In a letter published today in The New York Times as an advertisement, 40 survivors of Nazi genocide and hundreds of their children are publicly deploring “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza,” Israel’s ongoing occupation, and the troubling rise of systemic racism.
The letter, a response to an advertisement posted recently by Eli Wiesel, in which Palestinians were portrayed as championing “child sacrifice,” is the first of its kind to be signed by so many Holocaust survivors, who are making waves by calling for a full boycott of Israel – roundly viewed as anathema by Jewish institutions in both the United States and Europe. Below is the full text of their letter:
As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.
We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.
A group of Israelis currently living in the United States, who oppose Israel’s military operations in Gaza and the blockade of Gaza, have recently formed a group called Israelis For a Sustainable Future. This group, with 128 members and growing daily, has written a searing letter to the American Jewish community.
The letter implores Jews in America to reexamine their uncritical support for Israel’s actions and to speak out against the occupation those actions serve. In short, it asks the Jewish community to step away from a binary, zero-sum perspective doing so much damage to both Israelis and Palestinians. At one point, they write, “We are reaching out to you because we want to re-examine what it means to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. We argue that these terms might be one and the same.”
Beautiful and honest, the letter in its entirety appears below.
An open letter to American Jews
We are a group of Israelis currently living in the US. We are reaching out to you because we oppose the actions of the Israeli government in operation “Protective Edge.”
This does not mean we don’t recognize the threat presented by Hamas to the Israeli people. We oppose firing of weapons into civilian population and the sacrifice of civilians by the regimes of both Hamas and the Israeli government. Calling to stop the bombing of Gaza does not mean we don’t realize the impossible conditions imposed on the residents of southern Israel. Nor does it mean we don’t demand security for them. But we also recognize that their plight is consistently ignored by the Israeli government until it becomes convenient for exploitation. We have seen three major military operations in less than six years. They repeat themselves because they don’t work. Yes, Hamas reserves are temporary depleted and the group is temporarily hindered. But this is not a moral price worth paying. Even if it were, killing thousands of civilians and displacing of hundreds of thousands doesn’t weaken Hamas in the long run. This bloodshed only feeds the one resource it can’t go without: hate. Only meaningful peace talks and an end to the ongoing occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza (a blockade is still occupation) will prevent both the next round of rockets into Israel and the next round of indiscriminate killings in Gaza.
We are reaching out to you because we want to re-examine what it means to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. We argue that these terms might be one and the same. We believe that supporting equal rights for both peoples is the only way to build a better Israel and a better Palestine and we want the American Jewish community to stand behind that message.
Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor and long-time human rights activist, was arrested today in front of Governor Jay Nixon’s downtown office along with eight others.
Epstein, charged with failure to disperse, was protesting Nixon’s actions in Ferguson, and said after her detainment, “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90. We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re 90.”
Hedy Epstein, arrested before Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's office.
The scenes in Ferguson, with unarmed protesters being confronted by militarized police forces, is one Palestinians intimately recognize. Indeed, they even recognize the American-made brand of tear gas being used in Missouri. It’s the same issue Israeli soldiers fire regularly upon unarmed demonstrators in the West Bank, made by CTS in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.
On the left, an unarmed protester in Ferguson throws a tear gas canister back to St. Louis police.
On the right, an unarmed protester in the West Bank town of Hebron throws a tear gas canister back to soldiers. Photo via Activestills.
In the largest protest of its kind in years, 10,000-15,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to call for a just peace with Palestinians and to protest Israel’s occupation and Gaza military operations.
The gathering is particularly significant given that, in previous anti-war rallies since the beginning of hostilities in Gaza, right-wing nationalists have attacked and sometimes beaten progressive protesters, leaving anti-war activists in Israel feeling increasingly threatened.
Tonight’s rally, sponsored by a number of left-wing groups in Israel, including the political party Meretz, overwhelmed those extremists who showed up with the volume of participants.
Thousands of anti-war activists gather in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.
Field researchers for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, recently photographed scenes of destruction in Gaza and conducted interviews with Palestinians during a moment of calm.
The images reveal the magnitude of destruction in Beit Hanoun, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in Gaza, where residential sections have been reduced to rubble. The accompanying testimony, which I’ve interspersed below, reveal intimately the human toll represented by B’Tselem’s photography.
I’m sitting beside a breathing river, listening to my children conjure rapids with their feet, imitating those forming downstream. A waterfall behind us is telling secrets. The sky is reflective, a deep azure telling the world it wants to hold nothing. At least, not today. I nod my head in agreement. Neither do I, I think. That’s why I’m here.
I’ve come to these familiar mountains in Western Pennsylvania for a brief escape from the thunderclaps of war reverberating from Israel and Gaza, and from the tension I feel for speaking out, for critiquing that war. I’m lucky in that I can remove myself from the computer’s glare, the cell phone constantly ringing, and my urban neighborhood. But I also realize this: there’s no real escape. Not for me, anyway.
A blue heron flaps overhead, and I recognize loneliness settling in, the type of existential loneliness about which Louis C.K. loves to joke. Because the only way to survive is to laugh about it.
Or to ignore it.
Israel Defense Forces near the Gaza Border in July Credit: Creative Commons-Flickr Israel Defense Forces
Much has been written about the silencing of anti-war dissent in Israel by a populace almost universally supportive of military action in Gaza. Such support – inspired by feelings of vulnerability amidst rocket fire and informed by the country’s rightward shift – has made speaking out against the violence not just uncomfortable, but dangerous. Not a single anti-war demonstration in the past month has concluded without participants being attacked and beaten by nationalistic counter-protesters.
And yet, while the silencing of anti-war dissent has been a troubling manifestation of Israelis’ support for war, even more troubling has been the societal numbness; the societal disregard for Palestinian suffering which has been manifested in unsettling, and sometimes shocking, ways.
It’s not bombastic to say that empathy is dead in Israel right now from a societal standpoint, a metaphorical casualty of the current violence. Evidence of this isn’t just being seen in statistical polls, but in a seemingly endless stream of incidents. Consider the following three, representative of a real phenomenon few in Israel deny:
- Israeli soldiers prank called a Gaza hotel, joking about it being bombed.
- A moment of silence in Jerusalem’s artsy theater for those killed in Gaza is met with shouts of “Shame!” and “You’re raping the audience!“
These scenes are just three representing countless such episodes happening online and in everyday life. Of course, they’re not scenes taking place within a vacuum. A conflict is ongoing. Israelis have had to run to bomb shelters with each rocket attack. People are being traumatized by the constant threat of war.
I can’t keep up with my inbox.
This is an entirely new and foreign experience – over 100 messages have been streaming in each day for the past week, and there is little sign of this pace slowing. All of these messages are being sent by strangers, the vast majority of them are coming from American Jews, and most contain a singular message:
“I feel like you are my voice right now.” – 27-year-old from Philadelphia
As a writer and author, I’ve been humbled by occasional notes from strangers, from people both praising me or cursing me for my words, opinions and political positions. However, what’s happening right now is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It is a stunning anecdotal phenomenon which reveals the way American Jews in particular, and Americans in general, are being affected by the incredible suffering in Gaza.
This all began when the actor Mark Ruffalo shared an article I recently wrote:
Israel has decided to unilaterally end its Gaza operation without a diplomatic agreement or a substantive change in its hostile relationship with Hamas and Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. It has decided to cease talking, and instead will rely on its “deterrence” capabilities – missile strikes and a continued blockade of Gaza – moving forward.
Meaning: Israel has officially lost a tragic ‘war’ it did not need to begin, a war Hamas did not want but in the end fully embraced as well, making both parties culpable for all that now remains. Or no longer remains. Israel’s loss is the worst possible outcome for all parties involved, from Palestinians in Gaza to Israelis in Tel Aviv and beyond. All that’s left is the continuation of an unsustainable and dangerous status quo, the reverberations of unspeakable suffering, and an even more intense and stratified conflict. Nothing has been gained. Everything has been lost.
Only this time, the costs are far greater, and will persist far longer.
On the surface, it might not appear as though Israel has lost this war given how one-sided of a military affair it’s been – given the tunnels and missile caches it’s destroyed. However, that’s only because Israel’s loss marks a simultaneous loss for innocent Palestinians and for Hamas, a loss it may not accept given the humanitarian catastrophe, the price people have paid, with no long-term improvement in their lives to show for it.