Q: In a statement Monday, Vice President Biden said the U.S. is consulting with other nations “on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security, and political aspects of the situation in Gaza.” What are the religious and moral considerations in determining those “new ways,” especially in light of Israel’s raid on an aid flotilla from Turkey bound for Gaza.
Israel’s murderous attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has served to focus international attention on its longstanding, immoral siege of Gaza. Since the election of Hamas in 2007, Israel has tightened its hold on Gaza’s borders, blocking essential goods from entering and Gazan products from leaving, effectively destroying Gaza’s economy. Eight out of ten Gazans depend on international food aid to survive, and ninety-five per cent of its drinking water fails to meet safety standards for consumption. Seventy per cent of the population suffers from food insecurity. Thirteen per cent of the children of Gaza suffer stunted growth from malnutrition.
The blockade prevents Gazan patients who need specialized medical care from leaving, and stops students who receive scholarships from traveling abroad to study. Such harsh measures are immoral and illegal under international law, and in no way further Israel’s security. They endanger Israel by generating resentment, frustration and anger, and create precisely the conditions which favor fanaticism and violence.
I’m a practicing Pagan, but there are values I deeply treasure from the Jewish religion I was born and raised in. The first is the stress on justice as the core of Jewish teaching. The second is the understanding that the oneness of God means that all people are cherished and equal in God’s sight, that the same rules apply to all of us and the same rights are given to every person. By that definition, a “Jewish” state that persecutes and denies rights to another people is a heresy and a travesty of true Jewish values. A moral approach to the Gaza strip would be one that serves justice and assures the human rights of Palestinians, Jews, and everyone else.
From a Pagan perspective, we understand the deep, ancestral bond to the land that many Jews–and Palestinians—feel. But that bond does not need to be expressed through control or ownership. Attempts at control generally become devastating to land and people. Sovereignty, from a Pagan point of view, is contingent on responsibility, and a leader’s job is not to issue orders and demand obedience, but to safeguard the health of the land, the fertility if its soil, the diversity of its wildlife and forests, and above all, to cherish the children, all of them–not just the children of one tribe.
A simple moral test might be this: “If children are suffering because of your political ends or the means you choose to achieve them, do something else.” From both the Pagan and the Jewish points of view, actions that condemn children to a stunted life cannot be considered moral by any standards. Israel must lift the siege of Gaza in order to step back onto the beginnings of a moral path.
The Israeli government itself admits that the true purpose of the blockade is not security but economic warfare with a political aim. On June 9, the McClatchy newspapers obtained an Israeli document from Gisha, an Israeli human rights group which sued the Israeli government for information on the blockade. “A country has the right to decide… that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare,'” the government said. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what security concerns would be imposed by chocolate or children’s toys. Now, in the wake of international outrage, Israel has decided to allow in jam and cookies. The question remains–what possible security justification could there ever have been for keeping them out?
Organic gardeners know that if you respond to an attack by trying to kill the pests involved, you simply breed resistance while poisoning your own crops and soil. Instead, we ask, ‘What conditions are allowing this pest to thrive?” “How do we change them, to favor the beneficial bugs and strengthen the health of the soil and the plants?”
Palestinians are a diverse people–as are Israelis. In my time in the West Bank and Gaza, I met true believers who were fanatically devout–and others who swore at “f-ing Hammas–they’ve closed the cinemas again!” I met some who believed in armed resistance and others who were deeply committed to nonviolence.
A smart and moral policy, from Israel’s point of view, would be to say: “What are the conditions that would favor mutual cooperation and peace? What would give our allies a competitive edge, and undermine the hardliners?” Such policies would open borders, encourage of cooperative enterprises in commerce, learning, art and culture, foster a commitment to caring for and sharing the land and to create a opportunities for Palestinians to flourish and thrive.
Instead, Israel consistently employs a policy of force, collective punishment and intimidation that only serves to harden resistance. To treat all Gazans, all Palestinians, as if “Palestinian” were synonymous with “terrorist” is not only immoral, it’s self-defeating. Prejudice always makes us stupid, for it prevents us from seeing diversity and complexity. Repression backfires.
Israel’s decision to attack the Gaza Peace Flotilla with deadly force has squandered the world’s good will and put Gaza front and center on the international agenda. As a bare minimum, Israel should release the film and video–and the thousands of dollars of equipment and cold, hard cash taken from the protestors and support an open, international, impartial investigation of the flotilla attack. Until she does, her account and her intentions will be suspect.
My own accounts of my experiences in the West Bank and Gaza:
Israeli Government’s admission of ‘economic warfare”:
Ha-artez, statistics on malnutrition:
Food insecurity–from English Al-Jazeera
Uncensored video on Democracy Now
Uri Avnery, the great Israeli Journalist, asks the key questions: