Today I received an email inviting me to a rally to express solidarity with Israel signed by the major mainstream pro-Israel and Jewish organizations ranging from those on the extreme far right all the way to J Street. J Street!
J Street is, of course, the organization that was established as an alternative to AIPAC, the “pro-Israel” lobby that has long dictated U.S. policy on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. J Street now joins the consensus that sees Gaza as a black and white issue: Israel is right, Hamas is wrong.
I accept that because I have been around the pro-Israel community long enough to know that this is the conventional wisdom. (Although I would not necessarily have expected J Street to join the pro-war crowd.)
The shocking thing for me is the language that J Street and the others endorsed:
Show your support as we stand together in solidarity for Israel. Governor Deval Patrick and other community leaders will address rising concerns of war and the importance of a strong friendship between the U.S. and Israel. Together, we’ll rally for peace and separate fact from fiction, because Israel’s children deserve freedom from fear.
That is it. Not a word of compassion for the children of Gaza. President Obama’s statements are slightly better. But only slightly. The reigning orthodoxy seems to be that Palestinian lives don’t matter very much. If you press for an explanation of this thinking, you are told that these children are unfortunate victims of the fact that their parents elected a terror organization to govern them. And that Hamas shelled Israel first. (Should American children have suffered because our government launched a war on Iraq with no justification?)
On the second point – that Hamas started this – the evidence is sketchy at best. In fact, it seems that the facts point in a different direction. (See this timeline put together by the brilliant Emily Hauser for The Atlantic.) More to the point is that this conflict did not begin this month or this year. Israel has kept Hamas under blockade since 2007 and the Palestinians under occupation for much longer.
Israel controls Gaza’s land, air and sea entry points and the only items that get in are those that the Israelis approve. It is also worth noting that there truly is no such thing as a Gazan. Every person who lives there is a Palestinian or the descendant of Palestinians who fled to or were driven to the Gaza Strip when Palestine became Israel in 1948. Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself. But so do displaced people. (Neither has the right to “defend itself” by killing or terrorizing civilians.)
But the main point is not the historical one. It is that the most militarily dominant nation in the Middle East, a nuclear power at that, is bombing refugees and their descendants rather than seeking to end the conflict with them through negotiations. Israel will not negotiate with Hamas to end the conflict but it negotiates with it on prisoner exchanges and the occasional ceasefire. And, as this Haaretz article points out, negotiations on a long-term cease-fire were underway at the very moment that the Israeli air force dropped a bomb on the Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari and kicked off the current intense phase of the conflict. It was Jabari who was deciding on whether to go with the cease-fire.
But back to the first point: the children.
Does it need to be said that all children are innocent, that not one of any nationality deserves to be terrorized or killed as part of some strategic game? Yes, Hamas has been shelling southern Israel for years. That is indefensible. But no more or less indefensible than Israel’s attacks on cities in Gaza. Can anyone seriously believe that one less shell will fall on southern Israel because the Israelis are dropping bomb after bomb?
Besides, how is Israel’s argument that Hamas does it any kind of justification? Israel repeatedly says that Hamas is a bunch of bloody terrorists, no different than Al Qaeda. When did Hamas become Israel’s yardstick for moral acceptability? This is not the Israel I grew up on. Can you imagine Yitzhak Rabin saying, “Well, they started it. They attack kids so why shouldn’t we?”
This war is an abomination. Because both sides are wrong, and both sides are right and, above all, because all children have the right to live without fear. It must stop. The Obama administration needs to stop having its actions dictated by AIPAC and the donors it directs to the Democratic party. A second term president has no justification for such timidity (nor, in fact, does a first term president). Here is what a president dedicated to the U.S. national interest and not to scoring points with donors would work to achieve:
First there must be a ceasefire. And then unconditional negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians (obviously including Hamas because this is an Israeli-Hamas war). The goal need not be a final status agreement that will end the conflict forever because an intermediate step is almost as good, a long-term cessation of hostilities by both sides. No more shelling from Gaza. Nor more bombs from Israel. An end to the blockade of Gaza and to weapons smuggling into Gaza. An enforcement mechanism to ensure that neither side violates the agreement.
Once that is achieved, Israelis and Palestinians can move on to the next step. Or not. Because the main thing is simply to stop the killing.
The alternative is looming just out there. It is a missile or bomb landing on a school and killing hundreds or kids. It is terrified parents. It is kids wetting their bed in fear as the bombs explode in the distance. It is simply endless death.
In God’s name, why would anyone join a rally to support such abominations?
POSTSCRIPT: Check out Jewish Voice For Peace. It is unambiguously opposed to this war and will not participate in Jewish community “solidarity” rallies.