In November or December, 2008, if memory serves, a Palestinian family was picnicking on a beach in the Gaza Strip near their home on a clear, warm, sunny day. An Israeli patrol boat observed the family and decided that they must be terrorists since in the minds of the crew on that boat all Palestinians are, ipso facto, terrorists and only terrorists would picnic on a beach. The commander and crew of this patrol boat dealt with the immanent threat of a family of beach goers by lobbing a shell into their midst killing the entire family. Within days of this atrocity rockets from Gaza provided an excuse for an Israeli invasion of the area resulting in well over 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians and most of that toll women and children, dead. The death toll included members of an extended family rousted from their already damaged home, taken outside the building and there attacked with shells and grenades. Though not all died in that attack the Israeli Defense Force kept ambulances and medical personnel from reaching the survivors until the next day.
That first incident came to mind when on July 16, 2014 an Israeli naval vessel patrolling off Gaza decided to do what it could in finding a “Final Solution” to the Palestinian problem by lobbing a shell onto a group of children between the ages of 7 and 12 while they played soccer on the beach. Four of the children were killed outright and a fifth was grievously wounded. In the appalling tradition of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein these acts illustrate the criminal treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government and its “Defense Forces”.
I want to reiterate that I think that both the Israelis and Palestinians both have a right to live peacefully within the narrow land at the western end of the Mediterranean. I also believe that that peaceful coexistence will remain impossible as long as the fanatics in both camps pursue the annihilation of the other. What I find unconscionable is the Jews of Israel pursuing the same ethnic cleansing and genocide to which they have been subject for some 2.000 years against their Palestinian minority.
Worse yet is the attitude of my own country, the United States, toward both sides. Political realities within the United States have made it all but impossible for any American government to pursue a rational and even handed policy toward both parties. Currently Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama Administration take constant and undeserved criticism for any attempt to acknowledge the basic human rights of Palestinians. The unholy alliance between the Netanyahu government, American Christian fundamentalists and the American neo-fascist right wing has poisoned American to Israeli government relations through no fault of the Obama Administration. This ultra-right wing coalition has, since the early days of 2009, turned the Obama Administration’s attempts to acknowledge the grievances of the Palestinians and Islamic world in general into hysteria over the President as a “secret muslim” and the utter nonsense of establishing Sharia Law in America. Even in less insane circles unquestioning, full-throated support for Israel has become the counterproductive litmus test for any American politician who would aspire to national office despite that blind support being counter to U. S. national interests and a sane foreign policy.
However, let me return to the current situation vis-à-vis Israel and Gaza.
On June 12, 2014 three Israeli teenagers hitchhiking home to settlements in the West Bank disappeared. A message from one of the boys’ cell phones claimed that they had been kidnapped. On June 30th their bodies were discovered. Almost immediately the Netanyahu government blamed Hamas for this heinous act despite substantial evidence that member of a criminal clan acting entirely on its own had carried out the kidnapping and murders. In fact two suspects, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha were soon in Israeli custody. These suspects have some connections to Hamas but are generally considered independent actors by all sides.
Following the funeral for the three Israeli settler teens on July 2nd, and even as I was listening to a radio interview with the Israeli Ambassador to the U. S. who demonized Palestinians as congenitally disposed to murder Jewish children while claiming that Israelis do not do such things, some Israeli fanatics kidnapped and burned alive Muhammad Abu Khadir. The Ambassador has conveniently forgotten Baruch Goldstein it seems.
Both kidnapping and murders are equally heinous and appalling. Israeli forces also have identified the murderers of Abu Khadir. Yet where the Israeli Defense Forces have followed long established policy by dynamiting the homes of the Palestinian suspects (note that they are still suspects and have not been tried let alone convicted of anything) the homes of the Israeli murder suspects still stand.
During the two weeks of searching for the bodies of the three murdered Israeli teens dozens of Palestinians with varying degrees of connection to Hamas were arrested and detained without charge. Muhammad Abu Kadir was only one of the Palestinians killed in weeks of investigation though other deaths received little notice in the press. But following the murder of the Palestinian boy and the blatantly unequal treatment of his murderers radicals in Hamas in the Gaza Strip stepped up their rocket attacks on Israeli territory, attacks which, to that time had resulted in annoyance, some panic but not a single death amongst the Israeli population.
The Israeli response was, as usual, swift and wildly disproportionate, a policy that Israelis with no sense of irony referred to a “mowing the grass”. The irony being that it dehumanizes the Palestinians even further and providing a convenient euphemism for the barbarity of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
On the Palestinians’ side Gazans interviewed by media less biased than the U. S. outlets (the BBC for example) when asked if they supported Hamas given the horrifying Israeli response universally answered that they had nothing to lose. Israel has blockaded Gaza for more than seven years depriving Gazans of building materials for the repair of homes destroyed by repeated Israeli air and missile strikes, bombardments and destruction during various incursions. They are deprived of medical supplies, fuel for cooking and running cars. Their water supply is limited too. The Gazans one and all said that they live in a “open-air prison”. They have been deprived of basic necessities and so many have decided that death is not such a bad thing if first they can take the lives of a few of their oppressors too. In short, the Israelis have created the most fearsome opponent anyone could conjure up: people who have nothing left to lose or reason to go on living. That attitude is not something peculiar to Islam or Palestinians. It is the ultimate response to continued and vicious oppression by a superior force and a creation entirely of the Israelis’ making.
So let me submit to you that identifying Hamas as a terrorist organization is not appropriate. These people are fighting against intolerable, perpetual, implacable oppression the only way that they know how. Gaza is in fact the Warsaw Ghetto of the Twenty-First Century. I’m sure that my analogy will draw howls of protest from Israeli partisans who properly want the Holocaust remembered but improperly wish to make it solely their own. Those partisans, not all of them Jewish by any means and within the Jewish communities not all either, admit no possibility that Israeli policies toward their neighbors mirror sharply many of the policies of the Third Reich.
Air strikes on Gaza will never stop the rockets nor will bombarding mosques and United Nations operated schools and shelters. What will stop the rockets is giving the people of Gaza something to live for. Give them peace. Allow them to fish in open waters. Open their cities to commerce and trade. Give people, any people, a reason to live, some hope for their future, safety for their families and especially their children and they will control the violent troublemakers among themselves. Stop calling them terrorists, dehumanizing them as grass to be “mowed” and treat them as equals. Once the people of Gaza have a stake in this life and an expectation of a future, the rockets will cease.
That solution seems both simple and obvious. Yes, rockets will continue to fall on Israel for a time. It will be distressing and dangerous for a time but that time will end because Gaza will no longer be “an open-air prison”. Gazans will have something they have not had since 1948: hope and peace. Unfortunately as simple and obvious as that solution is it is anathema to the Netanyahu government and to a significant portion of Israelis. Remember that it was an Israeli fanatic who murdered Yitzhak Rabin, not a Palestinian. Bebe Netanyahu is made in the mold of Yigal Amir, not Rabin or even Menachem Begin. It is long past time for the Netanyahu government to be brought up on war crimes charges for its many egregious crimes against humanity. Perhaps then Israel can be dragged kicking and screaming toward the peace it consistently refuses to make. Perhaps then some future Israeli prime minister will look a future Palestinian leader in the eye and say, “You are my brother, Ishmael. Let us go forth together and share in the land of our father, Abraham, in peace forever.” And perhaps that prime minister will live to see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren play together with those of his Palestinian counterpart. Until then by depriving Palestinians of any hope for peace successive Israeli governments also deprive their own citizens of that hope too.