Standing with my Muslim neighbors in the wake of Jerusalem and Gaza

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, The Cap Times, May 17, 2018


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14, 2018, left, and on the same day, Palestinians in Gaza City carry the body of Mousab Abu Leila, who was killed during a protest at the border of Israel and Gaza. Netanyahu praised the inauguration of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem as a “great day for peace,” as dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Gaza amidst ongoing clashes. (AP Photo)

As I watched the glitz and glamour of the celebration marking President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, I was filled with shame. The backdrop of Israeli and American flags emblazoned with “Thank You President Trump” smacked of self-righteousness and complacency. One political leader after another emphasized his or her unwavering support for Israel without regard for Palestinian rights or sovereignty. Two evangelical pastors invited to bless the celebration had long public records of vilifying Muslims and Jews, among many others. As a rabbi I felt deeply shaken; this spectacle was a violation of everything I believe in.

As I watched, scenes of the Israeli military firing live ammunition on protesters in Gaza flashed across my screen. On this one day, May 14, the military killed 58 Palestinians and injured thousands. The excessive and lethal force against protesters who posed no imminent threat to Israeli soldiers or civilians was chilling. Palestinian leaders explained why they were protesting in the Great March of Return: Israel’s military siege was strangling their economy, making every aspect of their lives intolerable. They wanted the world to know that 70 years ago their people became refugees as Jews, many of them refugees themselves, established the state of Israel.

While most American Jewish organizations rejoiced at the Embassy move and defended the killings in Gaza, I sensed that many American Jews were not so sure. After all, we overwhelmingly distrust President Trump and oppose every move of his presidency, from the Muslim ban to anti-immigrant legislation to support for the NRA to stripping the poor of what’s left of a meager safety net. That he panders to antisemitic white supremacist groups and aligns himself with the Christian right’s anti-woman platform only fuels our disgust.

We recognize that Jerusalem is a city of many faiths, filled with religious sites that are sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. By moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the United States and Israel have destroyed Palestinian aspirations that it could be the shared capital of both peoples, and Trump has sent a clear message: He is opposed to brokering a just and viable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

To fully appreciate why Palestinians are protesting in Gaza, we must try to comprehend the humanitarian disaster on this tiny strip of land that is home to 2 million Palestinians. Gaza is an open-air prison. Israel controls its borders, allowing very few people or goods in or out. As the unemployment rate soars over 40 percent, despair runs deep. Three wars have pounded the Strip to dust, destroying its basic infrastructure. Now, most people enjoy just a few hours of electricity a day. Hospitals are gravely short on medications and supplies. Most Palestinians do not have access to clean drinking water. In just two years, according to the United Nations, their one source of water will be depleted.

Our leaders refuse to listen. Instead, they celebrate the Embassy’s move to Jerusalem and defend Israel’s disproportionate response in Gaza. But we must recognize this for the hubris it is. As the Hebrew Bible teaches, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”

As the holy month of Ramadan begins for my Muslim neighbors and friends, please know that many Jews stand with you. We refuse to be silent in the wake of the Embassy move and Gaza killings. We hold the Israeli government responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. We embrace a vision of a shared Jerusalem as we honor your religious traditions.

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman is rabbi with Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison.

These Members of Congress Are Trying to Visit Gaza — Israel Should Let Them Do So

Representatives Mark Pocan, Dan Kildee, and Hank Johnson Jr. were denied the opportunity to witness conditions on the ground firsthand

John Nichols, The Nation, 5/14/18

Gaza masacre nakba may2018A Palestinian demonstrator shouts during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border on May 14, 2018. (Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

The Trump administration’s response to the killings of dozens of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli soldiers was to fault the organizers of mass demonstrations by people who are living in nightmarish conditions on the Gaza Strip. While a White House spokesman claimed that “the responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” the man Donald Trump has charged with renewing the Middle East peace process, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, literally faulted protesters amid reports of the mass killing and wounding of Palestinian men, women, and children who were objecting to Israeli policies. “As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” Kushner claimed at a ceremony marking the opening of the new United States embassy in Jerusalem.

But responsible members of Congress—many of them with long experience observing the Middle East—saw the circumstances more clearly, and responded in more realistic terms.

    “This is horrific.”
    — Barbara Lee on the killings of Palestinians this Monday

Noting the juxtaposition of the embassy opening and the killings, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) tweeted: “This is horrific. My prayers are with those killed & injured in Gaza. The U.S. should be laying the groundwork for peace—not fueling conflict in the region with an unnecessary & counterproductive embassy move.”

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) decried the “occupation and oppression of Palestinians” and wrote that Trump-administration policies “are fueling conflict, abandoning diplomatic efforts to achieve peace.”

#RightofReturn

War on Want, May 14, 2018

Palestinians in Gaza are gathering to demand their collective rights, including their Right of Return. As we commemorate 70 years since the Nakba, when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes, it is crucial that we learn about, talk about, and campaign for the right of return for refugees, as a key element of the struggle for justice and human rights for Palestinians and for all.

Judith Laitman and Tsela Barr: On Israel’s 70th anniversary, we remember the Nakba

In this Wednesday, April 4, 2018, file photo, Palestinian protesters wave flags in front of Israeli soldiers on Gaza’s border with Israel near Beit Lahiya. (ADEL HANA, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Judith Laitman and Tsela Barr, Jewish Voice for Peace – Madison Chapter, May 3, 2018

This month, Jews around the world are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel.

These celebrations reflect the gratitude of Jews who view Israel as the symbol of freedom from centuries of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust.

We are Jews who will not be celebrating. The reason lies in a tragic irony: While Israel was intended as a safe haven for dispossessed Jews, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced to make room for the future state of Israel. In fact, Palestinians were forced out through a deliberate policy of expulsion and terrorism in order to create an exclusive homeland for Jews.

This Palestinian exodus is known as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, to Palestinians. And as Israelis celebrate May 14 as Independence Day, Palestinians commemorate May 15 as Nakba Day.

In the period before and after Israel’s official creation in 1948, an estimated 13,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces or terrorist gangs. Five hundred and thirty-one Palestinian villages were destroyed and depopulated. During a period of a few months, according to Israeli historian Benny Morris, 34 massacres of Palestinians occurred. As a result, 731,000 Palestinians fled.

Sadly, things only deteriorated from there. In the 1948 war, Israel annexed more Palestinian land. And, although Palestine was allotted 45 percent of Israel-Palestine in 1947, a year later it held only 22 percent.

In 1967, following the Six-Day War, Israel began its occupation of the remaining Palestinian territory, including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. That occupation continues to this day, and it is brutal.

In fact, since 1967, Israel has:

    • Demolished nearly 50,000 Palestinian homes because they were built without the permission of Israel’s occupying army.

    • Destroyed 800,000 Palestinian olive trees (a symbol of life and peace to Palestinians).

    • Built Jewish-only settlements, including roads not open to Palestinians, covering 42 percent of the West Bank.

    • Confiscated 35 percent of the land in East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements.

Israel also maintains a complete blockade of Gaza, inflicting severe collective punishment on this densely populated area of 1.8 million people. Since 2008, it has conducted three devastating attacks on Gaza, allegedly in self-defense, causing the deaths of thousands of civilians and massive infrastructure damage.

Today more than 96 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable, and many Gazans only have access to electricity for four hours a day. And Israel has consistently limited the ability of Gazans to rebuild.

Most recently, Gazans have organized a huge protest called the Great Return March. These protests began on March 30 and will continue until May 15, Nakba Day. Although the protests have been mainly peaceful, some demonstrators threw rocks, and some burned tires to make it harder for Israeli forces to shoot at them. Israel responded with deadly force. To date, Israeli snipers have killed dozens of unarmed protesters, including two journalists, and injured more than 5,000. According to Amnesty International, Israeli forces are using military bullets designed to do maximum and irreversible damage.

The Great Return March is about the right to live in dignity and the right of Palestinians to return to their land. Under the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person has this right.

But Israel has never accepted this human right as a basis for peace negotiations, whether by return or compensation. In the years after 1948, the Israeli government passed laws preventing Palestinians from returning to their homes or even claiming their property. Any peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis depends on recognizing this right.

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