In late October, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement saying that Oct. 7 “did not happen in a vacuum.” At the same time, he added “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
He was severely criticized for his statement and asked to resign by the Israeli government and the Israeli UN ambassador.
We applaud his statement for its honesty and forthrightness. We shine a light below on some of the context that Secretary-General Guterres was referring to. We do not offer justification for war crime murders of civilians. But we do live with the peril of explosive rage when the human rights of an entire people is denied, when their oppression is ratcheted up with every passing year, and when their voices are stifled by the world’s strongest powers.
Our own American complicity in supporting this oppression and stifling these voices is morally indefensible.
The three of us, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian traveled together a few years ago on a trip of witness to the West Bank and Israel. Each of our faith traditions shares an historic link to that suffering land. And they each contain ethical perspectives that shine a light on our current situation, calling us toward the work of peacemaking. Wherever we went, we were received with joy, food, dance and friendship by West Bank Palestinians and Israeli Bedouins. But over and over, we learned of the suffering caused by widespread state and settler violence, a denial of basic human rights, and a racist denial of humanity. It left us heartbroken.
We encountered checkpoints within the West Bank that restrict or delay children from walking to school, workers from going to their jobs, women from journeying to give birth in a safe environment, and family members from visiting one another. We saw the black containers on top of Palestinian homes used for collecting rainwater for essential needs, while Israeli settlers have unfettered access to aquifer water to fill their swimming pools. We saw the sights where homes were demolished. We heard of children arrested and dragged from their homes in the middle of the night. Everywhere we turned, we saw evidence that confirmed the assessment of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International: apartheid was being enacted before our very eyes.
But that is not all. We visited farms and villages where the settlers, with Israeli Defense Force (IDF) complicity, used violence against their Christian and Muslim neighbors, destroying their fruit and olive trees in an effort to make life unbearable. So too, we learned of the humiliation of having Palestinian places of worship desecrated by Israeli Defense Forces. Al Aqsa, the holiest mosque in Jerusalem, is deliberately targeted by the IDF, causing brutal violence in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims gather for night prayers.
The killing with impunity of scores of Palestinians by settlers and Israeli “security” forces has gone practically unnoticed, due to the carnage of the carpet bombing of Gaza. To see over 10,900 Gaza Palestinians killed — largely civilians and as many as 70% children and women — is heartbreaking. Hospitals, places of worship, refugee camps from the original Nakba, civilians trying to flee, water storage facilities — all being bombed with no regard for human suffering. This collective punishment is a war crime. Cutting off water, food, fuel and medicines is a war crime.
It is unconscionable that our elected officials refuse to demand a ceasefire. It is likewise unconscionable that our leaders refuse to demand unfettered access to the basics for Palestinians: water, food, medical supplies and fuel for the hospitals to run. Soon, if not already, children in incubators will start dying. Murder of the innocents, especially children — since when is that tolerated, and still more encouraged, in any of our faith traditions?
It is our common moral values that make us stand up together for peace and against the thirst for revenge. This vengefulness is counterproductive. Vengeance will not bring back hostages. Slaughtering innocent civilians will not help end the conflict. Denying a people their basic rights will radicalize future generations. For the sake of preventing further bloodshed, for the sake of not allowing this situation to engulf the rest of the Middle East and a large part of the world, let there be sanity and a halt to the killing fields of Gaza.
Context matters. We repeat: Our own American complicity in supporting this oppression and stifling Palestinian voices is morally indefensible. We say “Not in our name”.
M. Reza Mansoor MD is President of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut and the author of “Stigmatized from 9/11 to Trump and Beyond — An American Muslim Journey.” Shelly Altman is Chairperson of the Jewish Voice for Peace New Haven. Rev. Steven Jungkeit, Ph.D., is Senior Minister of the The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.