Several hundred people gathered in Romare Bearden Park in Uptown Sunday afternoon to show their support for the State of Israel, which is in the midst of the latest flare-up in the long-standing, bitter, violent struggle with the Palestinian/Muslim/Arabs in that part of the world. Not far away, a smaller group — not that the size mattered — gathered to support the other side. This morning, the finger-pointing continued across the sea, as both sides accused the other of having been responsible for a bomb that went off near a hospital.
Before I share my thoughts on the conflict, you should know that I’ve lived nearly the entirety of my life in this Billy Graham/Jim and Tammy Faye/Elevation Church/conservative/evangelical Christian town as an outsider, a Northern-born Jew, bullied as a “Christ-killer” on the first-grade playground. I was criticized by the other side as a liberal, non-affiliated Jew (that means I didn’t belong to a congregation) who dared to ask publicly more than a quarter-century ago what almost every other Jew in town was asking privately — whether it was a good idea for the town’s Jews to build a “self-imposed ghetto.”
I was also the organizer of a series of interfaith discussions every Monday night on WBT radio when I worked at the station, which lead to me being labelled “The Anti-Christ” by the Rev. Joe Chambers (of “Barney-the-Purple-Dinosaur-is-Gay” fame), who then implored, via his 10,000-member mailing list, that my show, and the station, be boycotted until I was removed from the airwaves. As the director of programming at a non-profit community center, I organized a series of interfaith celebrations, as well as dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians.
I can say with some confidence that I’m arguably the most-vocal Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights you’ve ever met; that I’ve dared to say, publicly, often, that not everything Israel does is always right — which led to my being denounced as a “disgrace to my ancestors” by many in the Jewish community — and by one caller to my radio show, who demanded I publicly renounce my Judaism and “surgically re-attach my foreskin.”
I’ve never shied away from saying what needed to be said, and expecting — demanding — that everyone hold him or herself, and their communities, to the highest of standards, even when doing so meant criticizing “their own” publicly.
Having said that — and being proud to be able to say that I count many Muslims as friends — I was utterly disgusted and outraged when one local leader of the Muslim community posted on Facebook an incredibly graphic photo of a Palestinian child who had experienced severe head injuries during the latest conflict. He said people who supported Israel’s right to defend itself are guilty of war crimes and have blood on our hands.
The photographs being displayed for public consumption of the Palestinian children, bloodied, blown apart, their bodies held out by crying families in such pain that no one can fail to be moved, are flat-out propaganda. These children are being used as pawns, callously meant to make Israelis appear to be inhumane, when the truth is quite the opposite. Israel tries to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas tries to maximize them.
This time Israel is not mostly at fault for what is happening in Gaza. Israel has a right to live in peace, free from having thousands of rockets launched at them, just as they had the right to be free from suicide bombers coming at them in waves a few years ago, or from the armies massing against them, trying to drive them into the ocean in the decades before — and from the bigotry and oppression of mass slaughter in the last century too grotesque to ever be forgotten.
Hamas, which continues to refuse to take the most basic of steps necessary to move toward a final resolution of this horror — the acknowledgment of the right of the State of Israel to exist — has orchestrated the situation as it is, because it has nothing left to use. It has failed in every other brutal method and cannot bring itself to acknowledge it must change its course. They hide weapons in homes and mosques and they hide behind their women and children because they know that the best weapon they have left is to pull on the heartstrings of the average person across the world, in the most dramatic way possible — with innocent blood.
How pathetic. How outrageous. And too many of my Muslim friends have succumbed to it — have made self-righteous statements about the overwhelmingly disproportionate numbers of Palestinian civilians who have died, as opposed to Israeli casualties, as if that is somehow the measure of “rightness.” Did Americans use that measure when many more, yes, innocent Afghani civilians were killed, as opposed to Taliban — who, by the way, used the same tactics of hiding behind their women and children? Of course not. Such a metric measures nothing. You would somehow penalize the victor of a dispute based on how large their victory was, irrespective of the merits of their cause? Ridiculous.
Yes, Israel needs to do more, much more, to find a way to make life bearable for those who still suffer, no matter whether or not it is more or less responsible for that suffering. In particular, it needs to stop building new settlements in areas it knows it will eventually have to give to a free Palestine. It needs to find a way to do more for the Arabs and other minorities inside its boundaries; it needs to stand up to the highest of principles, not continue to hide behind ugly walls. The “Israel” I was taught as a child to believe in, for which I contributed my dimes every Sunday morning at religious school, does not exist. But I will continue to expect Israel to do better.
This time, Israel does not shoulder the lion’s share of the blame. Israel has tried to mitigate any harm to civilians, in some ways more than any party has ever attempted, by giving advance notice. Yes, there may not be many places for the Palestinians to go, but is that Israel’s problem alone, when, for one egregious example, Egypt refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to seek shelter there, when it keeps its border sealed against them?
And so I say to my Muslim friends, who I assume will now call me all kinds of names: Look at yourselves, please. As you come to the end of your holy month of Ramadan, as you celebrate Eid, I implore you to have the courage to do the most critical of self-examination, because you have been taken advantage of by the most cynical among you. I promise I will do the same self-examination, as I always do, painfully so, during my faith’s High Holy Days beginning at the end of September.
But until you stop aiding those who would use you in the worst possible way, there can be no resolution. And no peace.