After the atrocity: what are we doing?

Image: Middle East Eye, Feb 27, 2023

Hundreds of Israeli settlers have rampaged, terrorised, burnt, shot; wounded nearly four hundred and killed one person in Huwara in the West Bank, Palestine. Palestinians are an occupied people whose protection is Israel’s legal responsibility. In law and in any framework of human decency, we are responsible for upholding their protection and punishing violations.

Without equating the responsibilities of occupier and occupied people, Alternative Jewish Voices abhors all of the violence and we grieve for each and every death. But shame, no. Shame is a feeling that grows the gap between one’s image and the reality one confronts, so shame is not my response to these settlers.

We already knew that the settlers are the shock troops of a racist religio-nationalism. They inhabit illegal settlements and they hunt in the company of the army that sponsors them. The settlers filmed themselves—that’s how sure they are that the Netanyahu government (whose project they implement) will protect them. Thus far they are right. Their crime disgusts me.

Shame is not my response to the Netanyahu government that incited and protected this atrocity: uniformed soldiers accompanied the mob. We already knew that this government has handed power to racists and fascists. I had no delusions that might sour into shame. The leaders of this government belong in court—a court they have not neutered. Send them to the International Court of Justice, and add the crime of Huwara to their charge sheet. Their actions are contemptible.

I feel what I felt on the morning after the Israeli military obliterated the Shuja’iyya homes of 92,000 Gazan Palestinians in July, 2014: shock. The smells lingered, disbelief hung in the air. No warning prepares one for that much violence. No theory fully captures the willingness to commit such atrocities against trapped civilians. That is how I feel: forewarned and still shocked.

I am the grandchild of four refugees from the pogroms of Eastern Europe. When (quoting Israeli organisations) I say that Israeli settlers have carried out a pogrom, I speak from memory. I choose to use a loaded term to plead for attention: a malevolent rabble is loose and if they are not stopped, they will hunt again and again.

I feel such dread and terror for the Palestinians who must live with Israel’s armed racism every hour of their days and nights. Their exposure is beyond imagining. They will not be safe until they have international protection.

Shame? I am ashamed of our government, which speaks in our names about law and the rights of all human beings but does nothing to bring about safety—nothing. My government inhabits a diplomatic fugue state, unable to recall our obligations yet expecting to wake in a two-state fairyland. Laws are not upheld by empty speech. They are predicated on action.

Nanaia Mahuta, I beg you to treat these war crimes as war crimes. These are the moments for which the laws were written. Professor of international law and former Special Rapporteur Richard Falk wrote yesterday that the rampage in Huwara “qualifies not only as a war crime, but confirms the pervasive genocidal settler aura, now made vivid.”

Image: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP

With such menace afoot, I am ashamed that my community should allow itself to be spoken for by unelected Zionist ideologues. Jews are not collectively responsible for Israel’s actions, but leaders are responsible for their choices. Ours choose to enable Zionist nationalism and punish any opposition to it.

To the individuals who may be squirming in that shameful space between their ideals and the present reality: find some spine, stand yourself up and speak to the reality of Huwara.

I feel heartsick at the settlers’ desecration of my religion. Jewish history has seen false messianism before and damnit, we have not learned a thing.

In prayer services and in study, I have recently discussed Elijah. He sought understanding while a stormy wind split the rocks, then an earthquake and a fire passed before him. In the quiet after the storms, he was enlightened by a still, small voice that asked, “What are you doing here?”

Now is the quiet after the fires in Huwara. What are we doing?

Marilyn Garson

and Alternative Jewish Voices

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