Much remains unknown about Israel’s violent response to mass protests along the Gaza border on Friday, and as far as Israel’s leaders are concerned, that’s just fine – officials have made clear they have no interest in learning any of the details. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, after commending soldiers for killing at least 16 and injuring hundreds more, stated there will be no inquiry into the army’s actions. And the army itself won’t be changing its firing policies, even after disturbing videos emerged of unarmed Palestinians being shot while praying, smoking, rolling a tire.
All of this (and I say this painfully) is expected for a country which has come to accept that “control over another people requires days of killing and slaughter.” It’s why Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu publicly congratulated soldiers after killing unarmed protesters. It’s why Israel’s Foreign Ministry had the chutzpah to publicly blame Palestinians themselves for making Israel kill them, calling the protests a “murderous spectacle” without a hint of irony or empathy. It’s why the IDF justified shooting a protester in the back by noting he was rolling a tire, as though such an action naturally demands the death penalty.
Again, as shocking as these responses have been, they’re not entirely unexpected. Israel’s right-wing leadership has increasingly expressed in public how little regard they have for Palestinian lives or hopes for self-determination.
What should not be expected, however, is silence from those who claim to still be invested in the “Jewish State” as a democratic project where civil and human rights – much less the right to live – are granted to all, regardless of race or creed.
Unfortunately, most American Jewish organizations which claim to be invested in such a project have remained utterly silent in the face of what just transpired in Gaza. And those organizations (such as AIPAC) which have broken their silence have done so largely to cheer Israel and blame Palestinians for their own deaths. Even the ADL, charged with fighting hate, echoed the IDF’s talking points by casting the 30,000 protesters as pawns of Hamas rather than a suffering people with a right to demonstrate without being killed.
But I and so many other Jews refuse to be silent, refuse to ignore the fact that Israel has, by all appearances, just committed war crimes. I and other Jews refuse to be silent in the face of Israel’s continued military occupation of millions of Palestinians in the West Bank or its stranglehold over millions more in Gaza. I and other Jews refuse to be silent as Israeli leaders explicitly reject Palestinian statehood and flirt with unilateral annexation of Palestinian lands.
Now to be clear, Jews have no obligation to say anything about Israel. It’s a political state in which many Jews in the diaspora have little or no investment, and to conflate Israel and all Jews is to echo an anti-Semitic canard which those who hate Jews sometimes use when targeting us.
Jews like myself who are invested in Israel and refuse silence, however, are sometimes slandered as anti-Semitic by other Jews (who don’t realize they’re borrowing an actual anti-Semitic canard when doing so). Or worse, we’re accused of supporting Hamas or acting as enemies of Israel, as though political criticism amounts to terrorism. But such charges are political and emotional, having no basis in reality, despite often being inspired by very real fears of extermination and annihilation. Jews have a right to be nervous and worry about our survival – it’s a lesson history seems to think we need to be reminded of repeatedly.
But criticism of Israel will not destroy it. It may be the only thing capable of saving it and the lives under its control.
Look, it’s possible to acknowledge that those Israeli snipers – many just boys – who shot Palestinians on Friday were put in a tough position while also acknowledging that Israel is largely (though not entirely) responsible for the suffering that led to protests along the Gaza border. It’s possible to hope for the safety of Israeli citizens while also recognizing its army just committed war crimes. It’s possible to express investment through critique.
The moment saying Palestinian lives matter as much as Jewish lives amounts to either treason or treachery is the moment there’s no longer a reason to critique, the moment our hope indeed will be lost.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published by Oneworld Publications (London).
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.