Yet another ceasefire is in place. If it doesn’t hold, more carnage will occur until another ceasefire is agreed to.
Israel’s invasion can only go so far. With 1.8 million Gazans with nowhere to go, short of a mass expulsion – again there is nowhere else to go – as more than few Israeli commentators have noted, Israel is stuck with Gaza. They don’t seem to ask the obvious question even for Israel: What kind of future does being “stuck” with Gaza portend for Israel let alone Palestinians?
Already the aftermath of Israel’s invasion is being prepared for. A massive rebuilding effort will have to take place and life and death health emergencies proliferate. The injured need medicine. The dead need burial. Food and water? Electricity? Israel has decimated Gaza’s infrastructure – sewage facilities, electric plants, hospitals – the very lifeblood of any society. Was this Israel’s plan all along, to once again set Palestinian life back, to keep Gaza and the Palestinian people picking up their pieces so their long sought freedom would be permanently delayed?
Another preparation: Israel’s day in court. Already a case against Israel for war crimes in Gaza is being prepared. The “Joint Declaration on International Law and Gaza” is strong, well-stated and heart breaking. Its opening paragraphs tell the story:
According to UN sources, over the last three weeks, at least 1,373 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and 8,265, including 2,502 children and 1,626 women, have been injured. Several independent sources indicate that only 15 per cent of the casualties were combatants. Entire families have been murdered. Hospitals, clinics, as well as a rehabilitation centre for disabled persons have been targeted and severely damaged. During one single day, on Sunday 20th July, more than 100 Palestinian civilians were killed in Shuga’iya, a residential neighbourhood of Gaza City. This was one of the bloodiest and most aggressive operations ever conducted by Israel in the Gaza Strip, a form of urban violence constituting a total disrespect of civilian innocence. Sadly, this was followed only a couple of days later by an equally destructive attack on Khuza’a, East of Khan Younis.
Additionally, the offensive has already caused widespread destruction of buildings and infrastructure: according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 3,300 houses have been targeted resulting in their destruction or severe damage.
As denounced by the UN Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the Gaza conflict in the aftermath of Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-2009: “While the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self defence, the Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: The people of Gaza as a whole” (A/HRC/12/48, par. 1883). The same can be said for the current Israeli offensive.
International law is one important element in the aftermath of Israel’s invasion of Gaza. But to leave aside a deeper reckoning of other actors – the United Nations, NGOs, churches – would be a mistake. From the Jewish perspective, Israel’s criminality cuts even deeper to the bone. What are Jews of Conscience in and outside of Israel to make of the militarism that has taken hold with Jewish life? Is there a way back to some kind of sanity, respect for others and, as well, respect for ourselves?
If Israel is stuck with Gaza are Jews stuck with Israel?
Michael Lerner, a longtime Jewish dissident, wrote the following as the latest ceasefire was declared:
My heart is broken as I witness the suffering of the Palestinian people and the seeming indifference of Israelis. Tonight (August 4) and tomorrow (August 5), which mark Tisha B’av, the Jewish commemoration of disasters that happened to us through Jewish history, I’m going to be fasting and mourning also for a Judaism being murdered by Israel. No matter who gets blamed for the breakdowns in the cease fire or for “starting” this latest iteration of a struggle that is at least 140 years old, one of the primary victims of the war between Israel and Hamas is the compassionate and love-oriented Judaism that has held together for several thousand years. Even as Israel withdraws its troops from Gaza, leaving behind immense devastation, over 1,800 dead Gazans, and over four thousand wounded, without adequate medical supplies because of Israel’s continuing blockade, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu refuses to negotiate a cease fire, fearful that he would be seen as “weak” if Israel gave way to Gazans’ demand for an end to the blockade and a freeing of thousands of Palestinian prisoners kidnapped and held in Israeli jails in violation of their human rights.
The title of Lerner’s essay – “I’m a Rabbi in Mourning for a Judaism Being Murdered by Israel” – as with his words -is provocative. But Lerner raises more questions than he realizes. Is the issue for Jews primarily what Palestinian suffering means for Jews and, more specifically, for Judaism? Saving Israel, even saving Judaism, can’t be the primary goal for Jews, can it? For even if Palestinians were miraculously freed after one of these ceasefires, Israel, Judaism and Jewish history would be permanently damaged. It’s not about setting Palestinians free and then building a fence so that Jews inside and outside of Israel can go about our business as if nothing has happened. A return to Jewish innocence is hardly in the cards. Should it be hoped for?
Lerner’s return to Judaism of love and compassion is a mirage, itself an idyllic idol, a symbol of false consciousness that is the mirror image of Israel’s violence. All religions and communities are complicated. Judaism is no different. In Judaism and Jewish life there is love and compassion. There is also hate and violence. Lerner’s vision of Judaism and Jewish life is authentic – partly. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vision of Jewish life is authentic – partly.
As with the divisions in Christianity and Islam, the question for every generation is which vision will win out. It is rare that a complete victory will be achieved. Rather, we are left with partial victories and often too many defeats.
Thus Jewish mourning or, on the other side of coin, Jewish cheerleading needs to be tempered by the realities of the struggle ahead. Jewish Voice for Peace, an activist dissident organization, is trumpeting its growth and vitality that Israel’s invasion of Gaza has occasioned. But, like Lerner, they should be chastened.
The statement by Rabbi Alissa Wise, Co-Director of Organizing and Chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council that – “Every time Israel engages in high-profile repression of civilians, we get inundated. But we have never seen anything like this. Our mailing list grew by 50,000 in 3 weeks and we can’t keep up with the demand for new chapters. This is the final straw for many Jews, who have decided that their silence implies consent,” – is encouraging but needs to be taken in a broader context.
Post-invasion, Israel is stronger than ever. Though global public opinion strongly resonates with the Palestinian cause, the Jewish part of that solidarity, though growing, remains small. And Israel, no matter its claim to exist and act on behalf of the Jewish people, is no longer dependent on Jewish opinion and support. Israel’s claim as a Jewish state remains – as it charts its own destiny.
Writing of Elie Wiesel’s statement on Hamas and children sacrifice, a claim belied by the evidence, I ended by reflection: “Abraham’s knife was stayed by God. Who will stay Israel’s knife?”
One proposal involving the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and the One-State solution comes from Ilan Pappe, an Israeli academic in exile. Just before the ceasefire, Pappe was interviewed by The White Review. His responses cover a lot of ground including the possibility of solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
Q: You are a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has been criticised by both Noam Chomsky and Norman Finklestein, among others, the latter going so far as to describe it as a ‘cult’. What are your reasons for supporting it?
Pappe: I wonder whether this is a question any more after the current Israeli atrocities in Gaza. Can Chomsky and Finklestein offer us an alternative strategy apart from repeating the overused mantra of the ‘Two-State Solution’? This is the only way forward given Israeli brutality and the balance of power on the ground.
Q: Could you specify your difficulties with the ‘Two-State Solution’?
Pappe: It is a solution for only a part of the Palestinians and for only a part of Palestine. The Palestinians in Israel (one in every five citizens in Israel is a Palestinian) and the refugees have been left out of this arrangement, and they constitute fifty per cent of the Palestinian people. The whole body is ill and we offer to treat only one hand. Secondly, the only Palestinian state Israel can agree to will have no sovereignty for the Palestinians and no territorial integrity. Finally, the Israelis have colonised the West Bank to such an extent that there is no way of finding a reasonable space for such a state.
Q: On what grounds do you support a ‘One State Solution’?
Pappe: Firstly, because it is the only solution that will enable the Palestinian refugees of 1948 to return, which for me is a precondition for peace. Secondly, it will also bring an end to the Apartheid experienced by Palestinians inside Israel. And, finally, the facts established by Israel in the last forty-five years are far more important than those established in the first twenty years of the occupation. There is no room for a viable mini-state of Palestine and there is no reason to assume that such a state will end the conflict.
Q: A United Nations report on the Gaza Strip has claimed that the area ‘will not be liveable by 2020.’ In your opinion, how long can the occupation go on?
Pappe: I think in many ways we are at the beginning of a new Intifada. If it does not explode now, it will explode in a few years. So the occupation will not go on forever. The question is at what price and will the international community intervene to stop it.
In Pappe’s view after Gaza, the Two-State solution is dead, BDS is on the rise and a One-State solution is the only way forward. In the meantime, a new Palestinian uprising is around the corner. In short, because these Palestinian uprisings almost always lead to Israeli invasions, Pappe envisions more of the same – until both sides realize that the thought and reality of a separation between Jews and Palestinians is ethically unjust and, on a practical level, untenable.
Pappe might be right. Obviously the Two-State solution is dead. Palestinians resistance to occupation and ghettoization will continue. Jews and Palestinians living together in equality and peace is an obvious way forward. Nonetheless, everyone who knows the political scorecard in the Middle East, including Pappe, know that the One-State solution is a futuristic scenario that is decades or more away. My own sense is that living arrangement is even further away, if it will ever come to pass. The struggle of Jews and Palestinians is deeply particular rather than universal. From my vantage point, it isn’t even clear that Palestinians would benefit from the integration Pappe seeks.
Here is where the progressive interpretation of Israel-Palestine departs from the utopian sensibilities that, at the same time, seem so practicable, even obvious. Especially from the Jewish side, it is disingenuous to argue that Jews are universalists in general. Jews are peculiar universalists in that their universal arguments circle back to their Jewishness. Having said that, Palestinians who argue a universal sensibility, even those famed universalist Palestinians like the late Edward Said, are much more complicated then they appear or think themselves to be. Whether it’s from a long history or their experience with displacement, occupation, exile and diaspora, Palestinians have a healthy sense of their own particularity. Jews have a strong sense of historic destiny. So do Palestinians.
Is there way forward that honors Jewish and Palestinian particularity and broadens into – also – a shared destiny? After Gaza, a full Two-State political reality seems to be the first step forward. That is nowhere to be seen. However, at no time in the history of Israel-Palestine have we been further from the One-State reality Pappe and others envision. The One-State we have is Israel controlling all of Palestine from Tel Aviv to the Jordan River. All negotiations, including the ones that are beginning anew now, accept that fact. Even the ten year truce that Hamas has offered Israel, assumes Israel’s control of Palestine. Of course, such a truce with Gaza would have ramifications for Jerusalem and the West Bank. Knowing what Jerusalem and the West Bank look like today, with the hundreds of thousands Israel settlers already in place along with the infrastructure this demands – what Jeff Halper calls the “matrix of control” – imagine what is supposed to be part of the Palestinian state would like in a decade.
Thus the Palestinian Nakba, the catastrophe, will continue well beyond Gaza. Over the coming months a call for Israel to tried for war crimes will gain momentum. It’s likely as well that some form of the Kerry initiative will be reintroduced. But that formula, though never officially detailed, in its broad articulation only sought a finalized autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank. Jerusalem and Gaza were hardly mentioned. The idea might be to extend the Palestinian Authority’s presence into Gaza, eliminating Hamas and the elements that even Hamas cannot control. Yet that would only extend the range of limited autonomy. Israel – with the United States, Egypt and Jordan – would be calling the Palestinian shots. Few outside the rarefied atmosphere of empire control think that the Kerry initiative has a chance to regain momentum and fewer believe that this would be anything but stopgap for a future reckoning.
Israel’s plan is to delay that reckoning by periodically invading and bombing Palestinians into oblivion. Israel’s plan is to traumatize a nation so to their submission becomes the only way out. War crimes trial or not, the powers that count on the global scene have little appetite for international law governing their decisions. During the Gaza war, even with late condemnation of some of Israel’s air strikes, America kept providing Israel with arms and munitions. This was true for the United Kingdom as well. Any leverage with regard to Israel was given away at that moment and, of course, that assurance had to have been given in advance. Should it only be Israel brought up on war crimes or should the United States and the United Kingdom be brought to the The Hague as well?
The reckoning has to include international actors like the United Nations, the NGOs that serve the Palestinian people and the churches that have spoken out during this emergency and at difficult times in the past. They all have failed to protect the Palestinian people and their moral outrage has fallen on deaf ears. Or rather, their moral outrage has been shared around the world – to no affect. Condemning Israeli actions, calling for the enforcement of international law, invoking our common humanity and seeking the protection of God, again all have failed. With Gaza soon to be rebuilt – once again – and life there to be resumed under some form of blockade and occupation – once again, resuming life as it was, under the same code of conduct and with the same appeals, condemns Gaza and Palestine in general to the cycle of occupation, violence and invasion. After Gaza, it is time to ask whether the United Nations, the NGOs and the churches aren’t enablers of Israel’s occupation and Palestine’s demise.
It can be at times that one’s investment in humanitarian work runs against the very goals humanitarian work seeks to attain. Arguing for rights while being dependent on Israel for approving personnel and protecting property may in actuality trump the mission itself. Even the fierce debate on divestment that the Presbyterian Church conducted right before the invasion – a debate that BDS supporters won by a handful of votes – was shadowed by the refusal of the church to sacrifice anything for the solidarity they professed. Just over a hundred million dollars of divested stocks were at issue while the overall portfolio of the church was in the billions. And, let it be said, even the supporters of the BDS resolution emphasized over and over again that the divested stock would not cause a loss in the churches portfolio. Commitment without sacrifice doesn’t go very far. Soon after the BDS victory, Israel was in Gaza and the Presbyterian Church fell silent. When it did speak out it was in the broadest of international law generalities.
No matter the course that war crimes against Israel takes over the next months, Palestinians and their supporters should understand that these paths are only levers in the attempt to get Israel to somewhat loosen its overall control of Palestinian population centers in the West Bank and Gaza. This is the sad truth about BDS as well – a truth that its supporters, including Ilan Pappe either don’t understand or are reluctant to speak in public about. BDS should be seen as a lever, like international law, to loosen Israeli control. For the moment that control is loosened or appears to loosen, the United States and Europe will move to protect Israel and offer some form of Palestinian autonomy. There is no way, no matter what Israel does, that the nation-state powerbrokers will abandon Israel as a state or discipline it in a manner that allows real Palestinian freedom.
Thus while the calls for action, like this YWCA Palestine call, are strong, they are rear-guard actions. They are levers to restrain Israel’s domination not forge Palestinian freedom:
This is five‐year‐old Hajar Muharram. Look into her eyes. She is from Beit Lahya, one of the towns where the residents were forced to evacuate their homes due to bombing. Her family got one of those courtesy missile knocks on the roof telling them they had 58 seconds to leave. Hajar and her family of seven fled their home and have since joined hundreds of other Palestinians taking refuge in a United Nations school which is being used as a shelter. But shelters are not guaranteed safe places; over 8 UNWRA schools/shelters have been bombed. Look into her eyes for this may be the last time if her school is targeted.
Children are bearing the brunt of this newest offensive military bombardment. Since July 8, over 430 children have been deliberately killed in Gaza with over 2,878 more injured. In addition there are over 373,000 more who require psycho‐social support. There is no post‐traumatic stress syndrome because the trauma is ongoing. If Hajar survives she will be one more child in need of this support. Look into her eyes and see what has happened to her home or neighborhood.
Over 485,000 people have been forcibly displaced which is almost one third of the Gaza population as a result of Israel’s latest military offensive against Gaza. Many of them were refugees from 1948 or have grown up in one of Gaza’s refugee camps. Their homes in the camps have been targets. Hajar in Arabic means “emigrated” but there is nothing voluntary about her displacement. The legal term for this is forced transfer. The term on the streets is ethnic cleansing.
We believe that the international community has the legal and moral responsibility to protect the Palestinian population living under Israeli occupation and that it must hold Israel accountable regarding its severe violations of international humanitarian law. Lack of accountability will continue to fuel Israeli atrocities and crimes. We must move past moral outrage to direct action to demand Israel to end collective punishment of civilians. This is the year of solidarity with Palestine. Stand with us and stand up to Israel’s impunity. In addition to ending this military occupation against the State of Palestine here are things you can do:
• Call for a durable, comprehensive and mutually agreed upon ceasefire agreement which secures facilitation and access to humanitarian aid and opening of borders to and from Gaza; lift the siege on Gaza;
• Call for Palestinian leaders and UN Security Council to refer the situation in Gaza to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC);
• Support the YWCA’s advocacy project Fabric of Our Lives which supports refugee and internally displaced people’s rights including the Right of Return;
• Join the worldwide BDS movement as a tool for accountability and ending impunity especially sanctions like weapon and trade embargos.
Let Us Join Forces to End this Occupation
Who can deny this plea and the rational legal and moral argument found within and outside of the lines. For those who seek justice, the plea is unassailable. But the world powers rarely think ethically, they think geo-politically. Translated into politics, the ethics contained in the Y’s action alert become limited.
What about the other enablers of this assault on Gaza, those who through word and lobbying encouraged the invasion of Gaza and vilified those who tried to stop it? The list is long and includes people from various backgrounds. It includes barely known columnists and international luminaries. It includes the noted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
If truth be known it includes an overwhelming number of Israelis and Jews around the world. It includes Jewish identity that now embraces a violence rarely embodied by Jews in history. Violence is defining us as a people. It is defining what others think of Jews around the world.
Today, when people hear Holocaust, they think Gaza. This is less about comparing the two events – such a comparison trivializes the innocent victims of the Holocaust and the innocent victims of Gaza. Rather, the image of the Holocaust correctly cautions people around the world that the suffering of innocents is to be avoided and opposed. To do what Israel did in Gaza – ostensibly in the name of protecting Israel against a Hamas-led Holocaust – is to appropriately call Jewish symbols to the fore. It is to call Jewish history to account.
The Jewish issue is not only about Israel. It is about the garnering of Jewish resources – philanthropy, religious and intellectual – toward the projection and enabling of power. After the Holocaust, the issue of Jewish empowerment came to a head and appropriately so. But soon that empowerment was being used for more than self-protection. After Gaza, we know where that power has led Jews. While Jews should be afforded some kind of independent Jewish empowerment, the type and scope of Jewish empowerment has been called into question. It is an issue in need of deep consideration.
Such consideration represents a beginning. Jews have chosen to symbolize their empowerment in the state of Israel. For better and worse that state will remain and be defined as a Jewish state. Yet as in other states, the majority of the state’s population hardly controls the policies of the state. World Jewry has even less to say about Israel’s policies.
The issue is simple yet endlessly complex. The state of Israel claims to speak and act on behalf of all Jews – yet the vast majority of Jews have little or nothing to say about Israel’s domestic and foreign policies. Even the Jewish establishment in the United States that supports Israel has little or nothing to say about what Israel does and does not do. Yet Jews are increasingly defined within the context of Israel’s actions.
During Israel’s invasion of Gaza this rang true. In France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents were reported. In some cases Jews were targeted because they are Jews. Even in progressive movements, at least on the fringes, anti-Semitism can be found. Though these incidents rarely threaten Jewish life and in no way resemble aspects of the horrific past in Europe, the rise in anti-Semitism testifies to a deep ambivalence about Jews on the world stage. Israeli policies exaggerate this ambivalence but it would be foolish to see Israel as anti-Semitism’s sole cause.
Nonetheless, it is for Jews to chart our own destiny.
What is that destiny? Could it be that after a long history of contribution and suffering Jews are destined to become conquerors, building and maintaining a modern-day Sparta?
After Gaza, it seems likely this will be the road taken.
Some say that such a view as I take is a political and organizational downer. It might lead to apathy and thus encourage Israel and prolong the suffering of Palestinians. But the remedies offered that are less than honest and, for now, unrealizable, create an illusion of progress where none will be found.
After Gaza, the truth hurts. It has to. It is only when we come together in that truth that a way through might be found. Such a way will not be found now and when it is found it will be too late. Jews know this lateness all too well.