Have you seen the amazing clouds floating across Connecticut this week? Banks of fluffy white clouds in a blue sky, hulking gray clouds portending rain.
I imagine there are clouds and sun this week over Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. I feel they connect me to what is going on so far away.
How am I feeling about the war in the Middle East? Outrage that blankets pain that nestles next to disbelief.
I am appalled that Hamas murdered so many civilians in Israel when fighters invaded on Oct. 7. That was a war crime and a crime against humanity. To not condemn it is to endorse it. As historian and activist Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
But I have a question for my elected officials at all levels on up to President Biden: Why do you condemn Hamas and pledge undying support (including yet more military aid) to Israel to respond to Hamas overrunning Israeli territory, and not condemn Israel for meting out deadly collective punishment to the 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza by cutting off all food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine? That too is a war crime and a crime against humanity. Why is that okay when you condemn Russia (rightfully so) for trying to do the same thing in Ukraine? Then Israel orders a million Gazans to move south while continuing to bomb the whole strip, which is forcible transfer – another war crime.
And why is it okay for Israel to have ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians (half the population) from their homes when the Jewish state was established in 1948 and to have occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (until 2006, though Israel still controls the air and sea and land borders around it) since 1967?
Israel has a right to exist, but not to oppress another people.
I was born the same year as Israel, and I grew up on the ideas of “making the desert bloom,” equality between the sexes because women served in the military, and the collective dream of kibbutz life. I wanted to live on a kibbutz, even though I’m not Jewish. I loved Israeli music and dancing the hora.
Then I married into a Jewish family and we raised our kids Jewish. I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and was moved yet again by the horrors Jews endured, or succumbed to. Never again, the world said.
More recently I visited an exhibit at the Yale Art Museum that included a video of Israeli soldiers destroying a Palestinian home in the West Bank. The security guard, who had to stand by the video all day, wondered aloud: Since the Jews had suffered so much under Hitler – loss of their rights, loss of their homes, loss of their lives – why would they treat the Palestinians this way?
I went to Israel/Palestine in 2008 and again in 2011 to see some of these realities on the ground. In the West Bank I saw homes that had been destroyed; water diverted from Palestinian villages to Israeli settlements that are considered illegal under international law (and also by the U.S. under most administrations); roads that were for Israelis only; and some of the hundreds of checkpoints that hem in Palestinians in their own land.
I visited a village where every Friday the Palestinians and their Israeli and international allies conducted a nonviolent march to the “apartheid fence” (now a wall) that Israel erected through their village after the Second Intifada, only to be pushed back by the soldiers with guns and tear gas, setting fires in the dry grass. I choked on that smoke.
In Jerusalem I met Israelis seeking justice and peace with their Palestinian neighbors. They document Israeli atrocities in the Occupied Territories and have concluded – along with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – that Israel is an apartheid state.
In New Haven, after the Hamas attack and the ongoing Israeli response, I attended dueling rallies on the steps of City Hall, where a rabbi told me the Jews there were in a celebratory mood, despite almost a thousand Jews being killed in Israel at that point. “We’re gonna laugh and we’re gonna dance because we have faith in God and God chose us to be the people for the land of Israel.”
At the end I asked one of the organizers of the pro-Palestinian rally to comment on the massacre of civilians by Hamas (because no one had mentioned it at the rally), and she said, “We Yalies for Palestine hold the Israeli government and the Zionist regime accountable for any and all loss of lives, which are all tragic.”
It was a perfect microcosm – without weapons – of what goes on in the Middle East.
Context is critical. Supporters of Palestine point to the right of an occupied people to resist occupation. Palestinians have been doing it for 75 years. But not condemning the atrocities Hamas committed is morally reprehensible and weakens support for Palestinian freedom and a Palestinian state.
If the U.S. truly wanted to support Israel and promote peace in the region, Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress would demand a ceasefire, an immediate end to the total blockade of Gaza (as I write on Oct. 19 no humanitarian aid has been allowed in), an exchange of prisoners between the hostages Hamas took and the 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners (including children), negotiations to end the 56-year occupation and a just resolution to the challenge for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace.
If the former Palestinian fighters and former Israeli soldiers who belong to Combatants for Peace can work together and love each other, there is hope for the broader communities there. Never was it truer that war is not the answer and that justice delayed is justice denied.
Melinda Tuhus lives in New Haven.