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Do not be silent about Gaza

Saalam/Shalom and thank you/shukran to my Muslim brothers and sisters who organized this event and invited me to speak. To all of you listening, I say: Do not be silent about Gaza.

Editor’s note: The following is adapted from a speech delivered Jan. 5 at the Gaza rally in St. Paul.

Saalam/Shalom and thank you/shukran to my Muslim brothers and sisters who organized this event and invited me to speak. To all of you listening, I say: Do not be silent about Gaza.

I come before you today as both a Jew and a citizen of the United States.  I am outraged, sick to my stomach, and aching in my heart. First and foremost, I say that it is not anti-American to criticize the U.S. government, just as it is not anti-Jewish to criticize the Israeli government. Secondly, I say that there is not one monolithic Jewish community or voice in the world, the U.S., Minnesota or the Twin Cities, though mainstream Jewish organizations that are Pro-Israel get the most media coverage.

There are many Jews all over the world who do not unequivocally support Israeli government policy. I am a member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; we support a free Palestine that can determine its own future, and an end to Israeli apartheid of Palestine. We stand in opposition to the ideology of Zionism, a politics that has resulted in Israeli government policy to remove all Palestinians from Israel, and an ideology that you have seen dramatically in action over the past week. It has resulted in the killing of over 500 people in Gaza, injuries to over 2,500, and now the ground war that has cut Gaza in half and an air war that the London Times speculated today includes the use of phosphorus shells — weapons supposedly  being used “legally” as smokescreens for Israeli troops, when in reality they cause horrific burns on the bodies of their victims.

Do not be silent about Gaza.

I was in Gaza in December 1991 with a women’s peace brigade 15 days before the first Gulf War started. I met with Palestinian peace activists, mothers, day-care workers, teachers and doctors. The poverty was dramatic. Children played in crowded alleys as open sewage ran between their legs. The people wanted peace, and did not hate Jews. And I thought that the conditions I witnessed then were horrendous. I visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum on that trip, and when I saw the photos of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, I started to shake. They looked like the Palestinians I had just visited in Gaza.

The Zionist government policy of Israel today gives me, an American Jew, the right to “return” to Israel and get immediate citizenship, even though it is not my homeland.  However, Palestinian families who have lived on the land for generations, and were removed in 1948, have no right of return. Nor do they have any recourse when the wall put up by the Israeli government separates them from work, family, access to water and highways — and even divides Palestinian villages themselves.

The Israeli government says that it is acting to end Hamas’ rule in Gaza. Remember, both the U.S. and Israel supported democratic elections in Palestine, and Hamas was democratically elected. When countries negotiate with their enemies to end conflicts, they do not sit down with friends. The U.S. and Israel have no right to determine that Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas are satisfactory negotiation partners, but Hamas is not.

Do not be silent about Gaza.

The government of Israel says it has attacked Gaza because Hamas soldiers have shot thousands of rockets at Israel. I do not condone this bombing, but let me ask you, what would you do if you were part of a population of over 1½ million people in the most densely populated place in the world? Your borders have been closed by Israel for 18 months. You do not have access to enough food for your family, or medical care, or electricity, water or gasoline. You have no income, you live under constant curfew, and your olive and vegetable fields have been bulldozed by Israel. When a people are treated inhumanely and violently, it is no surprise that they fight back. And today, it is no surprise that the Israeli government will not allow foreign journalists into Gaza to report on its destruction.

Again, the Israeli government justifies the war because of the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel. However, since September 2000, here is some startling data that we do not read about:

• 1,062 Israelis killed AND 4,876 Palestinians killed;

• 123 Israeli children killed AND 1,050 Palestinian children killed;

• 8, 341 Israelis injured AND 33,034 Palestinians injured;

• 1 Israeli political prisoner held AND 10,756 Palestinian political prisoners held;

U.N. resolutions targeting Israel between 1955 and1992: 65.  None targeting Palestinians.

And for us in the United States, perhaps the most important number: During fiscal year 2007, the U.S. government gave $6.8 million a day to Israel (and less than $300,000 to Palestine).

Do not be silent about Gaza.

The headline today in Haaratz, the largest Israeli newspaper, quotes Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: “Israel will no longer show restraint when attacked.” This is the person who is hoping to be the next prime minister of Israel in elections happening in a month. If 18 months of total lockdown of Gaza was showing restraint, what in God’s name is going to happen to the innocent people of Gaza — the child playing in his yard killed, the ambulance driver and doctor killed by a bomb that targeted the ambulance, the Muslims praying at mosques that have been bombed, the students studying at the Islamic University? Israel says they are terrorists.

I ask you, who gets to define the word terrorism? Terrorism is the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce, intimidate or retaliate against governments, the population as a whole, or foreign societies in the pursuit of goals that are political, religious or ideological. Do you agree? This is the FBI’s definition. 

Do not be silent about Gaza.

What must we do?  We must demand that our elected officials call for an immediate ceasefire and an opening of Gaza’s borders. Let them refrain from using the word “terrorism.” We must challenge the Israeli government by hitting it where it hurts — financially.  We call on Gov. Tim Pawlenty to cut our trade and investment ties with Israel. We must support the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee. Read the labels on all the products you buy and don’t buy anything from Israel. Ask restaurants where their produce comes from before you decide to eat there.  Ask your workplace where it invests your retirement money, and demand that your money is not invested in Israeli bonds. Hold Israel responsible for its violations of international law and Palestinian rights. And hold our elected officials responsible.

Do not let mainstream Jews and their organizations call you anti-Jewish. Have courage and speak out. Do not be silent about Gaza. Salaam/shalom.

Lisa Albrecht is an activist educator and writer. She is an associate professor and Morse-Minnesota Alumni Association Distinguished Professor of Teaching in the school of social  work at the University of Minnesota, where she founded and directs an undergraduate program in social justice. Previously, she taught writing in the General College at the U of M for 19 years. She is the recipient of the Josie R. Johnson Human Rights and Social Justice Award.

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