About a week ago I received an email message from a friend who lives in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The email was heartbreaking:
I am surrounded by firing on all sides of my house. We have no water or electricity and no phones and my children are thirsty. I am scared to death to take a cup of coffee for fear that my children won’t have any water to prevent dehydration. Sunday afternoon we decided to fast the second day.
Homelessness waits me around the corner or maybe in another five minutes, and that I was once homeless before. Even when going to bed where the fire ceases, I start to imagine from where the bullet will come, from this window, this door or that wall. Or a bomb will destroy the wall and where the bullet will go to my head, chest arms or any part of my body. Even I started to think of my children who will be killed and what will happen if I was killed.
I have not been able to get his words out of my head. They have haunted me over the past week. What he faces reminds me of Ani DiFranco’s song “School Night”:
what of the mother
whose house is in flames
and both of her children
are in their beds crying
and she loves them both
with the whole of her heart
but she knows she can only
carry one at a time?
she’s choking on the smoke
of unthinkable choices
she is haunted by the voices
of so many desires
she’s bent over from the business
of begging forgiveness
while frantically running around
putting out fires
But in Gaza it is so much worse. And every family faces this. His email came to me after a barrage of attacks all over Gaza, but on Jabaliya refugee camp in particular. One report on the situation in Jabaliya described it as follows:
East Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip bore the brunt of Israel’s latest military incursion into Gaza. The incursion, which was launched in the early hours of Thursday 28 February and lasted four days and nights. In that time Israeli troops killed 108 Palestinians, including 54 unarmed civilians, 26 of whom were children. The Palestinians who live in and around Abed Rabbo Street in east Jabaliya suffered intense air strikes by F-16 planes and helicopters, tank shelling, snipers, and having their houses invaded and vandalized by Israeli soldiers, who tied adults up with ropes, or else locked whole families into single rooms in order to use their homes as sniper towers to target local Palestinian fighters. Sixteen-year-old Jacqueline Abu Shbak and her fourteen year old brother, Iyad, both lived on Abed Rabbo Street with their mother and three other young brothers and sisters. The children’s uncle, Hatem Hosni Abu Shbak, who lives next door, found the bodies of Jacqueline and Iyad in the early hours of Saturday 1 March, when he rushed upstairs after hearing intense shooting and then screaming.
On the heels of this incessant attack on Gaza, was also continued kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank. Four Palestinians were assassinated by Israeli commandos who entered the West Bank town of Bethlehem in plain clothes and opened fire on a car with four men inside. Their bodies were shredded to pieces of flesh by the end of the attack. Over 20,000 people mourned their loss in Manger Square. Kristen Ess’ report on Flashpoints is particularly chilling as she describes the details of this horrific assassination. These are but two episodes. They are daily occurrences. They are indicative of Israel’s gross violations of international law. Of the Geneva Conventions. Of the United Nations. The only bright glimmer of hope came when an Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) chopper was hit when it was flying over Gaza.
No one speaks about this situation in the U.S. All political leaders and presidential candidates are either silent, complicit, or encouraging Israel in its genocide of Palestinians. Its new phase of ethnic cleansing in a decades long plan to forcibly remove Palestinians from their land. Only Ralph Nader remains diligent in his commitment to international law and human rights for people in Gaza.
Very few people, particularly in the U.S., have responded to or commented on or acted against Israel and its deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai’s threat directed at Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip with a “holocaust.” Laila El-Haddad describes this phenomenon of the Gaza genocide:
But the real genocide in Gaza cannot or will not be assessed through sheer numbers. It is not a massacre of gas chambers. No.
It is a slow and calculated genocide — a genocide through more calibrated, long-term means. And if the term is used in any context, it should be this. In many ways, this is a more sinister genocide, because it tends to be overlooked: all is ok in Gaza, the wasteland, the hostile territory that is accustomed to slaughter and survival; Gaza, whose people are somehow less human; we should not take note, need not take note, unless there is a mass killing or starvation.
Examples of the Israeli siege on Gaza can be seen on recent reports on Al Jazeera, especially Israeli attacks on children, ambulances, and more.
Given the massive violations of human rights and international law in Gaza, as in the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, one would think that learning more about the situation from first-hand eyewitness accounts would be something that people would gravitate to here in Boise. We had such an opportunity this past week as the Wheels of Justice rolled into town. The Wheels of Justice carries eyewitnesses from Iraq and Palestine on its bus to educate Americans about the dual occupations, both funded and supported by the U.S. government and our tax dollars. I was asked to see if Rabbi Dan Fink would host them as the bus often is invited to churches, schools, mosques, and community groups. Of course, he declined. But not only did he decline their offer to speak to Boise Jews, he also pulled a stunt that was geared towards silencing their invitation to speak at the anti-War rally this week. In his email to the Idaho Peace Coalition he stated:
I would love to take time off on Wednesday to participate in a demonstration marking five years of the Iraq War. I marched with the Idaho Peace Coalition before that war began, and opposed it vocally in the newspaper and from my pulpit. I remain deeply opposed to that war, which I see as an enormous moral and political error by a misguided administration.
But alas, as I read farther, I see that this demonstration against the war in Iraq has another agenda. You note that the principal speakers are from Wheels of Justice. You say that they are “touring the United States giving programs on human rights, peace making, civil rights and plethora of justice issues and concerns facing our Nation.” But what are those programs about? Iraq? American civil rights and liberties? Concerns facing our nation?
No. Just consider the name of the sponsors of this group: the Idaho Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid. Wheels of Justice is here to offer a one-sided, extremely anti-Israeli perspective, a perspective that denies the legitimacy of the Jewish state. In other words, this group and their supporters believe that Iraqis deserve a sovereign state, Saudi Arabians deserve a sovereign state, Americans deserve a sovereign state. . . but Israelis don’t. This is, purely and simply, anti-Semitic nonsense.
I am deeply saddened by your choice of speakers. I would love to speak out against our war in Iraq, as would many (though not all) in the Jewish community. But you have chosen to turn this demonstration into something else, entirely. You have chosen to make it an anti-Zionist rally.
That is a poor choice, indeed.
When you want to speak out against the Iraq war without bashing the Jewish state, please let me know. I’ll stand by your side. Until then, I’ll be protesting your efforts with every ounce of energy that I can muster.
Rabbi Dan Fink
My response to the group was:
I think that this email exchange is instructive. For those of you who are new to the subject of Palestine, this is a typical example of the intense silencing that Zionists like Rabbi Fink attempt to employ in order to cover up the realities of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Rabbi Fink frequently makes overtures about his willingness to discuss the issue of Palestine in public. What he objects to is its public discussion. We would do well to ask why it is that he is unwilling to allow the subject of Palestine to be addressed in a public forum that bills itself as anti-war. Are we only opposed to violations of international law and human suffering when it is somehow safe because most Americans oppose the war? Or are we opposed to all illegal occupations and excessive military violence against innocent civilians?
The Wheels of Justice is indeed an organization that represents human rights workers at their best: people who share stories of their own eyewitness accounts of gross human rights violations under the rubric of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a group that opposes violence on all sides. It is a group that promotes justice in a framework of international law. Are these values that we hold? Because if we do then we must uphold them for all humans, not just Iraqis. Not just Israelis. Not just Americans. Given that we send Israel $3 billion a year to support this illegal occupation and Israel’s gross human rights violations I think that it is absolutely an appropriate event for the Wheels of Justice. The Wheels of Justice is not about “bashing” Israel. But one would also do well to ask why it is that a state and its policies and practices cannot be questioned. What is it that Rabbi Fink wants to hide?
Rabbi Fink’s email makes it clear that what he supports is his continued propaganda campaign. The Idaho Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid, like the Wheels of Justice, is a non-violent organization. Both of these groups promote education and dialogue based on historical evidence and engaging with difficult questions–unlike the Rabbi’s recent and hateful “seminar” called “Making the Case for Israel.” It is true that the Idaho Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid does not support a Jewish state. What we do support is a one state solution that would be a democracy in which all its citizens–Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike–would have equal rights under the law. We do not believe settler colonialism, particularly the violent one that was created by and continued with a policy of ethnic cleansing from David Ben-Gurion to Ehud Olmert, which denies the indigenous population its legitimate rights under international law is an acceptable. We are anti-Zionist because we believe that Zionism is a form of racism. But that does not make us anti-Semitic. Rabbi Fink is strategically blurring the lines between being anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish and being against the racist government of Israel. These are not interchangeable terms. As a Jewish woman I feel strongly in Palestinian human rights. This does not make me anti-Semitic.
I realize that many of you may have a difficult time sifting through the history, the rhetoric, and the debates when it comes to the subject of Palestine as our media gives us so little context for understanding it and it takes a great deal of work to find out about what is really happening on the ground. It becomes even more challenging when we have opportunities to listen to first-hand accounts and those people are silenced by those who feign interest in human rights. We cannot have human rights for some people and not others. We cannot live in a world where some states are given a free pass to violate international law on a daily basis throughout its history with no accountability.
I hope that you all will choose to come and listen to what Mark Turner has to say about Palestine on Wednesday and ask questions of him after the rally. This is the only way we will begin to learn, not by trying to close such important work down.
Dr. Marcy Newman
Fortunately, the Rabbi’s attempt at pushing his racist, Zionist agenda was not effective this time as Mark Turner, the Palestine Speaker on the bus, was able to speak at the rally. Mark, who has spent a lot of time living in Nablus and who helped to found the Research Journalism Initiative there, as well as making the film Ripples Cross, gave an amazing series of presentations with his colleague Salam Talib who is from Iraq. At Boise State University they were spoke at a public event during which Boise folks, I hope, began to see the relationship between the occupation of Iraq and Palestine.
Their presence here was in many ways uplifting. It was especially wonderful to watch them speak to high school audiences and to young children. At the Veterans meeting Mark and Salam moved American veterans to tears. At a local Catholic high school they encouraged young students to be responsible citizens by asking questions and doing research to uncover realities of what is really going on in the world. They were also encouraged to travel to see for themselves so that they could make more informed decisions about conflict zones. This was especially important this week during which Americans acknowledged, mourned, commemorated five years since our most recent invasion of Iraq. So many American peace activists like to use slogans about being lied to by the U.S. government. But Mark and Salam talked about agency and challenging such a presumption. We cannot and should not ever just accept what our media tells us (nor anyone else’s for that matter). We need to do the work that enables us to get closer to the truths, to reality. This is our responsibility as citizens as humans. And once we learn this we can work to stop the genocide and occupation.