Thursday, August 3, 2006
Israeli dissenters have been increasingly angry with the American Jewish leadership. Mainstream Jewish organizations ensure blanket U.S. support for Israeli government policies, creating a culture of impunity that repeatedly has gotten that country into trouble.
For me, the last straw was an invitation from all major Jewish organizations -- headed by Seattle's Jewish Federation -- to join a "support Israel" rally, just as the Israel Defense Forces were pounding Lebanon and killing mostly civilians in the process.
After that rally (which, reportedly, was rather gung-ho), I visited the federation's Web site: It was split between calls to assist Israelis displaced due to Hezbollah rockets and descriptions of the rally. I could not find a single word about Lebanese civilian deaths, which at that point outnumbered Israeli civilian deaths by a 20-1 ratio.
I sent a very angry letter titled "Where is the Shame?" to the local Jewish paper. The next day, Naveed Haq (angry about Lebanon and possibly deranged) broke into the federation building, killed Pamela Waechter and wounded five more employees.
Can Haq's defense argue thus: "Since the federation has effectively condoned the killing of Lebanese civilians, its employees are culpable and killing them is legitimate"? Heavens, no.
The federation employees are defenseless civilians. You cannot kill them as proxy targets to anyone. Moreover, it is wrong to reduce the federation's complex ties with Israel -- cultural, historical, religious -- to a single political act. The Seattle attack is a reprehensible crime. No one in his or her right mind would argue differently.
So why is it that the Israeli mainstream, and many Americans, condone the collective punishment-by-proxy of Palestinian civilians? Since January, the Israeli government has punished Palestinians for voting Hamas into power, by denying them money that is theirs and increasingly isolating them from the world. But Palestinian votes for Hamas must not be reduced to political support for certain racist clauses in its charter. The vote has many other aspects -- not least of which is the oppression Palestinians have suffered under Israeli military rule.
Since January, Palestinian suffering intensified, and Qassam rockets started flying into Israel again. IDF escalated its responses, kidnapping prisoners and causing dozens of Palestinian civilian deaths. This led to the June 25 kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. The IDF immediately destroyed Gaza's only power plant, demolished major bridges and completely sealed Gaza off from the world, stranding thousands of Palestinians on the Egyptian border in the sweltering heat. Eight civilians died while waiting to return, including a dehydrated baby.
In Lebanon, we see more of the same. After the Hezbollah raid that reignited the front, the IDF's chief of staff vowed to turn Lebanon "20 years back" -- in reference to the total destruction from civil war and the 1982 Israeli invasion. His words became reality, with the IDF bombing infrastructure across the land; for example, Beirut International Airport. According to Israel, the Lebanese deserve this for their leadership's failure to rein in Hezbollah.
Morally speaking, there is no difference between the death of Gaza civilians due to direct or indirect Israeli actions, the killing of eight Israeli Railways employees by a Hezbollah rocket that hit their Haifa depot, the killing of hundreds of Lebanese civilians by IDF airstrikes and Pamela Waechter's murder. All are murders of defenseless civilians, explained as political punishment-by-proxy.
We must sound a clear moral voice. No use of force (including collective punishment) should be tolerated except immediate, narrowly defined self-defense. Violators -- whether individuals, militia or nations -- must be stopped and brought to justice. If we fail to uphold the sanctity of life regardless of nationality, we risk seeing the whole planet drenched in blood soon.
Assaf Oron is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington.