As American Jews, we grew up learning to revere Israel, the “Jewish state” — the refuge of the persecuted. We had come to expect that Israel would have a highly developed moral consciousness and a collective awareness of what it means to have another group want to annihilate you. So it is shocking for those of us who grew up with these romantic myths to witness the state of Israel assuming the role of oppressor, of murderer of innocents, of desensitized military annihilator.
And it is even more grotesque for Israel and its defenders to continue to pretend that it is the Israelis who are the victims and that its recent savage assault on Gaza was just a defensive act. Worse yet, if people of conscience even express sympathy for the Palestinian victims, they are accused of anti-Semitism. These tactics purposely obscure the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East — Israel’s rapacious 40-year military occupation of Palestinian lands, and its brutal blockade of Gaza and its 1.5 million inhabitants.
So let us look at the record:
It was Israel that broke the six-month cease-fire with an incursion into Gaza on Nov. 4 in which they killed six Palestinians.
Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza in 2005. But it retained complete control of Gaza’s land borders, airspace, and maritime access, maintaining a blockade that by itself is an act of war. This blockade resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis, even before the recent assault.
The Israeli attacks on Gaza were a violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions, which require an occupying power to protect an occupied population.
In the West Bank, which has committed no aggression toward Israel, Israel continues to expand its settlements, continues to build an illegal wall that divides Palestinian land, continues to destroy the homes of innocent Palestinians on their own land, builds roads that are Jews-only, and subjects Palestinians to daily humiliations and disruptions at hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints.
The Palestinians and the Arab League have made offers of peace that would ensure Israel’s security if it returned to the 1967 borders. This represents major concessions on the part of Palestinians, who in 1948 were mandated 45 percent of Palestine. The 1967 borders give the Palestinians less than half of that. Israel has rejected these offers.
Israel receives $3 billion a year from U.S. taxpayers. Gazans were assaulted by U.S. F-16s and Apache attack helicopters.
One-third of the more than 1,100 people killed in the recent assault on Gaza were children.
Now Israel has called a cease-fire and claimed its “objectives” have been met. Some scholars say these “objectives” relate to an Israeli policy known as “the Iron Wall.” This is a strategy of inflicting such massive pain on the Palestinians that they will either leave or accept their subjugation so that Israel can achieve its goals of a “Greater Israel.” According to Israeli historian Avi Shlaim: “Israel is practicing state terror using violence on a massive scale against Palestinian civilians for political purposes.”
The bombs may be quiet for now, but this is no time for us to be silent. Let us speak out at every opportunity against the oppression — and the terrorism — that continues to go on against the Palestinian people. Life will not return to normal for the victims in Gaza, and it shouldn’t for us either. We must demand a just peace for the Palestinians and an end to the colonial project that is destroying Israel’s soul.
Judith Laitman and Tsela Barr are members of the Madison chapter of American Jews for a Just Peace, ajjpmadison.org.