The author read these words at a rally in downtown Chicago yesterday in solidarity with Gaza.
On the eve of Passover, Israeli snipers fired into Gaza, killing 18 people and wounding hundreds of others. Since then, Israel and the Jewish community have been debating the details. How many of the victims were armed? What weapons might they have been carrying? Why did Israel respond to any of the Palestinian protesters with such deadly force?
The center-left Israel lobby group, J St blamed both sides for the death of the protestors, while the right wing lobby group AIPAC blamed the Palestinians only. The leftwing Jewish Voice of Peace (of which I am a member) held Israel acountable for the killings. Major Jewish religious organizations such as the Union for Reform Judaism, which regularly issue communiques on Israel, were noticeably silent.
Most of these responses are entirely predictable.
Undoubtedly, the people who lost their lives deserve no less than a full accounting. Urgent steps must be taken to prevent further loss of life. The internationally acclaimed Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem, has called on Israeli snipers to refuse orders to shoot Palestinian demonstrators with live ammunition.
However, I think focusing on the violence misses the point. It shifts the focus to Israel and to a particular incident, but this is about the Palestinians and a story that is 70 years old and more.
In every liberation story there is violence. From “bombs bursting in air” to the Death of the Firstborn, nations are born in violence. While the Torah and the Seder acknowledge the loss of life and suffering on both sides, the Passover story keeps its focus on the larger story of liberation from bondage, the victory of justice and the possibility of being remembered even after generations of enslavement and hopelessness.
The Passover story is the story of Gaza today.
Gaza is a forgotten land. It is dying a slow death in “a manmade humanitarian disaster” at the hands of Israel. And yet, now the Gazans have risen up and are demanding their liberty. That is the story.
More importantly, the violence in Gaza is mostly inflicted by Israel. The loss of drinking water, electrical power, medicines and the constant threat of aerial and artillery bombardment have left half the children of Gaza in need of psychological counseling.
In the face of systemic violence and oppression, the Palestinian political mobilization is remarkable.
This Palestinian story of liberation places particular demands on Jews since Israel and the established Jewish organizations claim to speak for all Jews, including us.
Traditionally, the 7 weeks following the Passover seder are a period of mourning, reflection, and spiritual growth leading up to the holiday of Shavuot in the middle of May. This year, this seven week period coincides with the Palestinian mass protests leading up to the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, (the catastrophe of the destruction of Palestinian through the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948). Over 750,000 Palestinians were exiled from their homes, many of them to Gaza. Their grandchildren did not forget. They are rising. The events of the weeks to come will likely increase in intensity. Sadly, more people will die a violent death.
Our grief and outrage are appropriate.
But the call is for the bigger picture.
On the eve of Passover, I was deeply moved by the sight of tens of thousands of Palestinian families gathering in protest. They confronted their oppressors with their simple courage to gather in public and make their case to Israel and the world.
Israel chose to respond with lethal violence.
What will our response be?