Friday, August 1, 2014

Nelson Mandela, Terrorism, and Reflections on Gaza

Serena dances in my mind, pigtails bouncing, voice raised high in song. The little Palestinian girl shows me her fancy footwork in my dream, as she did one starlit night in Bethlehem two years ago. She dances and smiles, and then her face stretches into a scream and I awake, soaked in sweat, helpless.

The terrifying heartbreak of the bombardment of Gaza drives me awake at night, unable to look away from the truths revealed in the images of one blood-soaked child after another.

We do not learn. Education, technology, wealth, faith – Israel possesses all of it – but none of it has been able to curb the willingness of the Israeli government to first dehumanize and then rain death and destruction on Palestinians. Israeli human rights groups protest, the UN condemns, Palestinians plead, we sign petitions – nothing helps.

Canada and the US are of course complicit. We are told a fiction by our governments – that Israel is defending itself, that it’s a conflict between two equal sides, and that Palestinians are irrational and unwilling to negotiate. All this while Israel bulldozes Palestinian homes, throws up UN condemned illegal settlements on Palestinian land, harasses Palestinians at checkpoints, shoots unarmed protesters, surrounds Palestinian cities with huge stone walls (limiting access not only for people but also for food and supplies), stands idly by while Israeli settlers cut down Palestinian orchards or spray paint “death to Arabs” on buildings, and now, once again, bombs the civilians of Gaza. The travesty of suffering of Palestine began with the Naqba in 1948, and has continued unceasing until now. When will it end?

The mainstream media will tell you that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and that they started the current cycle of violence in Gaza. It is sadly quite true that Hamas engages in terrorist activity. But it is not true that they started it. This matters, because the clue to how this can end is found in the cause from which it began. The bombardment of Gaza cannot be understood outside the context of the illegal Occupation of Palestine by Israel.

To try to discuss Palestine without taking the Occupation into account would be like trying to discuss the actions of Nelson Mandela’s ANC without taking into account the original sin of Apartheid.

Few people may now remember, but Mandela was a founding member of the terrorist wing of the ANC, called Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He did not begin as a terrorist or end as a terrorist, but for a while, in the midst of the horror of Apartheid, he dipped into that dark evil. He has largely been exonerated across the globe, and seems elevated posthumously nearly to the status of prophet today. And he deserves it. Most people would probably argue that, faced with the suffering of black South Africans, he was pushed into a violence beyond reason.

Interestingly, only a small number of South Africans ever joined the terrorist wing of the ANC despite the brutality of Apartheid. Similarly, only a small number of Palestinians have joined in the violence of Hamas. Israel too, has had to make military service mandatory in order to ensure enough people will engage in violence against Palestinians, and still the number of refuseniks is growing. There is hope within the human race.

But the Occupation must end. The ‘Original Sin’ must be eradicated. Palestinians must be accorded the dignity to live, move, work, eat, grow, and love that we all desire. Violence will never be the solution. Most Palestinians who suffer at the hands of Israel will also never have engaged in violence themselves. This is the message of Christ on the cross, who went to his death rather than strike back at the Roman Occupiers of his day. But Christ did not go silently. His life was a testimony to loving the outcast and the different, to building relationship beyond the sanctions of society, and to speaking for compassion and truth. His voice still echoes across the ages, calling Christians to follow in his footsteps.

This is where we come in, across the globe and in every nation. The Palestinians have exhausted every peaceful avenue at their disposal. Every time they negotiate, Israel intensifies the persecution while the world is distracted by the so-called Peace Talks. The UN has sanctioned Israel and its atrocities in 67 resolutions, without any cessation of persecution.

So it is now up to us. We cannot sit in our armchairs idly condemning violence unless we lend our voice and participate in creating peace. We must speak, loudly and clearly. We must attend peaceful protests and vigils. We must let our faces be seen. We must write to our political leaders. We must support the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). We must produce a collective cry of “no more” that will break down the walls and the checkpoints and free the Palestinians. And then we must support the process of reconciliation that will be so necessary to create a peaceful future for all.

Only then can the children of Palestine truly dance free once again.

For a super quick and really well-done overview of the history and current situation in Israel and Palestine, Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has produced the following 6 minute animated introduction:
The following article in the New Yorker is very well done:
For books “I Shall Not Hate” by Dr. Izzeldin Abouleish whose two daughters and one niece were killed in the 2009 bombing of Gaza is excellent.
For a quick and comprehensive read, Ben White’s “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide” (2009) is great and includes maps and stats.
Other excellent and well-respected authors include: Gideon Levy (Israeli journalist), Mark Braverman (Jewish American writer), Elias Chacour (Palestinian Bishop), Ilan Pappe (Israeli historian), Dr. Norman Finkelstein (Jewish American prof whose parents were holocaust survivors) and Amira Hass (Jewish Israeli journalist who lives in the West Bank). On Facebook, check out ISM (The International Solidarity Movement), Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), CJPME (Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East), and Dr. Norman Finkelstein. Photo at top courtesy of

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