It’s a tired old mantra that must be retired. We have heard it over and over again ~ how many times in these past days? I have lost count! We know it by heart, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” ~ Given that I am a citizen of two countries that have recited this tired, old mantra ad nauseam, I am compelled to share an alternative view. It will not appear “balanced,” but then neither is this conflict. But I must speak because, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” And this matters ~ I am embarrassed and ashamed of both Canada and the United States. The question as to which “side” started this most recent round of violence is really of little concern in this ongoing 45 year old conflict between Israel and Palestine. It’s not about who fired what where. It’s about Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land and lives.
Noam Chomsky says it well: “When Israelis in the occupied territories now claim that they have to defend themselves, they are defending themselves in the sense that any military occupier has to defend itself against the population they are crushing. You can’t defend yourself when you’re militarily occupying someone else’s land. That’s not defense. Call it what you like, it’s not defense.” ~ “Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army… and calls it a war. It is not a war, it is murder.”
How I wish my president and my prime minster had the insight and courage to make such a statement ~ or to say something even approaching this level of honest engagement. Instead I read that Obama has pledged to give an additional $70 million in military aid to Israel in addition to the $3 billion annual gift. I am embarrassed and ashamed ~ Predictably, Harper proclaimed his unambiguous support for Israel’s ongoing attack on the people of Gaza. And we know that Canada is “Israel’s best friend.” But you would think that a best friend has certain responsibilities ~ the responsibility to call their friend to account for gross violations of international law and human rights for starters. I am embarrassed and ashamed.
I am embarrassed and ashamed at the silence and timidity of my church ~ the United Church of Canada. Rather than standing in the great prophetic tradition and calling on Israel to heed their own prophets’ call for justice, our moderator has invited us to pray. Could it be that we are called to be the answer to our own prayers by using our voices and our feet and our votes in the service of a just peace? Can we summon the courage to speak truth to power ~ to stand with the oppressed ~ to rally for justice ~ rather than sit passively by and pray for someone else to do it? Would that we might respond as Isaiah did: “Here I am, send me!” It is no longer faithful to pass off our responsibility to some higher power. I am embarrassed and ashamed.
In the words of Rabbi Brant Rosen: “When will we be ready to accept that this is not a ‘balanced’ conflict or even a ‘war’ by any reasonable definition – and that it never was? When will we face the painful truth that this is not a story about one side versus the other but about one side oppressing the other? Frankly, the well-meaning liberal comments about ‘praying for peace on both sides’ leave me cold. Worse, I find them insidious because they simply serve to support the myth that this is a conflict between two equal parties. It is not. And peace will not come until we admit this – until we admit that there is an essential injustice at the heart of this tragedy and that try as it might, Israel will never be able to make it go away through the sheer force of its increasingly massive military might.”
With everyone in the region, EAPPI teams in the West Bank breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude that Egypt brokered a ceasefire. But will it hold? And for how long? When will the next match light the still smoldering embers? ~ It seems clear that we cannot wait for heads of state or heads of churches to provide real leadership. The outcry needs to come from the global community ~ from civil society ~ from congregations ~ from us ~ Another way is possible ~ Could it be that “we are the ones we have been waiting for”*?
*Note: This quote is usually attributed to June Jordan from her “Poem for South African Women,” presented at the United Nations on August 9, 1978 in “commemoration of the 40,000 women and children who, August 9, 1956, presented themselves in bodily protest against the ‘dompas’ in the capital of apartheid.”
For excellent resources and links to alternative media on Gaza and the current situation in Palestine and Israel, please see the blog of my EAPPI colleague, Sherry Ann, who served in occupied East Jerusalem from the first week of Dec 2010 to the first week of March 2011.