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Gaza and the American awakening

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The seven week war on Gaza is theoretically over though Israeli forces continue limited incursions into the beleaguered and bombed out strip of coastal land and over 11,000 wounded and 100,000 homeless pick through the rubble of their lives, mourn their dead children, and survive hungry on the generosity of overstretched international aid. The headlines are all Abbas and airstrikes in Syria and Netanyahu declaring without a shred of credible evidence that ISIS is Hamas and Hamas is ISIS. Even more invisible are the ongoing land grabs, continued Jewish settlement growth, and arrests and killings of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Exploding the façade of political quiet, 43 reserve members of a top level Israeli intelligence group, IDF Unit 8200, recently released a letter stating their refusal to be part of any military operations that target Palestinians or enforce the ongoing brutal occupation.  These soldiers expressed concern about the lack of oversight or restraint when it comes to spying on Palestinians, the lack of distinction between the guilty or innocent, the surveillance of an entire population and the societal damage that this inflicts, as well as the perversion of the court system when evidence is entirely suspect. Echoing the words and actions of Edward Snowden, these bravely outspoken Jewish Israelis are calling attention to the mostly silent catastrophe that is present in all of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This is certainly consistent with my findings during a three week fact finding visit to Israel and the West Bank in June 2014, where I bore witness to the hunger strike of Palestinians lost in endless administrative detention (no charges, no legal protections), the many doctors, veterinarians, professors, poets, farmers, and students who had done time in Israeli jails, often without any charges or trials. I stayed in villages and refugee camps invaded by buses of heavily armed Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night, breaking into people’s homes, dragging off teenage boys accused of throwing stones at the eight meter high separation wall that constricts their lives or at military jeeps that crawl ominously through their villages at all hours of the day and night. Soldiers ransacked schools and threatened religious leaders; the smell of tear gas was everywhere. Arrested children were routinely interrogated in jails without parents or lawyers present; Palestinian human rights organizations like Adameer have documented that children are frequently abused, the torture is all psychological: prolonged sleeplessness, threats to harm family members, promises of release in exchange for more names.  Thus an army of teenage collaborators has been created and these children return home traumatized, fearful, often refusing to attend school, suffering bedwetting and psychological damage for years. The medical and human rights literature documents that destroying the safety of childhood and the possibility of hope and a productive future can be no better plan to create a militant opposition that has nothing left to lose.

Then there is the complex, tightly controlled system of permits and checkpoints that make travel from Jenin in the northern West Bank to Hebron in the south a time consuming nightmare, let alone a visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. The experience of sitting endlessly in long lines of checkpoint traffic backed up for miles or waiting on line to squeeze through the narrow turn stiles at Qalandia checkpoint, only to face a 20 year old fresh faced soldier peering through thick bullet-proof glass, welding power over thousands of men, women and children trying to get to school or work or family is powerful. How can a viable economy develop when everything from fresh tomatoes to CT equipment is subject to obstructions and delays? How does a people who never know if and when they will get to their fields or their factories, schools, weddings, or elderly grandmother who has a doctor’s appointment stay sane?  I spent hours interviewing a group of incredibly bright, articulate medical students at Al Quds University who found themselves outside Jerusalem when the separation wall was built (through their campus) and now many of them cannot get permits to train in the tertiary level hospitals in East Jerusalem. Adding to this insult, the Israeli Medical Association refuses to recognize the students’ hard heard medical degrees, while these same students come to Harvard on exchange programs and perform perfectly well in rotations at Mass General, Beth Israel Deaconess, and the Brigham.

Although the media has largely turned its gaze elsewhere, the war in Gaza has forced more of these kinds of contradictions to become painfully obvious to liberal Jews in the US. While the Israeli government talks about “pinpoint strikes” and “unprovoked attacks from Hamas” it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the massive destruction of the Gazan infrastructure, hospitals, schools, government buildings, UN facilities, homes.  With more than 60 Israelis dead and a Jewish population fearful of the ever increasing reach of the primitive Qassam rockets, it is time to ask if three devastating attacks on Gaza in six years and a policy of periodically “mowing the lawn” is a long-term strategy that leads to an end to Palestinian resistance and a secure Israel.

Major media outlets and progressive organizations have begun an agonized debate amongst liberal Jews about the future of Zionism and the viability of the two state solution given the on-the-ground realities and Kerry’s spring negotiating debacle. Perhaps the recent level of horror produced by the invasion and bombing of Gaza is waking people up to the inherent contradictions between Zionism and democracy and the bankruptcy of US backed Israeli policy. At this point the need to give up Jewish privilege and power over another people, not only because it is undemocratic and morally indefensible but also because it is not “good for the Jews” may become a real possibility.  Perhaps there will be a tipping point where a real sharing of land and resources for both peoples based on human rights for everyone will become a project US Jews can honestly sustain. Then the possibility for real democracy in Israel and a peaceful future for Palestinians will be something that everyone but the most recalcitrant right wing elements on all sides can support.

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author and filmmaker who has just published: On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the Gaza Invasion, Just World Books. The book relates her trip to Palestine in great detail. This piece is not an excerpt from the book. 

Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997. She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. Follow her at @alicerothchild

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7 Responses

  1. just on September 20, 2014, 5:40 pm

    Thank you Alice. You’ve penned a great article. You’ve done so much good work for justice and for life.

    “Perhaps the recent level of horror produced by the invasion and bombing of Gaza is waking people up to the inherent contradictions between Zionism and democracy and the bankruptcy of US backed Israeli policy.”

    I hope that this comes true with resounding and lasting certainty. You wrote “Perhaps”……and that is where we are, sadly. Further toward some more awakening accompanied by ever more shrill and panicked pushback that a lot of folks are, at last, wise to. Thus far only 3 of 535 in Congress have come forward to say that Israel’s siege of Gaza should be lifted. The silence from Capitol Hill and 1600 Penn Ave. is deafening. What noise we hear wrt P/I from those locations are the same old memes.

    Still, I won’t let it discourage me. I am ever hopeful and steadfast in the quest for justice for the Palestinian people. Conversations are being had, and the impunity with which Israel has practiced horrific crimes up until now is being questioned by more than a handful of people all over this world.

    Thanks again Alice.

  2. gracie fr on September 21, 2014, 2:48 pm

    It’s the colonialism they hate, not Jews
    Most Europeans do not doubt the Jews’ right to an independent state, but they vehemently object to a reality in which we are keeping masses of people under occupation and consciously trampling their basic rights.
    Over time, there has been increasing hatred of Israel’s refusal to recognize the Palestinians’ equal right to a state of their own. This is how the failure of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace talks are being understood. The Israeli right sees the Jews as the sole masters of the land. However, this use of naked force is arousing disgust in the Western world. The notion that the entire land belongs to the Jews and they are, therefore, allowed to steal the Palestinians’ lands and annex East Jerusalem, along with other large swaths of the West Bank, is indicative of the behavior of a nation of masters – and in our time this is totally unacceptable.
    The West’s political elite is not speaking out openly against Israeli colonialism, for fear of encouraging the anti-Semitic monster. But at the universities and in the schools, in the media and on social networks, they are already saying this explicitly: It is untenable that the Jewish past serve as a justification for cruelty in the Palestinian present.

  3. EliStern on September 21, 2014, 7:19 pm

    American awakening, or a liberal Jewish awakening?

    • Mooser on September 22, 2014, 3:47 pm

      “American awakening, or a liberal Jewish awakening?”

      Shhh. Go back to sleep.

  4. Bobster1985 on September 21, 2014, 9:06 pm

    Unfortunately, the most recalcitrant right wing elements are currently running the government in Israel. And that seem to reflect the will of a majority of Israelis. It’s going to take much worse than the Gaza massacres to get American Jews to abandon their denial of reality and turn against the “Zionist dream” which has become a nightmare. Believe me, I’ve run into that brick wall here. For most American Jews, their identity has become so intertwined with Israel that it’s going to take a major shock to change things.

    • Mooser on September 22, 2014, 3:50 pm

      ” For most American Jews, their identity has become so intertwined with Israel that it’s going to take a major shock to change things”

      It seems like it will have to be some kind of personal shock, if not even Protective Edge can disturb their equanimity.

  5. Helena Cobban on September 22, 2014, 1:36 pm

    New Yorkers should know that Alice will be reading from her great new book On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the Gaza Invasion</a on Tuesday night (9/23), 7 pm, at Revolution Books, 146 W. 26th St, NYC–at 7th Ave.

    Come if you can– and tell all your friends!

    If you can’t make it, you can watch the event by Livestream, at this link. If you don’t already have an account with, you’ll just need to set one up as you sign on. It is easy and free and takes 20 seconds.

    Plus, of course, we’re hoping that everyone loves the book as much as Phil Weiss and its other early readers do! You can see their fab reactions to the book, here. Tell all your friends about this wonderful new resource! And if you’d like to invite Alice to come and talk about it for your community group, congregation, or college class, give us a holler!!

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