Opinion: Speaking freely


Published: 10-14-2023 5:00 PM

John Buttrick lived for three months in Jayyous, Palestine as an accompanier for the World Council of Churches. For three years he was media coordinator and communication strategist for Kairos Palestine. He lives in Concord and can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com.

The war between Israel and Gaza cannot be ignored. The war dwarfs any other subject I could write about this week, even though writing an opinion piece about Israelis and Palestinians may provoke a challenge to the right of free expression.

President Biden, solidifying the relationship of the United States with Israel, said, “The United States warns against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation. My Administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.”

It is already becoming clear that to be critical of Israel’s actions or to express support for the right of Palestinians, as a colonized people, to armed resistance under international law may be subject to a warning from the United States.

Biden’s warning can be interpreted as an attempt, for example, to silence the comments of the opinion writer, Chris Hedges who has written, “What does Israel, or the world community, expect? How can you trap 2.3 million people in Gaza, half of whom are unemployed, in one of the most densely populated spots on the planet for 16 years, reduce the lives of its residents, half of whom are children, to a subsistence level, deprive them of basic medical supplies, food, water and electricity, use attack aircraft, artillery, mechanized units, missiles, naval guns and infantry units to randomly slaughter unarmed civilians and not expect a violent response?”

I cannot support violence as a solution by either Israel or the Gazans. However, the attack on Israel by Hamas illustrates the depth of anger, desperation, and injustice that have been experienced by the people living in Gaza and by Palestinians living in the West Bank. Hedges suggests that the Palestinian experience of restricted movement, violence of home invasions, attacks on Palestinian refugee camps, shooting into crowds of non-violent protesters, and collective punishment have been instructive to the Palestinians to respond with violence.

The story of fighting over the land of Palestine is an old, old story. Colonialism is a part of the history of America (which might explain the U.S. support of Israel’s occupation). Often backed by religion, replacement theology has justified moving indigenous people off their land. Part of this approach includes a perception that natives are savage, backward, and ignorant people, human animals who need to be controlled by a more advanced people. It can be noted, Yoav Gallant, Israeli Defense Minister, said on NPR, when being interviewed about the war, “We are fighting barbarians and will respond accordingly.” And so, the war becomes a war between barbarians, both sides killing and injuring civilians and violating international law.

Therefore, it is appropriate for America to refuse to jump onto that slippery slope that justifies violence. Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 9, may be a reminder that we must make an effort to learn from our own history, how destructive colonial settler policy can be to the moral character of our people. Our story needs to be told to Israel, not to praise them for following the way of oppressing people unlike themselves, but urging them to learn from our nation’s mistakes.

If Israel is really motivated by the belief that their land is the land of milk and honey, they must resist the souring of the milk and the sting of stolen honey. A prosperous land is a land of peace and equal justice for all the people of the land. It is a land where freedom of expression is “rock solid,” never eroded into freedom to wield violence.

Taking advantage of these options is consistent with the unwavering commitment of the United States Congress to “make no law… abridging the freedom of speech… and to petition the government for redress of grievances.” By word and deed, the U.S. must be “rock solid and unwavering” in affirming to Israel and Palestine that the harvest of oppression and retaliation reaps only enemies. But the freedom to express the full story may reap hospitality in a land of milk and honey, peace and security. It is to the advantage of the United States, Israel, Gaza, and Palestine.