This morning (Monday, Memorial Day, May 31, 2010), I awoke to news reports that the Israeli Navy had boarded and fired on six unarmed small ships, bearing civilians from many countries, in international waters approaching the coast of Gaza, carrying humanitarian supplies for Palestinians who have been suffering an Israeli blockade of many (not all) civilian goods.
Some of the civilians aboard had been killed.
This killing of international
civilians in ships on the high seas must become a lightning flash
illuminating the deepest dangers of leaving the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict unresolved. As much a lightning flash of world danger arising
in the Middle East as the Oil Disaster in the Gulf has become a
lightning-flash illuminating the world-wide need to control the power
and greed of Big Oil.
Only we can make this lightning flash in the Mediterranean into growing illumination and enlightenment, not just a passing glare.
So we must make it that.
Close to the end of this letter, you will see (in several bold blue paragraphs) an action I urge you to take in memory of these dead and in determination to prevent more deaths. Please take the ten minutes to do this. Whatever else you are doing for Memorial Day, please see this time as devoted to its deepest meaning: remembering the dead of war and striving to prevent more deaths.
Present reports indicate that between nine and fifteen people aboard these ships seem to have been killed, and dozens wounded. The people aboard included citizens of fifty different nations -- Ireland, the US, Britain, Turkey, France, many others. Some were members of their country's parliament; others, physicians, nurses, political activists. One Nobel Peace laureate.
The Israeli navy claims that as they boarded the ships to force them to turn toward Ashdod, an Israeli port, some of the civilians aboard lifted sticks or grabbed at Israeli weapons to stop them -- and they fired in response. Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, the crisis goes far deeper than what happened in those last moments .
We at The Shalom Center have been trying to focus on the deadly danger that the Climate Crisis and the top-down, pyramidal, unresponsive, irresponsible power of Big Oil and Big Coal are thrusting upon our children and grandchildren, upon America (N.B. the Gulf Disaster), upon our planet. As Jews, we know from Pharaohs and the Plagues they bring upon us - and these are modern Pharaohs.
BUT even as the Gulf disaster worsened, -- last weekend I watched with dread the approach of a Mediterranean disaster. I watched the Israeli government's rigid response to the approach of the flotilla. The Netanyahu government has increasingly seen only violence as an adequate tool for security -- evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, breaking up demonstrations by Israelis and others to defend those homes, preventing Noam Chomsky from speaking at a university in the West Bank. Even inciting "mere" violent words by obsessive supporters of Israeli government policy like Alan Dershowitz which themselves incited events like the attack on Rabbi Michael Lerner's home.
Out of my dread of a disaster --- and out of my fear that the Israeli government was bringing and would bring utter shame upon the Jewish people, was poisoning the bloodstream of Torah that every rabbi has a sacred obligation to defend -- I felt we need to act as the ships approached Gaza.
So I asked all our readers to write Israeli embassies and consulates in the US and Secretary of State Clinton to implore Israel to lift the blockade and let the ships land in Gaza.
Some of our readers and members did, and also wrote to thank me. Many are on much-needed restful long-weekend Memorial Day vacations and may never have even seen my letter. Some wrote berating me that since I don't live in Israel, I could not understand how Israelis feel and can't understand even that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But as I wrote yesterday, the Haaretz newspaper - which does live in Israel -- wrote in an editorial that --
"Moreover, the suffering that Israel is causing 1.5 million people for this purpose is not only inhuman, but extremely detrimental to Israel's status around the world."
"" Israel argues that there is no hunger in Gaza and that vital products enter the Strip regularly. Israel even said it was prepared to deliver the boats' contents to the Gaza Strip, but via Ashdod Port and using the Israel Defense Forces, not the boats directly.
"If so, this indicates that Israel is not opposed to the aid itself, but to the demonstration of support for Gaza's people. However, this show of support could have been prevented from the outset had Israel lifted the pointless blockade and allowed Gazans to live normal lives."