For this week's Opinions page, I asked two writers, one involved with pro-Israeli efforts and another involved with pro-Palestinian efforts, to lay out their thoughts on the recent in events in the Gaza Strip. I was motivated to do this when I realized that, for people like me, who have no conscious ties to either side of the conflict, the reportage I read on events in that region often have no effect. How do people who have opinions on the region approach the announcement of even more bad news, and how did they come to those opinions in the first place? More importantly, how does my very fact of being somehow implicate me on either side of the rocket fire?
--Sandra Allen, Opinions Editor
"IN THIS I WON'T PARTICIPATE" by Margaree Little
It is late, past midnight, when I'm called to the house where Iman lives. She is not there, but her parents are there, with her nine-month-old son. He is still nursing, the grandparents say. He cries through the interview. Iman's mother weeps and pours me tea. Iman's father has blue eyes and rolls me a cigarette. The room is tiny and filled with the smoke of Turkish tobacco. Iman was bringing the child's papers to a doctor and at the checkpoint was not allowed through, they say. She argued, they say, and it was declared that she tried to attack a soldier. The news on the TV in the room has said she was detained at Kedumim settlement. The news says she will be in prison. The news does not say where, or for how long. The son is still nursing, the parents say, and I am poured more tea.
They ask if I can help, since I am an American. They can't get in touch with her, they say, they don't know where she is, they don't know if she has been beaten, they don't know if they will ever see her again.
When I went to the West Bank during the summer of 2005, the summer I met Iman's parents, I didn't know what I would see. I had read a little bit about the conflict. I had learned what most Americans learn in history class. I had not learned about the uncertainty of the occupation, the absolute control defined by its equally absolute unpredictability. Perhaps the day before, Iman might have gotten through the checkpoint with no problem, or perhaps the next day Israel might have placed the entire city under curfew, reserving the right to shoot anyone who stepped outside his home. It was this control, and the desperation it exacts, that I felt in that stifling room: Iman's parents and son were not allowed to know the parameters of their loss.
I came to learn that this deliberate unpredictability is one facet of an occupation that dehumanizes everyone involved.
Iman's family learned nothing more about her whereabouts or her fate during the rest of the three months I was there. To live with this sort of uncertainty; to be trapped in an area the size of Cape Cod surrounded by blockades and then bombed, unable to escape; to not know, as a Gazan teenager wrote two weeks ago, whether you might see the morning; to begin to think, as a friend of mine in Bethlehem wrote recently, that sometimes the dead are envied; to be a Palestinian and bear the unrelenting weight of all of this--this is to experience terrorism.
In the 22 days of Israel's bombardment of Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed over 1,300 Gazans, one third of them children and most of them civilians. 5,300 more have been injured; 100,000 have been forced to flee their homes. In contrast, 13 Israelis have been killed, 10 of them soldiers. To do justice to all of these people I think we owe them at least some knowledge of the truth about this situation. We should start with several critical facts.
First of all, the population of Gaza is largely composed of refugees. As Rashid Khalidi noted in the New York Times in January, "Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948."
Secondly, Israel's claim that it was acting in retaliation for rockets fired by Islamic Jihad since a six-month truce expired on December 19 is untenable. The Israeli paper Ha'aretz reports that Israel planned this attack last March. We should also note that Israel didn't comply with the ceasefire, which required Israel to lift its siege on Gaza (imposed in 2006 in response to Palestine's 'crime' of democratically electing Hamas) and Palestinians to cease rocket attacks on Israel. Palestinians abided by the agreement until Israel conducted a series of air strikes at the end of November. But Israel continued to impose its strangling blockade, an act of collective punishment illegal under international law, and unmistakably an act of war that severely restricts access to basic food, medicine, and fuel supplies. Indeed, in November, midway through the 'ceasefire,' John Ging, head of the UN Relief Works Agency in the Gaza Strip said that "The people of Gaza did not benefit [from the ceasefire]; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence." On December 15, Gulf News and UK Sunday Times reports emerged that Gazans still starving under this 'truce' had resorted to eating grass.
Third, Israel's military attacks on Gaza are not new. In the two years after Israel's "withdrawal" from Gaza, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. In the same amount of time, 11 Israelis were killed by much-publicized rocket fire.
We should also situate the current crisis in its the longer-term context. For forty years, Israel has illegally occupied Gaza and the West Bank, slowly strangling the Palestinian people through a variety of measures and appropriating their land and resources for foreign settlers. Avi Shlaim, former IDF soldier, writes of Gaza, "the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25 percent of the territory, 40 percent of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources." In their so-called "withdrawal" from Gaza in 2005, Israeli settlers destroyed houses and farms as they left, and Israel has maintained control of air and water space and all travel and trade in and out of the Strip.
In the West Bank, the IDF regularly imposes curfews and closures on Palestinian towns and requires Palestinians to acquire permits from the Israeli government to access their own farmland (now on the far side of the Israel's "security" wall). Increasingly, Israel denies these permits, barring the majority of Palestinians from their only source of livelihood. In this stolen West Bank land, Israel expands settlements (illegal under international law) and establishes "Jewish only" roads. Former Israeli Education Minister Shulamit Aloni described Israel's occupation as "Apartheid."
Finally, and perhaps most important, we should understand that the occupation's slow strangulation and this most recent military campaign are consistent with a basic tenet of political Zionism: namely, that ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population is necessary if the project of an exclusively Jewish state is to succeed. We need look no further than the words of David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, who said to his General Staff in May of 1948: "We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land-confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population." For a more succinct summary of the premise underlying these directives, we might turn to Rabbi Yaacov Perrin. Speaking at the funeral of Brooklyn-native Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 30 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque as they knelt praying in their socks, Perrin declared: "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail."
Yet a movement is emerging to resist the fundamentally racist project of a Jewish-only state. This resistance comes not just from the world community but from those within the Jewish community who have the courage to assert that freedom and a political project predicated on oppression are finally incompatible. Thousands of people around the world, including thousands of Israelis in Jaffa and Tel Aviv, have taken to the streets in protest in the last weeks. Israeli reservists have joined the brave refusnik movement and refused to take part in their government's invasion of Gaza. "Sorry. Enough. This I won't do," said Racheli Merhav, one such conscientious objector at a January 8 demonstration in Tel Aviv. "In this I won't participate."
As students at an institution with endowment and tuition investing power, we at Brown have a responsibility to say, "In this I won't participate." Brown once took a stand to divest from Apartheid in South Africa. Now, we must demand Brown's divestment from the Apartheid project of Israel. A number of Brown students and faculty are eager to work with the Administration to figure out how to accomplish this; President Simmons' decision last year to divest from Darfur shows that such a process is indeed possible in a contemporary context, if the truth demands it. It is time now for Brown to face the truth about Israel, and act upon it.
MARGAREE LITTLE B'09 is a member of the Brown Break the Siege Coalition.