Conf Call with Sami Awad, plus Rabbi Seidernbeg on Jewish Ethics in GAZA, Noa Israeli singer, and Peter Beinart on the Myths about Gaza
ALERT: Conference Call with Sami Awad from Palestine this coming Monday, August 4 on the Israel/Gaza War. Sami Awad is the Executive Director of Holy Land Trust (HLT), a Palestinian non-profit organization which he founded in 1998 in Bethlehem. HLT works with the Palestinian community at both the grassroots and leadership levels in developing nonviolent approaches that aim to end the Israeli occupation and build a future founded on the principles of nonviolence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence.
For NSP–Network of Spiritual Progressives currently paid-up members, Tikkun subscribers and Beyt Tikkun members.
The call will include Sami Awad calling in from Bethlehem, Palestine, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and Cat Zavis (executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives).
TIME: 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time / 11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. (You may join the call if you join or renew membership in the NSP before Monday at www.spiritualprogressives.org).
Call in number for the conference call: 1-267-507-0240
Conference code: 241099
Editor’s Note On the Articles Below: Rabbi David Seidenberg, one of the most creative rabbinic voices explicating the Jewish mystical tradition and championing the environment, presents an important Jewish religious perspective on the religious ethical issues raised by Israel’s war in Gaza. Please share this with anyone you know in the Jewish world who has given blanket support to Israel’s current actions in Gaza. Also, please read the article by Peter Beinart on the lies being told by the American Jewish establishment and the impassioned plea from Israeli pop singer Noa.
–Rabbi Michael Lerner
On Jewish Ethics and the War in Gaza
Rabbi David Seidenberg
“The terrorists are firing rockets from schools, from mosques, from hospitals, from heavily civilian populations. We have to try and are doing our best to minimize civilian casualties. But we cannot give our attackers immunity or impunity.” – Benyamin Netanyahu, on July 24, 2014
On the same day that Bibi spoke these words, Israel may have bombed a UN school in Gaza that had become a place of refuge for Palestinians who left their homes to escape the shelling. We don’t know for sure if it was Israeli fire that hit that school, but Israel had hit schools two other times before, and on the morning of July 30th, Israeli artillery hit another school, killing 20 or more internal refugees from this war.
As Bibi said, “we cannot give our attackers immunity or impunity.”
I want to look at the implications of these words, using Torah and rabbinic tradition.
The Talmud (Beitzah 32b) says that the Jews are a compassionate people (rachmanim), and that someone who claims to be Jewish but doesn’t show the quality of compassion is not really a Jew. Sefer Chinukh (Yitro42) says that Jews are “compassionate people, sons and daughters of compassionate people”. The Zohar (1:174a) even says that when Jacob received the name Israel after wrestling the angel, that this was in order to allow Jacob to become attached to this quality of compassion.
According to rabbinic tradition (both midrash and Kabbalah), the most important name of God, YHVH (often translated as Lord), is also tied to compassion, whereas the name Elohim (God) is tied to God’s judgment. The Zohar explains that Jacob was renamed Israel in order to bring down into the world that quality of YHVH’s compassion.
At the same time, there still is a need for God’s judgment. When is that? Says the Zohar (ibid.), “When the wicked abound in the world, God’s name becomes Elohim” – because God must bring judgment upon the wicked in order to save the world.
Now listen again to what Netanyahu is saying. He is not just prosecuting a war, he is carrying out a judgment, deciding between those who should have immunity, and those who should not. It is as if Bibi were casting the IDF in the role of instrument of God’s judgment. Bibi sounds a note of compassion (“we have to try to minimize civilian casualties”), but he does so in order to validate that what is raining down upon Hamas is truly justice, not just vengeance.
But what is justice, and what is vengeance?
Take a step back, to before this war. One of Hamas’s demands is an end to the blockade of Gaza. Israel’s blockade of Gaza has been going on since Hamas came to power. The blockade has always had several purposes. One was to stop arms from being smuggled in. But, many say, another goal was to make sure the Gazan Palestinians knew that they had chosen wrongly by electing Hamas, by electing a government that rejects the existence of Israel. To put it bluntly, the people were made to suffer because they had sinned.
When Bibi says that there can be no “immunity or impunity”, it doesn’t just mean impunity for Hamas. It means that there is no place in Gaza safe from Israel’s arm of justice, the arm that brings down God’s judgment. In reality, because of the way Gaza is set up and fenced in, this means no impunity for anyone. There is no place in Gaza where non-combatants, families, children, can be immune from attack – not the beach, not a school, not a hospital.
It is possible to claim that it is right for Israel to enact God’s judgment. After all, the same Zohar passage teaches that even though Jacob became attached to compassion when he was renamed Israel, sometimes Israel must turn back into Jacob: “When Jacob was not in the midst of enemies or in a foreign land, he was called Israel; when he was among enemies or in a foreign land, he was called Jacob.” From the Zohar’s perspective, when Israel is in the midst of enemies, it is both necessary and right for Israel to turn back into Jacob, to embody and become the instrument of God’s judgment.
And yet: “One who shows no compassion, it is known for sure that he is not of the seed of Abraham.” (Talmud, ibid.) I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Hamas members, being Muslim, are also of the seed of Abraham. That Hamas has been hiding rockets in schools, daring Israel to fire on places that should be safe (see Haaretz.) That Hamas used concrete to build miles of tunnels and no public bomb shelters. And that Hamas’s lack of compassion, to their own people and to Israeli civilians, shows that they are neither true Muslims, nor of the spiritual seed of Abraham.
Yet Netanyahu’s nod to compassion also seems like the nod of one who has lost compassion’s compass, not like one “from the seed of Abraham”. Why must there be no place of “immunity or impunity”? What if Israel decided to never shell schools and hospitals where people were taking refuge?
Surely I will never be called on to make such decisions, and I also know that people in Israel – Jews and Arabs – are traumatized by Gaza’s rocket fire, and that it needs to stop. I know Israel needs to defend itself. And yet…
On the shabbat between these two calamities at Gazan schools, we read about the city of refuge or “ir miklat“, where someone who has accidentally killed another can flee in order to be safe from punishment. (Numbers 35) Just as happens in war, outside the city of refuge (by analogy, in the chaos of a combat zone), a “blood-redeemer” has the right to avenge the victim’s death. However, if this blood-redeemer attempts to kill a person who has reached a refuge, he or she is counted as a murderer.
But what if there is no refuge? What if the fighting leaves no site of refuge in Gaza to which people can flee? As Netanyahu has clearly said, there will be no place off-limits to Israel’s artillery. If Hamas makes any building a target, the IDF will shoot at it.
The idea of a city of refuge isn’t just an analogy; the idea at its heart threads its way throughout Jewish law, which requires that if one besieges a city, one side of the city must be left open for people who wish to flee. “A place should be left open for fleeing, and for all those who desire to escape with their lives.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 6:7)
If one prosecutes a war, in a place where innocents have no place safe to flee to, and no way to leave, then that becomes murder. If the attacking army drops leaflets and calls civilians, telling them to evacuate an area that will be bombed, but there is no place to evacuate to, what compassion is this? How does it affect the “purity of arms” that has always been the hallmark of the IDF?
Imagine instead what might happen if Israel declared particular schools and shelters off-limits to attack. What if Hamas put all its rocket launchers in those schools? This is what would happen: everyone would see Hamas for what it is, and there would be an overwhelming international outcry against them.
And yet – people will say, such liberal interpretations are good, but what about the teaching that “one who is compassionate to the cruel will in the end become cruel to the compassionate”? (Tanchuma M’tzora 1) Moreover, the same Torah reading where the city of refuge appears is also a bonanza for the most right-wing policies. It defines the borders of the land of Israel in a way that includes all of Gaza and the West Bank (Numbers 34), and in Numbers 33:55, it commands the Israelites to “drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you” because otherwise “they will be thorns in your sides and they will harass you”.
The rabbinic response was that these strictures applied only to the original Canaanite nations, and not to anyone else, certainly not to the Palestinians. But that won’t stop those right-wing people who believe that God is on their side, who wish to believe that they are the arm of God’s judgment.
One thing is true, however. If we ever were “compassionate people, the sons and daughters of compassionate people”, we can no longer count on this. We are already “cruel to the compassionate“. Along with more than a thousand Palestinians and fifty Israelis who have died, so has our claim as Jews to be the unwavering seed of Abraham. Perhaps if we realized this, we would be ready to make peace, one broken people to another.
Rabbi David Seidenberg is the creator of neohasid.org and author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.
And a note from the popular Israeli singer Noa:
Open letter to the wind
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Greetings from our corner of the Middle East, where all hell has recently broken loose.
Terrorized, anguished and depressed, frustrated, angry….each emotional tidal wave competing with the other for domination over my heart and head…none prevail, I am drowning in the boiling ocean which is all of them combined.
There is a missile alert every hour somewhere near my home. In Tel Aviv, its worse. My son and I stopped our car in the middle of the street today and rushed to a nearby corridor as the piercing siren went off…a few minutes later we heard three loud booms that shook the walls. In the south it’s unbearable. Their lives down there have come to a standstill, their livelihood crushed; they spend most of their time in bomb shelters. A large part of the missiles are intercepted by our defense system, but not all. Every civilian is a target, our children are traumatized, the emotional scars are irreversible. And the tunnels, dug underground, reaching the very doorstep of some of the Kibbutzim on the Gaza border…in the dark dungeons of my nightmares I imagine what they are intended for: smuggling, kidnapping, torturing, murdering…. ! Our soldiers are on the front line. These are our sons, the sons of our friends and neighbors, the young men and women of this country called to duty by their government…and already, coffins draped in the flag, tear drenched funerals, shattered lives, Kadish…the well known, devastating routine.
And the Gazans..Oh lord, the Gazans…what could possibly be more miserable and horrible than what these people have to endure? Will their destiny be forever to suffer under the hands of cruel tyrants? The pictures of the bleeding children, the crying mothers in blood stained clothes, the rubble and devastation, the terror in their eyes, 5 minutes at best to get out of your house, to run for your lives because the bombs are falling…no shelter…the Taliban tactics of Hamas on one side and the F16 bombers of the Israeli army on the other, these people are clamped like walnuts, crushed by the thick metal jaws of blindness and stupidity!….the death toll rising and rising…for God’s sake….how much longer will this go on??
Hamas are extremists, they are Jihadists, they are dangerous, they aim to kill every Jew including me and my children, they do not recognize Israel, they plan to turn all Gazans into Shahids by using them as human shields…we’ve heard all of that. We’ve heard Hannia and his henchmen, and it’s probably all true, as far as there is any truth at all…
But is every man woman and child to blame for the bitter, horrible foolery of both sides??
We, Palestinians and Israelis alike, have “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to make peace”. We have created this mess with our own two hands, and we are paying the awful price for our arrogance and deaf foolery.
It is easy to point fingers and become extremely self-defensive when bombs are falling…each side huddles in his own corner, sticking with his own, blaming the other…
My heart goes out to the families of the victims wherever they are! I am happy to have a strong Israeli Army to defend me against the those who clearly state their aim is to slit my children’s throats…BUT..i do not want to use my sorrow and fear as a shield against human empathy and clear thinking. On the contrary, I want to do the opposite.
I want to stand in the middle of the rink, and speak my truth.
There are only two sides, and they are not Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. They are moderates and the extremists. I belong to the moderates, wherever they are. They are my camp. And this camp needs to unite!! I have nothing whatsoever in common with the Jewish extremists who burn children alive, who poison wells and uproot trees, who throw stones at school children, who are motivated by brainwashed hate and acute self-righteousness. I want to bury my head in my hands and disappear, to the moon if possible, when I read the sermons of Rabbi Ginsburg and Lior, romanticizing death and killing in the name of God as did Baruch Goldstein, their sacred martyr, who murdered 29 Arabs in cold blood as they were praying !..When I read the incredible words of racism and hate written by some of my fellow Israelis, the cries of Joy when Palestinian children are killed, the contempt for human life!! …The fact that we share the same passport and religion means nothing to me. I want nothing to do with these people.
Likewise, the extremists on the other side are my bitter enemies as well. But their wrath is directed not only against me but against the moderates in their own society….thus making us all brothers in arms!
Just as I urge the Arab moderates wherever they are to do everything in their power to shun extremism, I have no intention of blinding my eyes to the responsibility that must be taken by my side for the fiasco that is now occurring. Radical Islam is a dangerous phenomenon that must be dealt with not only by Israel, but by the entire world. But there are in the Muslim world more liberal voices, there are partners for dialogue! Have we done everything in our power to reach out to them?
The answer is NO, on the contrary. The present government lead by Netanyahu has done everything in its power to suppress any attempts at reconciliation. It has weakened and insulted Abu Mazen, leder of the more moderate PLO, who has stated again and again that he is interested in peace. When Abu Mazen made statements about the Holocaust, calling it the greatest tragedy in human history, they sneered and belittled him. They have disrespected agreements they themselves signed, refusing at a whim to release prisoners they already agreed to release, preferring to continue the outrageous and infuriating building in the settlements as if no talks were being held. It’s like slapping someone in the face, again and again, while at the same time innocently saying: “Let’s make peace! Don’t you see how much I want peace? Why aren’t you cooperating??”
And what of the Arab League’s peace initiative?? Why has it been consistently and recurrently ignored but the Israeli government??? Just recently, in an unprecedented act of good faith, a very prominent official from Saudi Arabia wrote an article in an Israeli Newspaper, expressing his wish for peace!! It went unnoticed! This behavior can only be described as obnoxious and arrogant.
What crazed messianic forces blind the eyes of these politicians and their constituency? What biblical Joshua syndrome? What are they thinking to themselves, that they will slowly but surely dominate the occupied territories until there will be no way to create the Palestinian state? What of all the Palestinians who live there, their aspirations, their history? What of their well being, their dreams, hopes, future?? Will they simply live happily ever after as second class citizen, or maybe convert en-masse to Judaism? What is the plan??
There is no plan, there is no vision that is morally compatible with universal values, intent on procuring co-existence: or at least none that is being articulated coherently to our people. In its place, we are being fed constant fear and paranoia, fanning the flames of nationalism, cultivating xenophobia and racism. De facto, these policies are deteriorating Israel to an ideological and strategic point of no return.
Only dialogue from a place of respect and empathy can save us. Only a concerted effort to strengthen the moderates and thus marginalize, as much as possible, the radicals, can afford us some hope. As much as we in Israel justifiably despise Hamas, it does not look like they are going anywhere. Have we seriously considered the conditions they pose for a cease fire? Many of them make sense! Why not attempt to alleviate the suffering of the Gazans, enable them to flourish economically, return dignity to their lives and gain a 10 year cease fire…10 years is a long time! Young minds can be opened; even modest prosperity can be the catalyst of change! Why assume automatically that these years will be used ONLY to strengthen Hamas military power? The conditions include international supervision. Maybe the years will create a reality in which Hamas, with a younger generation of leaders who see a different horizon, be drawn into the Political circle in a way that will, finally, enable dialogue??
I ask myself, and Netanyahu: why don’t we surprise ourselves!? You, Mr. Netanyahu, are known to be a clever man: why not go 180 degrees, change the rules of the game, think out of the box? Welcome Abu Mazen, stop the building in the settlements, support the unity government, open Gaza and enable commerce with international supervision, embrace the Palestinian’s aspirations alongside our own, welcome international intervention, and gain a real ally AGAINST the waves of extremism?? Check mate!
Have we really made every effort to do all this before sending our young men to die? Sadly, we have not.
No one is dismantling the Israeli Army anytime soon, and it should remain strong. But why are we so stubbornly refusing to take this calculated risk, and rather, choosing to sacrifice our children??? It is beyond my comprehension.
In the biblical Akedat Yitzchak, where Abraham,, the father of both Judaism and Islam, was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Itchak, God intervened and saved the boy. Where is God now?? Has he been driven to numbness by the abomination of his sacred teachings, by all extremists on both sides???
If we refuse to recognize each other’s rights and embrace our obligations, if we continue to each cling to his own narrative with contempt and disregard for that of the other, if we again and again choose swords over words, if we sanctify land and not the lives of our children, we shall soon be forced to truly seek a colony on the moon, for our land will be so drenched in blood and so cluttered with tomb stones there will be nothing left for the living.
I wrote these words, and sang them together with my friend Mira Awad. They stand truer than ever today:
“When I cry I cry for both of us,
My pain has no name.
When I cry, I cry to the merciless sky and say:
There must be another way.”
Noa, July 22, 2014
Here are excerpts from a terrific new piece by Peter Beinart. It appeared in Ha’aretz and it is essential reading, especially useful for rebutting the Jewish community’s myths about Gaza.
Gaza myths and facts: what American Jewish leaders won’t tell you
by Peter Beinart, in Ha’aretz
If you’ve been anywhere near the American Jewish community over the past few weeks, you’ve heard the following morality tale: Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, hoping the newly independent country would become the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead, Hamas seized power, ransacked greenhouses, threw its opponents off rooftops and began launching thousands of rockets at Israel….
Israel Left Gaza
It’s true that in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel’s more than 8,000 settlers from Gaza. (At America’s urging, he also dismantled four small settlements in the West Bank). But at no point did Gaza become its own country. Had Gaza become its own country, it would have gained control over its borders. It never did. Even before the election of Hamas, Israel controlled whether Gazans could enter or exit the Strip. Israel controlled the population registry through which Gazans were issued identification cards. Upon evacuating its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Israel even created a security perimeter inside the Strip from which Gazans were barred from entry. (Unfortunately for Gazans, this perimeter included some of the Strip’s best farmland).
“Pro-Israel” commentators claim Israel had legitimate security reasons for all this. But that concedes the point. A necessary occupation is still an occupation. That’s why it’s silly to analogize Hamas’ rockets—repugnant as they are—to Mexico or Canada attacking the United States. The United States is not occupying Mexico or Canada. Israel — according to the United States government — has been occupying Gaza without interruption since 1967.
To grasp the perversity of using Gaza as an explanation for why Israel can’t risk a Palestinian state, it helps to realize that Sharon withdrew Gaza’s settlers in large measure because he didn’t want a Palestinian state. By 2004, when Sharon announced the Gaza withdrawal, the Road Map for Peace that he had signed with Mahmoud Abbas was going nowhere. Into the void came two international proposals for a two state solution. The first was the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which every member of the Arab League offered to recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 lines and found a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. The second was the 2003 Geneva Initiative, in which former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators publicly agreed upon the details of a two state plan. As the political scientists Jonathan Rynhold and Dov Waxman have detailed, Sharon feared the United States would get behind one or both plans, and pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines. “Only an Israeli initiative,” Sharon argued, “will keep us from being dragged into dangerous initiatives like the Geneva and Saudi initiatives.”
Sharon saw several advantages to withdrawing settlers from Gaza. First, it would save money, since in Gaza Israel was deploying a disproportionately high number of soldiers to protect a relatively small number of settlers. Second, by (supposedly) ridding Israel of its responsibility for millions of Palestinians, the withdrawal would leave Israel and the West Bank with a larger Jewish majority. Third, the withdrawal would prevent the administration of George W. Bush from embracing the Saudi or Geneva plans, and pushing hard—as Bill Clinton had done—for a Palestinian state. Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, put it bluntly: “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Gaza withdrawal did not meet minimal Palestinian demands. Not even the most moderate Palestinian leader would have accepted a long-term arrangement in which Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza while maintaining control of the Strip’s borders and deepening Israeli control of the West Bank. (Even in the 2005, the year Sharon withdrew from Gaza, the overall settler population rose, in part because some Gazan settlers relocated to the West Bank).
Hamas Seized Power
I can already hear the objections. Even if withdrawing settlers from Gaza didn’t give the Palestinians a state, it might have made Israelis more willing to support one in the future – if only Hamas had not seized power and turned Gaza into a citadel of terror.
But Hamas didn’t seize power. It won an election. In January 2006, four months after the last settlers left, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem chose representatives to the Palestinian Authority’s parliament. (The previous year, they had separately elected Abbas to be the Palestinian Authority’s President). Hamas won a plurality of the vote – forty-five percent – but because of the PA’s voting system, and Fatah’s idiotic decision to run more than one candidate in several districts, Hamas garnered 58 percent of the seats in parliament….
This doesn’t change the fact that Hamas’ election confronted Israel and the United States with a serious problem. After its victory, Hamas called for a national unity government with Fatah “for the purpose of ending the occupation and settlements and achieving a complete withdrawal from the lands occupied [by Israel] in 1967, including Jerusalem, so that the region enjoys calm and stability during this phase.” But those final words—“this phase”—made Israelis understandably skeptical that Hamas had changed its long-term goals. The organization still refused to recognize Israel, and given that Israel had refused to talk to the PLO until it formally accepted Israel’s right to exist in 1993, it’s not surprising that Israel demanded Hamas meet the same standard.
Still, Israel and the U.S. would have been wiser to follow the counsel of former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who called for Sharon to try to forge a long-term truce with Hamas. Israel could also have pushed Hamas to pledge that if Abbas—who remained PA president—negotiated a deal with Israel, Hamas would accept the will of the Palestinian people as expressed in a referendum, something the group’s leaders have subsequently promised to do.
Instead, the Bush administration—suddenly less enamored of Middle Eastern democracy–pressured Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian parliament and rule by emergency decree. Israel, which also wanted Abbas to defy the election results, withheld the tax and customs revenue it had collected on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf. Knowing Hamas would resist Abbas’ efforts to annul the election, especially in Gaza, where it was strong on the ground, the Bushies also began urging Abbas’ former national security advisor, a Gazan named Mohammed Dahlan, to seize power in the Strip by force. As David Rose later detailed in an extraordinary article in Vanity Fair, Condoleezza Rice pushed Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to buy weapons for Dahlan, and for Israel to allow them to enter Gaza. As General Mark Dayton, US security coordinator for the Palestinians, told Dahlan in November 2006, “We also need you to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas.”
Unfortunately for the Bush administration, Dahlan’s forces were weaker than they looked. And when the battle for Gaza began, Hamas won it easily, and brutally. In response, Abbas declared emergency rule in the West Bank.
So yes, members of Hamas did throw their Fatah opponents off rooftops. Some of that may have been payback because Dahlan was widely believed to have overseen the torture of Hamas members in the 1990s. Regardless, in winning the battle for Gaza, Hamas—which had already shed much Israeli blood – shed Palestinian blood too.
But to suggest that Hamas “seized power” – as American Jewish leaders often do – ignores the fact that Hamas’ brutal takeover occurred in response to an attempted Fatah coup backed by the United States and Israel. In the words of David Wurmser, who resigned as Dick Cheney’s Middle East advisor a month after Hamas’ takeover, “what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”
Israel responded to Hamas’ election victory by further restricting access in and out of Gaza. As it happens, these restrictions played a key role in explaining why Gaza’s greenhouses did not help it become Singapore. American Jewish leaders usually tell the story this way: When the settlers left, Israel handed over their greenhouses to the Palestinians, hoping they would use them to create jobs. Instead, Palestinians tore them down in an anti-Jewish rage.
But one person who does not endorse that narrative is the prime mover behind the greenhouse deal, Australian-Jewish businessman James Wolfensohn, who served as the Quartet’s Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement. In his memoir, Wolfensohn notes that “some damage was done to the greenhouses [as the result of post-disengagement looting] but they came through essentially intact” and were subsequently guarded by Palestinian Authority police. What really doomed the greenhouse initiative, Wolfensohn argues, were Israeli restrictions on Gazan exports. “In early December , he writes, “the much-awaited first harvest of quality cash crops—strawberries, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and flowers—began. These crops were intended for export via Israel for Europe. But their success relied upon the Karni crossing [between Gaza and Israel], which, beginning in mid-January 2006, was closed more than not. The Palestine Economic Development Corporation, which was managing the greenhouses taken over from the settlers, said that it was experiencing losses in excess of $120,000 per day…It was excruciating. This lost harvest was the most recognizable sign of Gaza’s declining fortunes and the biggest personal disappointment during my mandate.”
The point of dredging up this history is not to suggest that Israel deserves all the blame for its long and bitter conflict with Hamas. It does not. Hamas bears the blame for every rocket it fires, and those rockets have not only left Israelis scarred and disillusioned. They have also badly undermined the Palestinian cause.
The point is to show—contrary to the establishment American Jewish narrative—that Israel has repeatedly played into Hamas’ hands by not strengthening those Palestinians willing to pursue statehood through nonviolence and mutual recognition. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when Sharon refused to seriously entertain the Arab and Geneva peace plans. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it refused to support a Palestinian unity government that could have given Abbas the democratic legitimacy that would have strengthened his ability to cut a two state deal. And Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it responded to the group’s takeover of Gaza with a blockade that—although it has some legitimate security features—has destroyed Gaza’s economy, breeding the hatred and despair on which Hamas thrives.
In the ten years since Jewish settlers left, Israeli policy toward Gaza has been as militarily resourceful as it has been politically blind. Tragically, that remains the case during this war. Yet tragically, the American Jewish establishment keeps cheering Israel on.