I have a friend (who will get a copy of this) that I knew fifty years ago in Los Angeles and who was, at that time, a young pacifist. Over the years he rediscovered his Jewish roots, traveled to Israel, and became a strong – though at times reluctant – advocate for Israel. In a recent email to me he wrote that I should observe how the Palestinians wailed in the aftermath of an Israeli attack, tearing their hair. In a sense, this was, he was convinced from his time in Israel, “the Arab way”. One gets an echo of this in the comments of Benjamin Netanyahu, who argues that Israeli attacks on Gaza are only aimed at military targets, but Hamas deliberately tries to shield its missiles with the lives of the civilian population.
When it comes to military strategy, where is Hamas supposed to put its rockets in the tiny, jammed space of Gaza, which, because of the Israeli blockade, is one not very large prison? Yes, the rockets are near civilian targets. I do not write in defense of the politics of Hamas, with which I do not agree, but in defense of human values which Israel (and the US Congress and our President) has lost sight of.
Populations do not change their minds because civilians lose their lives in a military struggle. Britain still views of nightmare of the “Blitz” in World War II as one of its finest hours. The German population did not decide, as their cities were destroyed as the war went on, that Hitler was wrong. The people of Japan remained loyal to the Emperor as their cities, one by one, burned to the ground.
Only the nuclear bombs convinced the military that the game was over.
In the Vietnam War the US dropped more bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia than were dropped by all sides during World War II. Three million Vietnamese died. But the population did not abandon their support for Ho Chi Minh.
As I write this there is no evidence the besieged population in Gaza will turn on Hamas.
But there is evidence that most of the population of Israel (with some courageous exceptions) have been the losers. I have watched the aftermath of the Israeli shelling and bombing. I know about the Israeli warning leaflets and telephone calls, but in the end where can the people there go? I watch – as we all have – the wounded carried to jammed hospitals, the children, who are now shell shocked from the explosions and the death, the people, frightened, running in the streets seeking any possible shelter but finding none.
We have seen the Israeli shelling of the beaches of Gaza which killed four children who had been playing ball on the beach near the hotel where journalists stay. What military target?
And in Israel there are people sitting in lawn chairs watching the night sky light up with the Israeli air strikes. And I think of my friend, still loyal to Israel, telling me the Arabs are different from us, that they “wail”.
And I ask all of us, both those who support Israel and those like myself who think the regime there is that of a rouge state, what our reactions would be if these bombs and shells were falling on Israeli towns, if we could see Israeli children, tears streaming down their faces, as they clung to their mothers, of fathers holding dead infants in their arms, of block after block of homes leveled. Would we really be indifferent? Would the fact we might despise Netanyahu (as I do) make us deaf and blind to such massive civilian casualties?
It is with deep shame that I see the US Senate vote unanimous support for the Israeli military actions, and hear our President voice his unqualified support for the Israeli military actions. To those American Jews who, like my friend, still support Israeli actions, have they lost the ability to feel the pain of others, if those others are Muslim, and not Jews or Christians?
There are steps that can be taken. The demands of Hamas are not outrageous – but I do not even discuss them here.I ask my Jewish friends what has happened to that part of the Jewish soul which understood that wailing is a human way of coping with grief – that there is even, in Jerusalem, a wall for wailing. And I say to those who consider themselves Zionists, if it is not time to join the frightened population of Gaza in wailing.
(Edgeleft is written by David McReynolds, who worked for nearly forty years for the War Resisters League, was twice the Socialist Party’s candidate for President, and is now retired and living with his two cats on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)