A letter from a MECh member
Like many of you, I have watched with horror, as the Israeli eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah turned into bloodshed and war. 68 children (67 Palestinians, one Israeli) were killed by air strikes and rocket fire. Sixty-eight whose lives were cut short and who died a futile, needless death. Ten-year old Rafeef Abu Dayer who liked to draw. 13-year old Tala Abu Elouf who loved to tell jokes. The four Ishkontana siblings, aged between two and nine years old who were killed along with their mother as they tried on their new holiday outfits. And so on. Each of these children has a name and a story. In addition to the lives lost and to the almost 2000 Palestinians injured, the air strikes against Gaza razed dozens of buildings, 40 schools and four hospitals. The electricity infrastructure, already weakened by years of an Israeli siege is wrecked, and tens of thousands of Palestinians have been displaced from their homes. The level of destruction in this overcrowded and impoverished territory, which is also the world’s largest open-air prison, is tremendous.
It is important to grieve, but grief is not enough. There is the question of political responsibility and of our responsibility as Jews. I am committed to the Jewish diaspora and as such reject the Zionist claim that Jews form a nation whose destiny it is to return to the holy land. As diasporic Jews, we should reject Israel’s pretensions to be acting and speaking in our name, in the name of all Jews, everywhere. We are not responsible for Israel’s wrongs, crimes, and injustices—its war crimes, its ethnic cleansing, its occupation regimes, its conquest, theft, and settlement of Palestinian lands, its racist systems of segregation, its despotic rule over millions of Palestinians, its apartheid system from the river to the sea, and its confinement and abandonment of Gaza.
And yet, silence is not an option. We are continuously interpellated, by the Zionist claim that the Jewish state must kill, colonize, dominate, and segregate, in order to survive. And that we, as diasporic Jews, have a direct interest in Israel’s survival as a Jewish state. This seems to be the position shared by the major Jewish organization and federations, in North America and elsewhere, at least judging from their public statements. Since we are being claimed by the Zionist project, it is incumbent on us to resist this call, to dissociate ourselves from Israel, and to explicitly and unequivocally oppose its national and colonial venture.
Some of you will no doubt wonder why I am highlighting Palestinian lives and why I don’t mention the 4,000 rockets that Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters fired into Israel. Launching rockets against civilians, or firing them without taking feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm, is a war crime (as are, of course, air strikes against hospitals, schools, mosques, and news media organizations). The reason I am focusing on the harm inflicted on Palestinians is not that Israeli casualties don’t matter. They do. But it is time to abandon the worn out narrative that there are “two sides” to this conflict and that they must be treated “even-handedly.” The idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has two more or less symmetric sides that must be considered in a balanced way is a myth. It’s a narrative that serves to dissimulate the fundamentally unequal, lopsided, and disproportionate power relationship. There aren’t two sides. There is a colonizer and a colonized. And if you believe, as I do, that freedom, democratic self-government, and self-determination are universal claims to which everyone is entitled, then your solidarity should be with the Palestinian people.
Member of Mile End Chavurah
June 3, 2021