On Gaza

I don’t think of myself as a political blogger, but when things get really REAL in Israel and Palestine I feel the need to weigh in. You see, I’ve lived and worked in that conflict zone.* I’ve seen at least some of what that reality looks like, and I feel a responsibility to comment.

The trouble is, I tend to have a firm rule about political speech online: If you have nothing thoughtful to say, keep your mouth (fingers? keyboard?) shut. I’m not sure I have anything especially useful to add even now, but there are things I need to say. They’ve been percolating for a while, but this piece made me say them. After all, I’m supposed to speak now.

Well, technically last week, but I was still thinking.

First, let me say this: I want everyone (EVERYONE, without condition) to be okay. I want them to have the same freedoms and opportunities I have and an honest chance to be the people they want to be. And my initial gut reaction to the last few weeks’ worth of news from Israel and Palestine is a deep sadness.

Then, I saw that piece on a trusted friend’s Facebook feed, and I couldn’t let it go. Part of it was jealousy, I’m sure, given that it’s a really well-written piece. It’s smart and passionate and specific and witty. It says something different, and it says it well.To those who’ve waited for Israeli airstrikes to begin protesting, despite an escalation in rocket fire Gaza, Eylon Aslan-Levy has this advice:

When you say that violence is not the solution, many in Israel will agree with you, but everyone will want to know where you were yesterday, and why you only just remembered you care about crying children when it’s Palestinian children shedding the tears.

And of course he’s right: If we call ourselves humanitarians, we have to live into the fullness of those values. And the truth is, I don’t want anyone to die. I don’t want anyone to run from rockets and bombs and white phosphorous. Not the people in Beit Lahiya and not the people in Ashkelon. And it’s important to be clear about that. I may support some national aims more than others, but I value human life equally.

On a more practical level, he points out that if your real aim is to decrease violence–and not just assuage your own conscience–it helps to consider your audience. “You won’t be able to convince Israel to hold its fire when it’s clear that you don’t care about its people,” Aslan-Levy says. And he’s right. However I may feel about the power dynamics in the conflict, I’m pretty sure I would mentally kidney punch anyone who lectured me on morality while ignoring my own legitimate fear.

After all, it’s not that I have any qualms about condemning rocket fire. I can’t condone random violence that could just as easily kill workers at Gisha as it could active members of the military. If there’s any justice in acts of war, targeted action is the basis of that justice.

But. (Let’s be honest. You knew there was a but.) I don’t know what I would do if people happily ignored my existence until I’d become a “terrorist threat.” And we all do it. When things are quiet, Gaza disappears. We forget about the Israeli blockade and wide-scale human suffering when there’s no war story. We forget about the raw sewage that’s flooding neighborhoods and seeping into the sea–perhaps the single greatest metaphor for interconnectedness in this conflict, regardless of how we assign blame.

Aslan-Levy also ignores the reasons people like me tend to be so vocal about Palestine and feel little need to defend Israelis: It feels like Israel has plenty of defenders here. I don’t know that it needs more. I’m certain the Palestinians do.

So what I’m saying is this: Let’s all call for a cooling off period. Let’s all call for a ceasefire on all death and destruction. Seriously. Right now. But what happens when everyone cools off and realizes none of the underlying problems have changed? We can’t pretend this conflict will shift without a complete toppling of the status quo. We can’t pretend this won’t happen again.

This piece does a better job dealing with that sense of inevitability (“War Season,” he calls it). Meanwhile, Jewish Voice for Peace has responded to the violence with an Open Letter campaign that you can join here. Or, if that language is a bit pro-Palestinian for your taste, J Street has also issued a statement on the conflict and offered options for engagement.

I’ll also be giving to the American Friends of the Diocese of Jerusalem in support of the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza.** American Friends of UNRWA is another organization worth supporting, especially since refugees make up most of Gaza’s population. Either way, you’ll help meet some pretty desperate emergency needs through trusted organizations.

This conflict is messy and hard and entrenched, but it’s not hopeless. Even when it feels that way.

 

 

*Roughly 2.5 years, minus many long trips home and a two-month Jordanian exile. Yes, there’s a story there.

**From the AFEDJ’s e-newsletter:

Gaza Update

Reports from around the world show a mounting death toll in Gaza, and no end in sight. The Egyptian government, often a mediator in Israeli/Hamas confrontations, remains silent and has sealed the tunnels and borders. Humanitarian aid is not getting in and those suffering in Gaza have to rely on their own resources to aid the wounded and feed their children.

While many governments and the Christian Patriarchs in Jerusalem have called for calm, negotiation and respect, the way forward is far from clear. Latest word is that a ground attack is still a possibility.

How much more can the civilian population endure? They face polluted water, extremely limited power supply, shortages of everything from medical supplies to building materials.

And through it all, Al Ahli Hospital and its heroic staff treat those in need with compassion and skill.

AFEDJ can get funds to the Hospital. They can purchase fuel, food, and whatever medical supplies are available. It’s possible to do something to address the need and do it now. Pray, stay current and support those suffering in a desperate situation.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Anne K. Lynn, President

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