Monitor Board of Contributors: Eyeless in Gaza, Jerusalem, Hebron
Smoke rises following an Israeli strike on Gaza on Friday.
An Israeli soldier prays, backdropped by shells for his mobile artillery unit at a position on the Israel-Gaza border, on Friday. Gaza rocket fire struck a gas station and set it ablaze Friday in southern Israel, seriously wounding one person as rocket fire also came from Lebanon for the first time in the four-day-long offensive.
In response to the recent horrors ravaging the psyches of Palestinians and Israelis, Avraham Berg, once president of Israel’s Knesset, writes: “I have been silent for many days. I have no words to describe the local maelstrom and the storm of emotions. What can be said regarding murder and violence, racist doctrines and religious zealotry bound up with terrible political weakness and a weakness of intellect on the part of Israel’s leadership? What can be said that has not already been said by everyone? Nothing. So I was silent.”
I, too, have been silent.
I really didn’t want to write about Palestine and Israel. It’s Ramadan. I had taken the last two weeks off, trying to balance health needs with demands of fasting – getting up before dawn to pray and eat, fasting till sunset, trying to remain calm and peaceful – praying peace would prevail in the Holy Land.
“It was the month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was (first) bestowed from on high as a guidance unto man . . .” and its first verse was, “Read in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created man out of a germ-cell. Read, for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught (man) the use of the pen, taught man what he did not know!”
Ramadan is a time to reflect and renew, to heal relationships and to try to keep from getting agitated or angry toward others. Ramadan is God’s challenge to mankind: Be mindful of who you are, be mindful of God’s blessings, be compassionate.
I didn’t really want to write about the horrific kidnapping and murder of three teenage Jewish boys in the occupied West Bank.
I wanted peace.
I didn’t really want to write about the horrific kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager in occupied Jerusalem and the vicious beating by Israeli border police of his American cousin, so graphically captured on video.
I wanted peace.
Yet I also knew that we must oppose those, as Khaled Abou el Fadl writes, “Pirates of intellect who, possessing no intellect of their own, rehabilitated their ignorance with intolerance.”
Yet I also know that to be silent is a sin: to fail to oppose ignorance and intolerance is sinful.
Columnist JJ Goldberg wasn’t silent.
On Thursday, in the Jewish Forward, he wrote: “Once the boys’ disappearance was known, troops began a massive, 18-day search-and-rescue operation, entering thousands of homes, arresting and interrogating hundreds of individuals, racing against the clock. Only on July 1, after the boys’ bodies were found, did the truth come out: The government had known almost from the beginning that the boys were dead. It maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas’s West Bank operations.”
Further, Goldberg wrote: “The initial evidence was the recording of victim Gil-ad Shaer’s desperate cell phone call to Moked 100, Israel’s 911. . . . The teen was heard whispering, ‘They’ve kidnapped me’ (‘hatfu oti’) followed by shouts of ‘Heads down,’ then gunfire, two groans, more shots, then singing in Arabic. That evening searchers found the kidnappers’ abandoned, torched Hyundai, with eight bullet holes and the boys’ DNA. There was no doubt.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately placed a gag order on the deaths. Journalists who heard rumors were told the Shin Bet wanted the gag order to aid the search. For public consumption, the official word was that Israel was ‘acting on the assumption that they’re alive.’ It was, simply put, a lie.”
Not only was it a lie – it was a cynical deception perpetrated upon the grieving families of the three Jewish victims and those who grieved with them, upon the dispossessed of the occupied West Bank, upon Israel’s supporters around the world.
It was a lie advanced to enable Netanyahu’s agenda – to crush Hamas for a crime he knew they were not responsible for, to crush the fragile reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and, most importantly, to crush any further movement toward a two-state solution.
It was a lie that exploited the horror of the criminal act that led to the death of three innocent hitchhikers – it exploited their loss to further empower Netanyahu’s vendetta, and call for vengeance, against Hamas. Cries for vengeance are understandable: acting on such impulses is not – either for individuals or for a democratic state.
I cannot remain silent.
We know from Israeli sources that Netanyahu knew from the beginning that the kidnappers were from Hebron’s Qawasmeh tribe – a family not acting on Hamas’s leadership orders but acting independently because they were opposed both to peace with Israel and to reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
Netanyahu succumbed to the provocation – and hell broke out, including the revenge murder in Shoafat (Jerusalem) that so shocked Israelis and the world. The cost of such ignorance is the denial of dignity not only to others but also to oneself.
We know that Israel knew that since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas hadn’t fired a single rocket – that until recently Hamas had been vigilant in trying, not always successfully, to keep extremists in Gaza like Islamic Jihad from launching rockets into Israel.
There’s no doubt that Netanyahu is caught between his Ego and his Id.
With no super-ego mediation, Netanyahu – who’s yet to convince Israelis, Palestinians or the world that he wants a two-state solution – is caught among those Knesset members who want to reoccupy Gaza, others who want to annex the entire West Bank, and others (including military and intelligence services) who argue for statesmanship. He is unable to restrain himself, blindly pushing war toward Gaza.
Israel used the kidnapping to re-arrest hundreds of Hamas members on the occupied West Bank, including those who had recently been released as part of peace negotiations. After Israel killed a Hamas member on June 29, Hamas retaliated by launching rockets from Gaza.
Eqbal Ahmed once told Edward Said, “Terrorism is the poor people’s B-52.”
In Israel, the B-52 has been exchanged for Apache helicopters and F-15s. For the Palestinians it is rocket attacks and random acts of resistance, terrorism and violence that they know will only bring upon themselves death and destruction yet, for Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the earth,” the only thing left to fight for is dignity.
Let us mourn and grieve.
We must not only mourn for the victims but also for those on both sides who are victims of political opportunism, victims of those who seek to exploit tragedy for personal gain.
We must grieve for the loss of innocence, for the denial of dignity, for the rejection of those gifts with which we have been endowed by the Beloved.
To paraphrase Abou el Fadl: We must resist the extremists who confront the tumultuous sea of life by dreaming of dominating others instead of dominating their own insecurities.
We have been taught what we did not know! We are taught to resist all those who deny life, freedom, dignity and justice. The nationality of victims is immaterial: We know we must re-affirm that grace, forgiveness and love from our Beloved is limitless, and will welcome us back whenever we stray.
Just hope we don’t stray too far.
(Robert Azzi is a writer and photographer living in Exeter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)