Let me explain why Israeli behavior toward Palestinians – not just during this latest assault but also throughout the past decades during which Israel militarily enforced its Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of food and building materials to Gaza – and the cheerleading for such behavior by Jews around the world is destroying Judaism and creating a new kind of hatred of Jews by people who never before had any issue with Jews (not to mention strengthening the hands of the already existing anti-Semites whose hatred of Jews would continue no matter what Israel or Jews do or do not do).
All my life I’ve been a champion of Israel, proud of its many accomplishments in science and technology that have benefitted the world, insistent on the continuing need for the Jewish people to have a state that offers protections from anti-Semitism that has reared its head continuously throughout Christian and Islamic societies, and enjoying the pleasures of long swaths of time in which I could study in Jerusalem and celebrate Shabbat in a city that weekly closed down the hustle and bustle of the capitalist marketplace for a full twenty-five hours. And although as editor of Tikkun I printed articles challenging the official story of how Israel came to be, showing its role in forcibly ejecting tens of thousands of Palestinians in 1948, and allowing Jewish terrorist groups under the leadership of (future Israeli prime ministers) Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir to create justified fears that led hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians to flee for their lives. I’ve also been a severe critic of those who have used criticisms of Israel as a cover for the anti-Semitism inherent in holding Jews to a higher standard than they held their own or other countries. I always told myself that the dominant humanity of the Jewish people and the compassionate strain within Torah would reassert itself once Israel felt secure.
That belief that Israeli goodness would ultimately prevail began to wane in the past eight years when Israel ignored the Saudi Arabian-led peace initiative, refused to stop its expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and imposed an economically crushing blockade on Gaza. Israel did all this in spite of the fact that the Palestinian Authority was promoting nonviolence, actively cooperating with Israeli security forces to prevent any attacks on Israel, and seeking reconciliation and peace.
The Saudi Arabian led peace initiative, which Israel never even responded to, would have granted Israel the recognition it has long sought, ended the hostilities, and given Israel a recognized place in the Middle East (though it had some imperfections, it was a generous first step toward a realistic peace accord with all the Arab states of the region). Even Hamas, whose hateful charter called for Israel’s destruction, had decided to accept the reality of Israel’s existence, and while unable to embrace its “right” to exist, nevertheless agreed to reconcile with the Palestinian Authority and in that context live within the terms that the Palestinian Authority would negotiate with Israel. Most Israelis ignored all this and were content to ignore the Palestinian suffering under occupation or the Gazans slowly being reduced to penury from Israel’s blockade. Without violence Israelis turned their attention to becoming the Silicon Valley of the Middle East and electing a right-wing government that could charm Israel’s American based cheerleaders among Christian Zionists, the American Jewish community, and a super-compliant and fawning U.S. Congress with each major political party competing with the other on which could be seen as most hawkish.
Far from embracing the new possibility for peace that the reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas provided – after all, for years the Israeli government had downplayed the importance of negotiating with the Palestinian Authority precisely because a peace agreement with them would still have left Hamas to carry out its war plans – the Israeli government used that as its reason to completely break off the peace negotiations, and then, in an unbelievably cynical move, let the brutal and disgusting murder of three Israeli teens (by a rogue element in Hamas that itself was trying to undermine the reconciliation-with-Israel factions of Hamas by creating new fears in Israel) become the pretext for a wild assault on West Bank civilians, arresting hundreds of Hamas sympathizers, and escalating drone attacks on Hamas operatives inside Gaza. When Hamas responded by starting to send its missiles (which were rendered ineffective and hence mostly symbolic by Israel’s Iron Shield) toward civilian targets in Israel, the Netanyahu government used that as its excuse to launch a brutal assault on Gaza.
But it is the brutality of that assault which finally has broken me into tears and heartbreak. While claiming that it is only interested in uprooting tunnels that could be used to attack Israel, the Israeli Defense Forces have engaged in the same criminal behavior that the world condemns in other struggles around the world: the intentional targeting of civilians (the same crime that Hamas has been engaged in over the years in its bombing of Sdeyrot and its current targeting of Israeli population centers, thankfully unsuccessfully, which correctly has earned it the label as a terrorist organization).
Using the excuse that Hamas is using civilians as “human shields” and placing its war material in civilian apartments – a claim that a UN human rights investigatory commission found groundless when Israel used it the last time it invaded Gaza in 2008-2009 and engaged in similar levels of killing civilians – Israel has managed to kill over 1,500 Palestinians and wound over 8,000 thousand more.
The stories that have emerged from eye-witness accounts of hundreds of children being killed by Israel’s indiscriminate destructiveness, the shelling of United Nations schools and public hospitals, and finally the destruction of Gaza’s water and electricity thus guaranteeing deaths from typhoid and other diseases as well as widespread hunger among the million and a half Gazans (most of whom have had nothing to do with Hamas), highlights to the world an Israel that is rivaling some of the most oppressive and brutal regimes in the contemporary world. Israel does not intentionally target civilians, but it has full reason to know that its targets will inevitably kill huge numbers of civilians. We who rejected the excuse that Viet Cong were hiding in Vietnamese villages as the rationale for U.S. forces to wipe out hundreds of such villages and ultimately cause millions of Vietnamese deaths in the Vietnam war will not accept a similar rationale for what is a de facto Israeli war on Palestinian civilians. Fine, destroy tunnels potentially used to infiltrate Israel; but it is a crime against humanity to destroy housing compounds, schools, and hospitals.