Abrahamic Initiative on the Middle East

Grounded in Abrahamic Theology

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Remarks on the Steps of the State Capitol Building

Emergency Protest for Gaza

Rev. J. Mark Davidson

Raleigh, North Carolina

July 19, 2014

             First, I want to thank you for being here today! Too many in our country have fallen asleep to the horrors of what is happening in Israel-Palestine and in Gaza. Too many in our country allow themselves to be lulled into the slumbers of oblivion and denial. They do not wish to be disturbed. They refuse to face the truth. They allow themselves to be deceived, to listen only to voices that support their denial. By your presence here today, you show that you are not asleep, and what you are witnessing has moved you to be here today with other people of conscience.

             All of us have a responsibility to educate ourselves about what is going on in Israel-Palestine. We cannot trust the American mainstream media to tell us the whole truth about what is going on there. Respected newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post are riddled with pro-Israel bias. Mainstream television outlets like CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, FOX, and National Public Radio slant the story in favor of Israel and rarely set the crisis du jour in accurate historical context. They would have you believe that this is a “war” between Israel and Hamas. It is not. It is the continuation of Israeli brutality against the 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza. It is the continuation of Israeli plans to bring Hamas and the people of the Gaza Strip to their knees, to eliminate the last vestige of Palestinian resistance, why? So they can continue undeterred with their plans to colonize the entirety of historic Palestine for themselves. As Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has said, “The message of the Israeli government to the Palestinian people is submit, leave, or die.”

The purveyors of disinformation would have you believe that the Israeli government and military are moral, reasoned, and measured in their responses, and it is Hamas who is the “evil” “terrorist” “aggressor.”….Hamas that brought this on themselves by ordering the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli settler teenagers…Hamas that has no respect for life because they dare to tell the citizens of Gaza, who have suffered such devastating dispossession, that they have the right to be in their own homes, and in any case, where would they run to? There is no safe place in Gaza. No Iron Dome for Gaza….Hamas that understands nothing but brute force….Hamas that breaks cease-fires. The lies – and I use that word advisedly – keep coming at such a furious pace that they can hardly be refuted by the facts before another pack of lies is spouted out and repeated often enough and not refuted in the media that soon they become accepted as truth. 

If more Americans knew the truth, they would rise up and demand that our government stop funding the harsh military occupation, the longest occupation in modern history, now entering its 47th year, stop funding the illegal, Jewish-only settlements built on stolen Palestinian land, stop funding the periodic spasms of anti-Palestinian violence in the Gaza strip. The fact is that no nation that receives American military aid may use that aid or American weaponry to violate human rights. The Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act explicitly forbid it. Any nation that does so shall have their military aid suspended. That’s American law. And yet this law is not applied when it comes to Israel, the largest recipient of American military aid, over $3.5 billion a year. 

Israel’s “right to self-defense” is not in question. For that matter, neither should the Palestinians be denied their right to defend themselves, especially as a colonized, ethnically cleansed, occupied, and oppressed people. Self-defense is one thing; killing women and children and families gathered for Iftar is quite another. 

Much has been made of the rockets being fired by Hamas into Israel. Let me be clear: firing rockets into civilian population centers is a war crime. It fails to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants…it threatens the lives of innocent people. As I condemn the Israeli slaughter of innocents in Gaza, I also condemn the rockets of Hamas. But, to be candid, the rockets are, in fact, little more than a nuisance to Israel, for three reasons. One, the rockets themselves, even those with longer range, are mostly ineffectual; they are not hi-tech, precision weapons. Second, most Israelis have a “safe room” in their homes, a reinforced rocket shelter, a windowless room in their home, and there are numerous rocket shelters in public buildings and businesses throughout Israel. When a rocket enters Israeli airspace, it is immediately detected, the siren sounds, and Israelis retreat to safety. Third, Iron Dome, the new missile interception defense system has a very high success rate, and has effectively prevented rockets from doing any serious damage in Israeli populations centers.

 In any case, Hamas rockets utterly pale in comparison to the destruction and death raining down on Gaza: nearly 2 weeks of constant bombardment, hundreds and hundreds of airstrikes from Apache helicopters, F-16s, drones equipped with Hellfire missiles, high-powered artillery and strafing from Israeli warships off the coast of Gaza, and now a ground invasion. Over 320 Palestinians are dead, 1 in 5 are children, thousands injured and made homeless. All this in the name of “self-defense” and with American weapons. The airwaves are full of condemnations for the largely harmless Hamas rockets, while Israel is mildly cautioned to try to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Meanwhile, the slaughter continues unabated.

 Does not Palestinian life matter equally as much as Israeli life? It saddens me beyond words to report that there are prominent voices in Israeli society and public life today who have come right out and said that the life of a Palestinian is worth next to nothing, worth far less than an Israeli life. A rabbi attached to one of the settlements has said these horrible words, “The lives of 1,000 Palestinian children are not worth the fingernail of a single Jewish child.” And a well-known member of the Israeli parliament said 2 days ago that all Palestinians are terrorists and must die. She also said all Palestinian mothers should be killed because they give birth to “little snakes.”  

Certainly this does not represent the views of all Israelis. I want you to know that 2 hours ago today, Israeli peace activists met in Habima Square in Tel Aviv to condemn the killing and destruction, and to call for a genuine cease-fire with all parties consulted, (unlike the last one), and the lifting of the siege which is suffocating the Gaza Strip. When they gathered last week, they were attacked by extreme right-wing thugs. There are many, many courageous Jews in Israel, in this country, and in Europe working hard for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Still, it is undeniable that there is an alarming rise of hate speech in Israel, and the chant “Death to Arabs” is often heard in the streets and at soccer matches. History shows us, and the Jewish people know it perhaps best of all, that when the value of human life is cheapened, when every human life is no longer precious and sacred, then anything can happen. Then the gates of morality are breached, and fresh hells are opened. 

So, what can you and I do? As people of conscience who have woken up to what is really happening, we can help wake up our friends and neighbors. We can make our voices heard. We can advocate and pressure our government and our institutions to insist that the destruction and the killing stop and that human rights and international law be upheld. We can insist that American laws regarding military aid and American weaponry be enforced and that Israel is not exempt. We can and should make widespread use of nonviolent means of economic pressure such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions. These tools helped India gain its independence, helped African-Americans in this country gain their civil rights, helped dismantle the apartheid system in South Africa, and they will help end the occupation, the illegal settlements, and the blockade of Gaza. 

I urge you to get involved and stay involved. Connect with local, national, and international organizations dedicated to a just peace in Israel-Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace, Coalition for Peace with Justice, and the Abrahamic Initiative on the Middle East are but a few of the local groups doing this vital work. All have open membership and would welcome your contributions. Help others wake up. Seek peace. Pursue justice. Hold every life precious. Make a difference. Let your life speak!