Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Remarks at a panel with Richard Falk and Peter Weiss called The Goldstone Report: Does International Law Really Matter? (Thursday March 11, 2010 Tilman Chapel Church Center for UN, 777 UN Plaza 44th and 1rst Ave)
see also AlAlam TV http://www.divshare.com/download/10740747-6b8
Asalaamu aleikum, shalom aleichemMay peace be upon us. Alas, peace is a distance hope on a brutal horizon.
I would like to address the religious implications of the Goldstone Report.
As a rabbi committed to The Torah of Nonviolence, I hold to the observation of Rebbe Nachman of Bratislav who witnessed the Napoleonic wars. "Many stupid beliefs people once held, such as idol worship that demanded child sacrifice, thank God, have disappeared. But, as of yet, the foolish belief in the pursuit of war... has not disappeared. What great thinkers they must be! What ingenuity they must possess to invent amazing weapons that kill thousands of people at once! Is there any greater stupidity than this? To murder so many people for nothing?"
As a person with a deep commitment to cherishing life, which is, after all, the purpose of religion, I would like to begin my reflection on the religious implications of the Goldstone Report with words of lamentation and mourning for the memory of all those who lost their lives during Operation Cast Lead, almost one thousand five hundred souls, may their memories be a blessing and for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who suffer profound wounds, loss of shelter, food and health insecurity and profound trauma, and for the children and parents of Sderot and Ashkelon who have suffered the trauma of pipe missiles and rockets. May healing come quickly in our day. Each soul represents an entire world. How many worlds have been shattered due to the violence unleashed upon civilians described in the Goldstone report.
And so, I ask for silence to honor each human being who has known loss.
The Gazans have taught us:
no place to run
the white fire finds us
burns skin and bone.
Water can not put out the fire
nor tears quench the flame
but we will not be gone from here
we will remain. What will become of us?
In exploring the religious implications of the Goldstone Report I want to acknowledge the deep commitment Judge Goldstone has to both human rights, the State of Israel and Jewish tradition. Therefore, I acknowledge that my remarks have been influenced by Jewish tradition and my own stance as a shomeret shalom, a rabbi committed to the torah of nonviolence. I also want to honor the hundreds of people working for the United Nations who make every effort to uphold human rights around the world. May their efforts come to fruition in the form of peace on earth, quickly in our day. I want to point out that Israel and Hamas were both condemned for war crimes which should be taken seriously by all proponents of human rights. I want to address, however, the crimes committed by Israel which impact me as a rabbi and a Jew. This does not mean that I do not hold Hamas accountable for shooting rockets at civilians in Israel who were protected from death due to the 400 million spent on security systems including early warning systems and shelters.
The low number of deaths is attributable to their effort to protect Jewish citizens of their state. The same protection was not afforded Palestinian citizens nor the civilians of Gaza.
The first century sage Raban Shimon ben Gamliel used to say: The world stands on three things: justice, truth, and peace as it says ‘Execute the judgment of truth, and justice and peace will be established in your gates’ (Zekharya 8:16). I believe in the truth of the Goldstone Report. Due to Judge Goldstone's impeccable credentials and the overwhelming evidence gathered from the field, those who see the report as unbalanced are living in a world of denial of what is obvious to all those who have witnessed 'facts on the ground.'
When Operation Cast Lead was initiated I was working as co-director of the AFSC Middle East Program in San Francisco with my colleague Noura Khouri. We came in every day, looked at each other, shook our heads, and began weeping as we heard the news of phosphorous bombs dropped upon a penned in and completely defenseless civilian population. Part of our grief stemmed from past experience. Operation Cast Lead was not new to either of us, because each of us, in our own way, have carried the occupation of Palestinian people and lands in our hearts and minds on a daily basis for most of our lives. Ever since I first heard about the Nakba from the lips of Atallah Monsour who resides in Nazareth while I was a high school student in Haifa, to the more recent accounts of my friends Amer Shurrab, Mohammed Omar, Amal Sabawi and Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, I have been an on the ground witness to the occupation of Palestinian lands and people for over forty four years.
I have seen with my own eyes,
olive trees rooted in the land for over a thousand years
ripped from the soil to make room for Jewish neighborhoods
I have seen bulldozers crushing homes while families watch the onset of their homelessness
I have seen hundreds of Palestinians denied passage to school, the hospital, business and home try to plead with young soldiers with guns, soldiers
whose hearts will wither in the memory of there actions
I have seen the building of the separation walls that imprison entire villages
and turn them into ghettos, cutting people off from their families on the other side and shop owners with tears in their eyes as their livelihood is taken from them.
I have seen young boys and men forced to knee on the ground
while soldiers cover their heads with black hoods soaked in vomit
and slap and kick them while screaming curses
I have seen a father cry while he is striped naked in the street in front of his son
I have been present to tears from a woman who created a Woman's Center in Jenin as she recounts how her son was left to bleed to death in the street after being shot filming a demonstration
I have been the target of stones from the hands of Jewish children from Hebron who have been taught to throw rocks, broken glass and steel pipes with impunity
at Palestinian children trying to go to school.
I have seen a bomb fall from an American apache helicopter as people scatter
and there is no safe place to hide
I have seen the faces of countless martyred children etched on the walls of refugee camps, such as Yosef who was shot in the head by a sniper for offering a soldier a cigarette
I have seen all these things and hundreds of other scenes of occupation at check points, on the street, in houses, schools, hospitals and office buildings
and I have heard accounts of occupation from the lips of hundreds of people
for the past forty four years that include tales of arrest, imprisonment, torture and beating, targeted killing, home demolition, occupation of homes, human shields, destruction and loss of land, prevention of education, family separation, denial of health care, deportation and death and I have learned there is no family in all of Palestine that has not known the tragedy of occupation.
So what really hit me about the Goldstone Report, was not so much the content of the destruction accompanied by the usual denials and justifications, but the clarity of Israeli intention which is evident in the Israeli name for the policy of total destruction, The Dahiya doctrine which is the precise and indiscriminate targeting of civilian infrastructure and civilians on massive scale, as it was applied by Israel in Lebanon. In the case of Gaza, the Dahiya doctrine was applied for the purpose utterly defeating and suppressing and reducing to ruins the lives of the people of Gaza. The Dahiya doctrine is applied in combination with another Israeli policy: Hafrada, or Separation, the policy of utterly and forever isolating 80% of the Palestinian population from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan River from the Jewish population in a series of tiny reservations to be known in the future as the Palestinian State. Hafrada, separation, can be translated as apartheid, which also means separation. And still, in the face of overwhelming evidence gathered by Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories, thousands international observers, including many South Africans, who will tell you, 'Hafrada is worse than South African Apartheid', inspite of all evidence of what Baruch Kimmerling called 'the politicide of the Palestinian people', the international community has not found an effective way to bring about a just and healing solution that ends the military occupation of Palestinian people and lands and lives up to UN resolutions on a negotiated settlement to the right of return and the restoration of human rights to aggrieved parties that insures the security of both peoples.
Jewish tradition calls upon those who call themselves Jews to pursue justice and peace, that is, to take an active rather than passive stance when human rights are violated. Peace cannot be established without adherence to the demands of restorative justice and human rights. Calm imposed through the agency of suppression is not the same as peace. Peace by its very nature can only be established upon cessation of systematic violence and human rights abuse.
Therefore, the religious implication of the Goldstone Report in the arena of civil society is an active embrace of an appropriate response.
As international civil society considers its response, I am reminded of two sayings in my tradition.
The first from Yalkut Shimoni, 'God formed the 'human' with soil from all over the world yellow clay, white sand, black loam and red rock so no one could say, 'You do not belong here.' The second, repeated hundreds of thousands of times, "Even the commandments of the Torah are temporarily overridden
where they conflict with human dignity (JT Kilayim 9:1)."
Or, as it is written in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Akiva taught: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. This is the most important rule in the Torah. Ben Azzai says, "This is the book of chronologies: Humanity was create in the image of Elohim. (Genesis 5) This is an even greater principle so that one should not say, 'Because I have been humiliated, let my friend be humiliated with me, because I have been cursed, let my friend be cursed with me. Jer. Talmud, Nedarim 30b
Since both of these are being violated on a daily basis, and the violations are growing worse and worse, and the degree of violent suppression seems to know no boundary, we are asked to actively pursue restorative justice and peace.
I believe, in pursuit of justice and peace, two actions have to happen.
The first, was articulated by an Israeli young person on his first visit to Palestine out of uniform. He came away from that experience with these thoughts.
"I think the Holocaust lies at the base of the fear that leads Israel to commit terrible deeds...no matter what solution is reached, Jews need reassurance in any agreement that we are not leaving ourselves vulnerable to have anything like the Holocaust again. But what reassurance suffices? We too need to work on this fear; it's not just for the rest of the world to assure us. We will never be completely free until we can heal ourselves. We need not sacrifice any of our remembrance to allow ourselves to heal to the point where we can, as a people, trust other peoples and feel confident about our future." That is, Jews must undertake an active pursuit of healing the wounds of the Holocaust trauma. What that future will look like can only be determined in the process of healing, not through the agency of suppression.
How we go about healing from cultural trauma is a huge question beyond the scope of these brief remarks. The research and experience is out there. The Israeli and Jewish community, and the Palestinian community have become experts in approaches to cultural trauma and PTSD. We have to apply the wisdom we know.
Secondly, we have to recognize that while negotiations are pursued and dialogues of mutual understanding and compassionate listening are conducted those of us in civil society must also take up the call of hundreds of organizations and individuals in Palestinian civil society along with partners in Israeli society that have called for a nonviolent boycott and divestment from all companies, corporations and institutions that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian people and lands until such time as
1. There is a clear end to Israeli occupation which is reflected in the complete cessation of the colonial project of taking over and settling Palestinian lands, the dismantling of the Separation Wall, Jewish only roads and the entire infrastructure of what Israeli's call HAFRADA, and an immediate end to the ongoing siege of Gaza.
2. Recognition of the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to the right of return in the context of a just and mutually negotiated settlement to the conflict according to the many peace plans that have been offered since Oslo.
The Palestinian nonviolent movement is growing from strength to strength against formidable odds. Recently, Israeli youth, especially the Shministim, anarchists against the Wall and others are finding their voices as well. The nonviolent movement in Palestinian civil society must be made known by activists around the world. Boycott and divestment can only occur in partnership with the Palestinian community and those in the Israeli community who support noncooperation with institutions that support violence.
For those in the Jewish community who call boycott and divestment immoral or not useful, I would say to you, you are on the wrong side of history. Boycott and divestment is not about demonization. It is about changing the climate of acceptance for illegal actions by governments, corporations and institutions that profit from illegal occupation. Forty years of dialogue and negotiation with Israelis and Jews clearly has not worked to advance the cause of self-determination for Palestinians. The atrocious situation on the ground is far worse than ever before. The two state solution and all the peace plans and road maps have been undermined by the systematic effort to enclose Palestinians in what Ariel Sharon himself called bantustans in order to deny them civil and national rights. In this context, further efforts at dialogue only benefit those with privilege, unless they are accompanied by strategies of resistance to the systematic inequality Palestinians face on a daily basis. The agreed upon strategy is boycott and divestment from companies that profit from occupation. Companies that are built on West Bank lands such as Ahavah, companies that provide Israel with 'security' technologies such as Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard and others all fall within the domain of boycott and divestment.
It is true, when one engages in a solidarity partnership, you take on, in some degree, the suffering of a targeted people, in this case, those who oppose occupation by engaging in boycott and divestment from companies that profit from occupation.
Loss of reputation, work and perhaps, as in the case of Rachel Corrie and others, your life. Nonetheless, we are obligated, in the face of such systematic brutality, to exert the pressure needed to create a climate in which business as usual can no longer be conducted, as in the case of South Africa. Boycott and divestment is not directed at ending the state of Israel, nor does it represent an existential threat, nor is it anti-semetic, which must also be resisted. Rather, boycott and divestment is a tool for social change aimed at ending illegal acts through nonviolence.
I will end with a poem inspired by an encounter with Rami Elchanan, a member of the board of the Bereaved Parents' Circle whose daughter Smadar was murdered by a suicide bomber. He reminds us that Palestinians and Jews are destined to be neighbors. However peace takes shape, our future is together.
Rami's eyes collapse into a sad smile
for the thousandth time
he recites his daughter's death
the moment he beheld her in the morgue
now she dies every hour
on the street
with her girl friend
like famous anne
she hated injustice and believed in the goodness of doing right
she tried to stop the war
with a letter
"Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
Abraham loved Hagar,
mother of the Muslim people,
and that story is well known.
How can it be that we don’t live in peace
with the Muslims?"
Her mother Nurit wrote a letter to the same paper
after the burial.
the same kind of suffering,
wrote what I would
have said to my little girl when I saw her for the
last time, before turning my back and leaving her
in the hands of strangers:
'Why does that streak of blood
rip the petal of
Rami used to say
'There is no wall so high it can keep apart those
who want to kill each other
And there is no wall so thick it can keep apart those
who want to love each other.
Which do you want to be?'