes itself as America’s largest Jewish organization dedicated to a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. With 40,000 supporters, including 1,000 rabbis, its goal is the evacuation of Israeli settlements and a complete end to the Israeli military occupation of the territories occupied since 1967.
Kuhn is also assistant professor and director of the Global Health Affairs program at the University of Denver Graduate School of International Studies. His area of expertise is the study of human migrations, with a focus on the role played by the family and community in migrations. So, when Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak justified his country’s assault on Gaza by asking what would Americans have done if, for seven years, Tijuana, Mexico had lobbed rockets on San Diego—a question that would be parroted by a chorus of U.S. pundits and politicians — Kuhn knew that the analogy limped — and badly.
And he said so in an article for The Washington Times, January 14, 2009, which read, in part:
Think about what would happen if San Diego expelled most of its Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and Native American population, about 48 percent of the total, and forcibly relocated them to Tijuana? Not just the unemployed or the criminals or the American haters, but the school teachers, the small business owners, the soldiers, even the baseball players.
What if we established government and faith-based agencies to help move white people into their former homes? And what if we razed hundreds of their homes in rural areas and, with the aid of charitable donations from people in the United States and abroad, planted forests on their former towns, creating nature preserves for whites to enjoy? Sounds pretty awful, huh? I may be called anti-Semitic for speaking this truth. Well, I’m Jewish and the scenario above is what many prominent Israeli scholars say happened when Israel expelled Palestinians from southern Israel and forced them into Gaza. But this analogy is just getting started.
What if the United Nations kept San Diego’s discarded minorities in crowded, festering camps in Tijuana for 19 years? Then, the United States invaded Mexico, occupied Tijuana and began to build large housing developments in Tijuana where only whites could live.
And what if the United States built a network of highways connecting Tijuana to the United States? And checkpoints, not just between Mexico and the United States but also around every neighborhood of Tijuana? What if we required every Tijuana resident, refugee or native, to show an ID card to the U.S. military on demand? What if thousands of Tijuana residents lost their homes, their jobs, their businesses, their children, their sense of self worth to the occupation? Would you be surprised to hear of a protest movement in Tijuana that sometimes became violent and hateful? Okay, now for the unbelievable part.
Think about what would happen if, after expelling all of the minorities from San Diego to Tijuana and subjecting them to 40 years of brutal military occupation, we just left Tijuana, removing all the white settlers and the soldiers? Only instead of giving them their freedom, we built a 20-foot tall electrified wall around Tijuana? Not just on the sides bordering San Diego, but on all the Mexico crossings as well. What if we set up 50-foot high watchtowers with machine gun batteries, and told them that if they stood within 100 yards of this wall we would shoot them dead on sight? And four out of every five days we kept every single one of those border crossings closed, not even allowing food, clothing, or medicine to arrive. And we patrolled their air space with our state-of-the-art fighter jets but didn’t allow them so much as a crop duster. And we patrolled their waters with destroyers and submarines, but didn’t even allow them to fish.
Would you be at all surprised to hear that these resistance groups in Tijuana, even after having been “freed” from their occupation but starved half to death, kept on firing rockets at the United States? Probably not. But you may be surprised to learn that the majority of people in Tijuana never picked up a rocket, or a gun, or a weapon of any kind.
The majority, instead, supported against all hope negotiations toward a peaceful solution that would provide security, freedom and equal rights to both people in two independent states living side by side as neighbors. This is the sound analogy to Israel’s military onslaught in Gaza today. Maybe some day soon, common sense will prevail and no corpus of misleading analogies about Tijuana or the crazy guy across the hall who wants to murder your daughter will be able to obscure the truth. And at that moment, in a country whose people shouted We Shall Overcome, Ich bin ein Berliner, End Apartheid, Free Tibet and Save Darfur, we will all join together and shout “Free Gaza. Free Palestine.” And because we are Americans, the world will take notice and they will be free, and perhaps peace will prevail for all the residents of the Holy Land.
Amira Hass is the first—and only—Israeli journalist to actually live in the occupied Palestinian territories. Since 1991, in articles in the newspaper Ha’aretz, she has borne witness to Israel’s increasingly cruel military occupation and settler annexation. In 2003, she received the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for her outstanding professional commitment and independence. She has been compared to a biblical prophet confronting the biblical Israelites with their moral failings.
Born in Jerusalem in 1956, Amira is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. At Hebrew University she studied the history of Nazism and the European Left’s relation to the Holocaust. She has called Israel an apartheid state, with privileges reserved mostly for Jews. In 2001, a Jerusalem Magistrate Court ordered her to pay $60,000 for vilifying the Jewish settler community of Beit Hadassah in Hebron. On December 1, 2008, she was arrested by Israeli police on her return to Israel from Gaza, where she had traveled by boat with the Free Gaza Movement to demonstrate her opposition to Israel’s blockade.
Here, in part, is her article from Ha’aretz of January 7, 2009:
What luck my parents are dead. Back in 1982 they could not stand the noise of the Israeli jet fighters flying over the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The shriek of a plane horrified them in their house in Tel Aviv. We don’t have to see it to know, they said.
Even before the language Laundromat developed to its current sophistication, my parents were nauseated by phrases like “the war for peace in Galilee” or “disturbances of public order” when the public order was the occupation and the disturbance was resistance to it…. What luck that they are not alive to hear Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni explaining that we have nothing against the Palestinian people, and the cabinet secretary explaining that there is no humanitarian crisis and this is just Hamas propaganda. To recognize lies, (my parents) did not need to know the names of the people who had not had running water for five days or more. Forget the bombardments, forget the electricity, food, even sleep. But no water? Because of the bombardments by sea, land and air, people cannot even go out to get drinking water from the city faucets. And when someone does have running water at home, it’s undrinkable.
Because of my parents’ history they knew what it meant to close people behind barbed-wire fences in a small area. A year, five years, 10 years. From 1991. How lucky it is that they are not alive to see how these incarcerated people are bombarded with all the glorious military technology of Israel and the United States. “We urgently invite Mohamed ElBaradei to come here and prove we do not have nuclear weapons,” says Iyad—a well-known comic, even under bombardment. But Saturday night he only said “difficult, difficult,” and hung up the phone.
My parents’ personal history led them to despise the relaxed way the news anchors reported on a curfew. How lucky they are not here and cannot hear the crowd roaring in the coliseum.
Brent Rosen is the spiritual leader of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston, Illinois, a post he has held for the past ten years. In 2008, he was honored by Newsweek magazine as one of the Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America. On December 28, 2008, Rabbi Rosen wrote a posting to his congregation about what was happening in Gaza. What prompted this Jewish leader to speak out to his congregation and beyond? Outrage. Here is his posting:
The news today out of Israel and Gaza makes me just sick to my stomach. I know, I can already hear the responses: every nation has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens. If the Qassams stopped, Israel wouldn’t be forced to take military action. Hamas also bears responsibility for this tragic situation… I could answer each and every one of these claims in turn, but I’m ready to stop this perverse game of rhetorical ping-pong.
I don’t buy the rationalizations any more. I’m so tired of the apologetics. How on earth will squeezing the life out of Gaza, not to mention bombing the living hell out of it, ensure the safety of Israeli citizens? We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass.
It’s a fascinating double-standard, and one I understand all too well. I understand it because I’ve been just as responsible as anyone else for perpetrating it. So no more rationalizations. What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage. It has brought neither safety nor security to the people of Israel and it has wrought nothing but misery and tragedy upon the people of Gaza.
There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?
One of the things Rabbi Rosen did was to sign a letter to President Obama, along with 1,011 other rabbis across the country, calling upon the new president to dedicate himself to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.
Richard Falk is Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. In a 2007 article, “Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust,” he wrote: “It is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ’holocaust’… Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.”
In March 2008, Falk was appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories. On December 14, he traveled to Israel to prepare a report on Israel’s compliance with human rights standards and international humanitarian law, with special focus on the effects of Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Israel had been informed of his itinerary, but when he arrived in Tel Aviv he was denied entry, put into a holding room, and subjected to an inch-by-inch body search. Then he was led to a locked room, crammed with five other detainees, where the air smelled of urine, the sheets were dirty, the food inedible, and the lights glaring. In all, the U.N. Special Rapporteur was detained for 30 hours, before being put on a flight out of the country.
Shortly after his failed attempt to reach the Palestinians under occupation, Israel invaded Gaza, In a January 2, 2009 article that appeared on The Huffington Post, Falk concluded:
The people of Gaza are victims of geopolitics at its inhumane worst: producing what Israel itself calls a “total war” against an essentially defenseless society that lacks any defensive military capability whatsoever and is completely vulnerable to Israeli attacks mounted by F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters.
What this also means is that the flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions, is quietly set aside while the carnage continues and the bodies pile up. It additionally means that the UN is once more revealed to be impotent when its main members deprive it of the political will to protect a people subject to unlawful uses of force on a large scale.
Finally, this means that the public can shriek and march all over the world, but that the killing will go on as if nothing is happening. The picture being painted day by day in Gaza is one that begs for renewed commitment to international law and the authority of the UN Charter, starting here in the United States, especially with a new leadership that promised its citizens change, including a less militarist approach to diplomatic leadership.
Avi Shlaim is professor of international relations at Oxford University in England and a fellow of the British Academy. Born in Iraq, he holds duel Israeli-British citizenship. In the 1960’s he served in the Israeli army and, although one of Israel’s New Historians who have challenged many of the state’s founding myths, he has never questioned its legal right to exist. That state’s recent assault on Gaza, however, has led him to some critical rethinking.
In an article that appeared in The Guardian on January 7, 2009, Shlaim argued that the only way to make sense of Israel’s senseless war in Gaza was to go back to its founding in 1948. At the time, the British diplomat Sir John Troutbeck had claimed that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders.” Shlaim thought this verdict rather harsh. But in light of Israel’s vicious assault on Gaza, and the Bush administration’s complicity, the historian has reopened the question.
Gaza, he wrote, is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. In the 1980s Israel played the old colonial game of divide and rule by supporting the nascent religious organization Hamas in order to weaken Fatah, the secular nationalist movement led by Yasser Arafat. Then, when free and fair elections in January 2006 brought Hamas to power, Israel refused to recognize it, calling it a terrorist organization. And, as if on cue, America and the European Union joined Israel in trying to bring down the Hamas government by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid.
Once in power, Hamas, like other radical movements, moderated its political agenda. In March 2007 it formed a national unity government with Fatah that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Israel refused. Instead, it continued to divide and rule, this time by encouraging the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals. American neoconservatives also played a major role in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 in order to pre-empt a Fatah coup.
Throughout all this, the economic strangulation of Gaza continued. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad protested by launching Qassam rockets at Israeli settlements near the Gaza-Israel border. Israel had the right to act in self-defense, but its response to pin-pricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate, as the figures show: Between 2005-2008, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire, while between 2005-2007 alone 1,290 Palestinian Gazans were killed by the Israeli military, including 222 children.
In June 2008 a six-month ceasefire was brokered by Egypt. The assault on Gaza began on December 27. The brutality of that assault, argued Shlaim, was matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the war, Israel established a National Information Directorate, whose core message to the media was that Hamas broke the ceasefire; that Israel’s objective is the defense of its population; that Israel’s forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt innocent civilians. It is all “a pack of lies,” says Shlaim.
Israel, not Hamas broke the ceasefire. It did so by a raid into Gaza on November 4 that killed six Hamas men. Israel’s objective is not just the defense of its people but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against it. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought 1.5 million people to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Bismarck once said you can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it. Shlaim would agree. Israel can achieve security only through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders. Israel has rejected this because it involves concessions and compromises.
Shlaim ended his article with these words:
This brief review of Israel’s record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders.” A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practices terrorism—the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfills all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors but military domination.
Michael Ratner is president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a human rights litigation organization based in New York, and past president of the National Lawyers Guild. In 2004, he successfully represented Guantanamo Bay detainees in the U. S. Supreme Court. In 2006, he was awarded the Hans Litten Prize, named for a famous anti-fascist lawyer who was tortured to death by the Nazis.
On January 12, 2009, at the peak of afternoon traffic, a group called “Jews Say Not in Our Name” held a vigil in front of the Israeli consulate in mid-town Manhattan. Michael Ratner was there.
A week later, on Martin Luther King’s holiday, Ratner posted an article on his blog entitled “A Time Comes When Silence Is Betrayal.” King, he noted, had at first been reluctant to voice opposition to the war in Vietnam because it might anger President Johnson and hurt the civil rights movement. But what about the current war in Gaza, Ratner asked: What about the 1,200-plus Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed—a ratio of nearly 100 to 1? What about the targeted U.N. buildings, homes, mosques, police stations, universities and media outlets? What about collective punishment? What about the silence of American Jews?
For too long, most American Jews—and Ratner includes himself—said little or nothing about Israel’s massive violations of Palestinian rights, mainly out of fear of social and economic retribution. Yet, the truth is that as long as this silence continues, so will the billions of dollars in U.S. military aid and arms to Israel that are used to kill Palestinians.
What’s the lesson to be learned? According to Ratner:
We are, each of us, responsible for the murders in Gaza. Our silence is betrayal. Each time we hesitate to speak out; each time we moderate our condemnation we become accomplices in killing. The time, if there ever was one, to show courage is now. Yes it will be difficult for many. As King said about the reluctance of some to oppose the Vietnam War: “Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.”
We must take King’s words to heart. We, each of us, “must move on.” We must begin somewhere even if it just means saying the issue is not off our agenda. Begin the discussion; begin to act; show that you care. And remember, “A Time Comes When Silence Is Betrayal.”
That time has come.
Greta Berlin responded to the calamity in Gaza by helping to bring together physicians, human rights workers and three tons of desperately needed medical supplies. Everything was loaded on a boat named Dignity, which set off from Cyprus on December 29, 2008, its mission to penetrate Israel’s naval blockade.
She is 66 years old, a businesswoman from Los Angeles, the mother of two Palestinian-Americans, her daughter Kristen Raifa and her son Michael Ribhi. She met her husband, Ribhi, in Chicago; they married in 1963. He was a refugee in 1948 from Safad, so she learned firsthand the truth about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in order to establish a Jewish state. She and Ribhi founded a nonprofit charitable organization to send medicines, blankets and clothing to Palestinian refugee camps. That ended when the Jewish Defense League threatened to kill their two children if they didn’t stop. Greta became a fulltime mom.
In 1997, with her children grown, she started to advocate again for Palestinian rights. Six years later she went to Palestine to experience the occupation for herself. She joined the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led organization that applies nonviolent principles to resist the ongoing occupation and colonization of Palestine. In July 2003, she was shot in the leg by Israeli gunfire while protesting against the wall Israel is building to corral the Palestinians. She has experienced tear gas, sound bombs and rocks—two of which, thrown by settler children in Hebron, wounded her in the hand and thigh.
She is also cofounder of Free Gaza, the boat project, whose aim is to show the world that, while Israel says it has withdrawn from Gaza, it actually has a tighter stranglehold over it than ever. Since August 2008, Free Gaza had successfully sailed several small boats past Israel’s naval blockade, all of them carrying international activists and medical aid.
That would not be the case with the Dignity, however. It never made it to Gaza. While in international waters it was rammed twice from the front and once from the side by an Israeli naval vessel. An Israeli government spokesman called the incident nothing more than a “propaganda stunt” adding, “Israel would never have done anything against international law, that is inconceivable. These people just want a headline, they don’t really want to help the people of Gaza.”
The incident has not deterred Greta Berlin and her co-activists. That the medicines and doctors never arrived in time to help the Gazans when their hospitals and clinics were overflowing with casualties was devastating. But other boat projects are being planned, and the nonviolent protesters are also thinking of flying small planes, even a blimp, over Gaza to demonstrate Israel’s control of the air as well as the sea.
When Greta returns to her home in California, she joins Women in Black—Los Angeles. This is a group of predominantly Jewish and Arab women who gather at predetermined places in the city and hold up banners that call for the end of the U.S.-supported occupation of Palestine. In addition, she gives public lectures and has compiled CDs with graphic, first-person accounts of Israel’s criminal behavior.
Eventually, though, she goes back to Palestine, to be among the people she cares for, the people who call her Um-Ribhi.
Henry Siegman is former national director of the American Jewish Congress and former executive director of the Synagogue Council of America.
In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, he, with his father, pregnant mother, sisters and brothers, fled to Belgium. During the battle of Dunkirk he huddled with his family in a pitch-black cellar as the fighting raged. One morning, the door was kicked open by victorious German troops. The family next fled to Vichy France, where they had to elude the constant round-ups of Jews. Eventually they made it to Casablanca, then to America.
These scenes haunt him still, but they make it easier, he says, to understand what it is like to be a Palestinian living under the “fear and humiliation” of Israeli occupation.
In New York, Henry became an ordained rabbi, and served as a chaplain with combat troops in Korea, where he earned a bronze star and a purple heart.
In an article that appeared in the London Review of Books, January 29, 2009, Rabbi Siegman spoke out against Israel’s assault on Gaza. The article spread across the Internet.
In it Siegman knocked down all the reasons Israelis had given for their “defensive” assault: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organization, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel had acted not only in its own defense but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.
Siegman then went on to ask a question few in the media had bothered to ask: Why are Israel’s leaders so intent on destroying Hamas? His answer: Because they believe Hamas’s leadership, unlike Fatah’s, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian “state” made up of territorially disconnected entities over which the Jewish state would retain permanent control.
He concluded his article with a bit of advice for whoever would be President Obama’s Middle East envoy [former Senator George Mitchell, as it turned out]: If you leave the Israelis and Palestinians to sort out their differences, you will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas, one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. Some Israelis, including the settler leadership, might applaud you for this, since it would give them a pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
Our envoy, he urged, must present his own proposal for a just and sustainable peace agreement—then press the parties to accept it.
Editors’ Note—We have run out of space. But we invite readers to recommend other Jews who have spoken out against the carnage in Gaza. Our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. We will enter the names on our website: www.ameu.org. Meanwhile, we applaud all who have made their voices heard. May their courage embolden the rest of us, believers and non-believers, to stand up and say “No more.”
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