Your editorials on “No” to Israel provides a beacon of hope for the many in this Holy Land who have raised their voices in protest against the Israeli Occupation, protests which rarely surface in Western media. The question I am asked most frequently, especially when talking with Palestinians: “Isn’t anybody listening?” Now I can give a clear affirmative answer. Many thanks. These voices of protest belong to Israelis and Palestinians, to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and they deserve a wider hearing. Let me cite a few examples.
Two months ago the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, published a letter from former I.D.F. officer, Rafi Miller, expressing his shock at the published picture of Israeli soldiers in Hebron, rejoicing as they dragged the body of a bleeding Palestinian whom they had shot. “It reminds me of cheetahs and hyenas, which kill and drag their prey. The problem is that these animals kill to survive. Our soldiers kill to maintain the occupation. When the Arab crowd lynched our soldiers in Ramallah, it was criminal, and they were savage; when our disciplined soldiers do it, it is heroic and civilized.” For this ex-officer the I.D.F. should quickly and fairly investigate the incident and punish any guilty soldiers “before the world wakes up and puts most of us on trial for crimes against humanity.” To the best of my knowledge no charges have ever been filed in this incident.
Israel Shamir, a Russian Israeli journalist, has pointed out that these are the “darkest days” for the people of Israel. He remembers back in 1968 as a young Russian Jew scribbling on the walls of his village: ‘Hands off Czechoslovakia’; he thrilled to hear the deep tones of the Russian Jewish poet, Alexander Galitch: “Citizens, our motherland is in danger, our tanks are on foreign soil!” He was proud of the Russian Jews who protested the presence of Russian tanks in Budapest and Prague and Kabul, and who were often beaten by the police. They valued honor above a misunderstood patriotism, humankind above nationalist ties. He heard also with pride about the many American Jews protesting their country’s intervention in Vietnam. But now it is Israeli tanks in an occupied land, Israeli soldiers who kill civilians, who demolish houses, who humiliate and degrade Palestinians and who impose a siege on their villages. Are Israeli intellectuals demonstrating on ! Israel’s equivalent of Pennsylvania Avenue or Trafalgar Square? Are American Jews raising their voice against these America-armed killers of Palestinian men, women and children? Are Russian Jews speaking up for the human rights of the “enslaved Gentiles” of the Holy Land? These are Israel’s darkest days because the worldwide silence of Jews indicates that the country’s policies are now rapidly undermining “the long term achievement of Jews” in humankind’s struggle for democracy, human rights and equality.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, has continuously appealed during these six months for justice and understanding. From the opening weeks of the Intifada he pointed out that the Palestinian revolt should not be considered simply a public disorder that has to be quelled and punished. The issue that must be faced is that a people who have been kept in hostage are struggling for their freedom. It is a struggle that must be carried out with love, not with hatred and vengeance. In his Lenten message he appealed to both Palestinian and Israeli to see God in one another. He called upon Israelis to see in Palestinians not the image of terrorists, of those who want to hate and kill, but rather the image of the poor and oppressed who are struggling for their liberty, their dignity, and a right to the land. He called upon Palestinians to see in Israelis, who withhold liberty in the name of security, carriers of the image of God whom we approach with! love, not with anger, and whom we ask with the full force of the Spirit to put an end to oppression and occupation.
Samah Jabr, a medical student at Al Quds University, writes of her pain when she heard of the death of Ophar Rahoum, a 16-year-old Israeli boy lured to a rendezvous in the West Bank and then murdered. Her heart froze. She had written about the deaths of Palestinian youngsters in the Intifada, how each of them is loved and mourned. Was this any different? “Deliberately killing any child is evil, and I believe that as deeply as I believe anything.” No matter how much she personally had suffered because of the occupation, she could conclude: “I do not wish death to anyone, Israeli or Palestinian é especially children.” The pain went further. One of her best friends was implicated in the murder and has been held incommunicado by Israeli authorities. She can only write: “I have never been more spiritually beaten.” She flinches when others try to justify the murder of Ophar: “What have we come to? Has oppression blurred our vision? Where is goodness? Where is! God?” She ends her reflections with a plea to the world: “When will the Holy Land be holy? When will we learn that different as we are, we are all human beings? My prayer is to God’s people: help change the ring of destruction that surrounds us all. Please, please, Israelis and Palestinians and those who influence us from beyond our borders, help us on this tiny plot of earth to recognize, like it or not, that we are of one universal human family with the unique ability to choose love of each other over the determination to take whatever we want only for ourselves.”
As I write, the spiral of violence continues even as a new government takes over. There have been numerous expressions of outrage along with pleas for help prompted by the most recent action of the I.D.F. in digging a huge trench two meters deep isolating the Palestinian city of Ramallah from 25 other cities and towns with a population of 65,000. This complete closure deprives almost all of the villagers of food supplies and health care facilities. In some areas the Israeli bulldozers ripped through telephone and water lines servicing several of these villages, thus increasing the hardships on the population.
One of the hardest hit areas is the Christian town of Birzeit. Its Catholic pastor, Fr. Iyad Twal, said that cellular phones are the only means of communication with the outside world. He pleaded for Americans to raise their voices in protest: “Please keep our brothers and sisters in your prayers and raise your voices to put an end to this brutal occupation, and let the people live!” The 6000 students, faculty and staff at Birzeit University, which has been in continuous operation during the months of the Intifada, can no longer reach the university campus. Its communication facilities have been cut off so that the University has no means of maintaining contact with the outside world. In addition some 30000 school children in the area are prevented from attending school.
Ha’aretz noted in its coverage that the new closures “make it clear to Palestinian residents that there is a ‘price’ to be paid for continued attacks against Jewish settlers in the region.” It then went on to cite a frank admission of an I.D.F. officer: “It’s doubtful that the collective punishment of tens of thousands of people, in retaliation for the acts of a few isolated terror cells, can be justified.” But the vengeance goes on despite such reservations.
In response to these latest actions, Neta Golan, an Israeli peace-activist, said simply: “I am ashamed of being an Israeli.” I can empathize with her words. Whenever I hear the drone of Apache helicopters over Jerusalem enroute to Bethlehem or Gaza, when a family in Beit Jala shows me the remnants of the shell that destroyed their home with “made in the U.S.A.” clearly marked on it, when Palestinian children unfurl a banner for me, as they did in December, with the message “Merry Christmas, America. Thank you for your Christmas gifts,” accompanied by images of a tank, a helicopter, a rocket, I am ashamed of my government’s unqualified and uncritical support of the State of Israel.
In his long and distinguished career, Elie Wiesel has often mentioned that the vocation of the Jew is “to teach the world how to be human.” I have often been the witness and the beneficiary of such teaching. Now, however, it is becoming ever more evident to me that the policies of the State of Israel vis-é-vis the Palestinian people, constitute a betrayal, perhaps even a mockery, of this noble and ancient heritage of our Jewish sisters and brothers.
(Mr. Donald J. Moore is in Pontifical Biblical Institute, Jerusalem, on leave of absence from the Department of Theology, Fordham University)