Why Are Jews Creating a Memorial for Muslims who Died in the Gaza Flotilla and Offering Prayers of Healing for those Wounded or Killed?

You probably heard or read that we at Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, as part of our conference this weekend in Washington D.C. (info: www.spiritualprogressives.org/conference) will be holding a memorial service for those killed on the Gaza Aid Flotilla last week, as well as prayers for healing of those who have been wounded (including Israeli soldiers who, for no fault of their own, were sent on this “fool’s mission” by the arrogant and militarist leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak), as well as prayers for the release of Gilad Shalit by Hamas, and release of thousands of prisoners now held by Israel, many of them never even charged with a crime, and most never given a jury trial.

Though convened by Tikkun, the Memorial service led by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Michael Lerner will also have Christian prayers presented by Rev. James Winkler (chair of the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodists of America) and Rev. Ama Zenya of the United Church of Christ, and by Sayyid Syeed of the politically moderate Islamic Society of North America. It will take place in Lafayette Park across from the White House from 11-1:30 as part of our larger rally supporting Obama to BE The OBAMA MOST AMERICANS THOUGHT WE ELECTED in 2008.

Let me explain my motivation. I am totally opposed to Hamas and support the nonviolent overthrow of their regime in Gaza, not by Israelis bombing or starving the people of Gaza, but by the Palestinian people themselves. I am opposed to the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza, in part for humanitarian reasons, in part because as someone deeply committed to Israel’s security, I believe Israel will be far safer when it has worked out a just solution for the Palestinian people than it is now. That will take a whole transformation of consciousness on BOTH SIDES, and as the more powerful military power, Israel needs to take the first steps in the direction of reconciliation by dropping the strategy of military domination and embracing instead a strategy of atonement and generosity.

I do not believe that a military assault on a vessel carrying aid to Gaza (and no guns–even Israel now admits they found no contraband or any evidence of guns or munitions on the boat) and killing some of the people who resisted that raid (which any American boat would have also done had a foreign army approached with intent to divert the boat to another location) was a step in the direction of reinforcing the influence of the non-violent voices in the Palestinian world, but rather reinforced the most violent people who can now say “see, these Jews will never allow even non-violent protest, but will meet it with violence.”

That the scene turned violent was inevitable once Israel started shooting at the ship from helicopters in the dark of night on the high seas, leading people on the ship to believe that the army was intending to kill, and leading some to grab knives from the kitchen or bars from the walls to protect themselves (though later it became known that the IDF was shooting rubber bullets, which in any case can wound or blind, the people on the boat did not know that and heard explosions and felt the attack from the air as a violent assault and sought to protect themselves). That some may have come with a desire for a confrontation is no surprise–every peace march I’ve ever been on has had some such people, and the media always seeks to describe them as violent if a handful of participants smash windows or fight with police even while tens of thousands of others are doing nothing of the sort–and years later we’ve found that at least some of those actions were done by undercover police or FBI seeking confrontation to discredit the whole movement. I think it was for this reason that the organizers of the flotilla searched everyone to make sure that no one was carrying any guns, unlike the Israelis who came with their arsenal and began the violent confrontation that was totally unnecessary, since the organizers of the flotilla had made clear that they would have no objection to having Israeli army personnel search the boat for any suspected guns or munitions.

Given all this, it seems appropriate for Jews, in whose name Israel claims to be acting, to repent this deed of violence, and to do a memorial prayer for those who died–not as testimony to knowing their lives (for all I know some could be scoundrels or worse, though I’ve seen no evidence that any of them actually ever participated in an act of violence against Jews) but because they were human beings electing to participate in an act of non-violent civil disobedience to an unjust occupation and blockade. And we will simultaneously be praying for the healing of those wounded or hurt (including Israeli soldiers who were sent on this crazy mission by an arrogant Israeli elite that spits on the ethical concerns of the rest of the world).

It is important for liberal and progressive Jews to do this as Jews because we want to make clear to the world that Israel’s actions are NOT representative of the Jewish people in the world, though most of us remain committed to Israel’s security and well-being.

Israel/Palestine issues will be discussed at our conference also by Rabbi Arik Asherman, who is chair in Jerusalem of Rabbis for Human Rights, and by Gershon Baskin of Jerusalem (a columnist in the Jerusalem Post) and BDS will be debated (see also the debate that will appear in the July issue of Tikkun). But the main focus of our conference, starting Friday at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 E. Capitol St, NE, a few blocks from the Supreme Court, will be our proposed ESRA–Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the US Constitution–which would overturn the gifts to corporations given by the Supreme Court in recent decisions and require corporate environmental responsibility while also requiring public funding–and only that–of national elections (info at www.spiritualprogressives.org/ESRA) and our proposed Global Marshall Plan (www.spiritualprogressives.org/GMP) which we are currently thinking might start by eliminating the poverty in the Middle East (including in Israel and in Palestine and Gaza) upon which fundamentalists of every variety prey.

I hope you will now understand that our activity on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Lafayette Park is not anti-Israel but for a new conception of what Israel or at least what the Jewish people stand for in the world: peace, justice, kindness, generosity, love and healing.

Blessings to all those who seek peace and justice.


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