I write with a mixture of outrage and heartbreak as the news unfolds about the Israeli commandos boarding the flotilla of ships bound for Gaza, carrying wheelchairs, home building supplies, medications, playgrounds, and thousands of tons of desperately needed materials. Some 800 internationals from 50 countries sought to call attention to the Israeli blockade of Gaza through non-violent action and to provide material support to a population suffering from collective punishment begun in the 1980s and now under almost total closure. The activists hoped to make it impossible for us to ignore the siege, to highlight the humanitarian catastrophe, and to take personal action as individuals. They wanted us to see that 10% of Gazan children suffer from chronic malnutrition and two-thirds of Gazans face daily hunger. As an unreconstructed war zone where much of the civil infrastructure has been destroyed, communities are periodically engulfed in untreated sewage which also flows directly into the Mediterranean, polluting fishing waters. With a destroyed power station, residents suffer from frequent electricity blackouts, inadequate fuel to run generators, and a massively compromised health care system. And then there are the 2400 homes destroyed in the last invasion and never rebuilt. The EU foreign policy chief recently called for an end to the Israeli blockade. On May 28, Haaretz, a major Israeli newspaper, ran an editorial stating, "The government has to decide right away to resume indirect talks with Hamas, to be more flexible about releasing prisoners and to lift the siege on Gaza." Rabbis for Human Rights Israel supported the flotilla.
At 4:30 am on May 31st, Israeli soldiers boarded the boats in international waters, leaving over ten dead and sixty wounded. I am left wondering: Why is that not an outrageous act of international piracy? Will this trigger world condemnation and actual foreign policy and military consequences? After the invasions of Lebanon and Gaza, the separation wall, the checkpoints, the frequent incursions, the restrictions of movement and family reunification, the thousands of Palestinian civil society activists languishing in administrative detention in Israeli jails, is there a limit? For years, in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians have been killed and maimed invisibly, but now the IDF kills international peace activists apparently with impunity as well. I am reminded that Jewish suffering does not justify the excesses of Israeli military actions; that, as an Israeli activist once told me, a country without borders to its land and its behavior ultimately becomes a monster.
I admit I had a strange fantasy when I learned of this most recent flotilla making its arduous way towards Gaza. I thought, if the Israeli government were smart, they would let the boats come close to shore, peaceably remove the hundreds of unarmed internationals and send them home, and deliver the wheelchairs and concrete and medicines as a humanitarian gesture. It would have been a political victory: siege intact, few to bear witness, and a little less desperation in Gaza. But in the name of “security” the monster is devouring itself. Not only have people died, but the Israeli government has taken another step backwards in its battle for international legitimacy and given fuel to more militant resistance and hatred.
A week ago, my daughter in Seattle called after a bruising meeting at her local, politically savvy food co-op where there had been an ongoing and productive discussion about the pros and cons of selling Israeli products and the possibility of boycotting the hummus and couscous as an act of conscience to protest the Israeli occupation. A group called Stand with Us subsequently launched a barrage of emails, hysteria, and accusations of anti-Semitism, successfully squashing any opportunity for political conversation. I have seen this kind of behavior all over the country. As a mother, grounded in Jewish values and a concern for human rights for Israelis and Palestinians, appalled by the McCarthy-like behavior in my own community and the rightward swing of Israeli politics, what do I tell my children? I cannot stand with this Israel. I believe in the power of nonviolent resistance. The Palestinian people are not our enemies. I am ashamed of what this county has done in my name.