223 killed, one month of community service.

Image from the Great March of Return:  Mahmoud Hams

Beginning on Land Day in 2018, Gazan Palestinians stood on their own land and demanded their basic rights as human beings and as a nation.  In the course of the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers and snipers killed 223 Palestinians (46 of them younger than 18 years) and wounded around 8000.

Medecins Sans Frontieres has written about the Palestinians who were left with complex wounds from expanding bullets, those shot through the eye by snipers, those who have lost limbs. Hollowed out by Israel’s blockade, Gaza’s health infrastructure cannot possibly cope with their injuries, with Covid, with the injuries from last May’s bombardment – with all of it.

Israel’s investigations have returned a total of one indictment for 223 killings. That one unlucky token solder was sentenced to a month of community service. 

2021 has been a shocking year. Israel has withheld Covid treatment and vaccines from Palestinians. In May Israeli forces bombarded Gaza, inflicting a new layer of trauma and intensively damaging the infrastructure of modern life.  The Israeli government has designated six legal and human rights NGOs as ‘terrorist’ (we use scare quotes to alert readers that the designation is wholly unsubstantiated). This designation effectively criminalises Palestinians’ resort to law. Settler violence is escalating and intermingling openly with military violence – a more overt state endeavour. In the midst of it all, Israeli authorities also thought it was important to confiscate 23 million tons of chocolate bars destined for Gaza because, well, maybe just because they could. 

States including ours have failed utterly to protect Palestinians. 2021 has been a year of outrageous impunity for Israel, and we are outraged.  We are not heart-broken, because our hearts were not in the Zionist nationalist project to be broken.  We are not saddened by the news, we are pissed. 

We have listened in vain for more of our Jewish community to object.

Like them, some of us were raised in Zionism. We have had to confront the result of placing Israel’s settler colonial project at the heart of our identity.  As we un-learned Zionism, we opened a loving, expansive space for our religion, culture, music, history, spirituality, study and all the other dimensions of being positive (non-Zionist) Jews.

As we unlearned Zionism, we recognised the occupation of Palestine as Palestinians’ struggle for liberation.  It is not about us, but it is ours to support. When we witness the outrageous impunity of Israeli apartheid violence, we do not tut-tut in a loving voice (that being the tone we are told to adopt as the limit of loyal Jewish expression). 

Stand up and shout with us, we challenge our Jewish community.  If you have any regard for the basic equality and value of human lives, stand up to this.  223 Palestinians were killed on their own land and one Israeli soldier has done a month of community service.  Stand up and object as loudly as you would object if this happened anywhere else.  It has happened, and that is enough.

Stand up this Chanukah, when you read the prophetic warning against reliance on transient militarism, “Not by might and not by power.”  When you light your candles, remember that justice is the flame burning in the darkness.

We stand in solidarity with Palestinians, with our fellow non-Zionist Jews and all others who call for transformation between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.  May this year have been the nadir.

Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson Sarah Cole

Jeremy Rose Leigh Friday

Fred Albert

Sue Berman

Ilan Blumberg

Under pressure

Most communities fragment under pressure, as we are abruptly finding in Aotearoa.  Gazans are constantly awareness that they are powerless before an overwhelming, uncaring threat – yet somehow, in extremis Gaza coheres like contact cement.

November 14, 2012 was the first night of an eight-day bombardment and I was alone in my apartment on the 14th floor. With each explosion nearby, my building and my stomach lurched further than I would have expected.

Worst was the helplessness. Gaza has no defensive weapons, so Israeli planes circled and bombed at will. I sat and waited – BOOM, lurch, correct – sat and waited. I tracked each plane across my ceiling and thought, this is what the fish sees in its barrel.

My Palestinian team members called with practical advice.  Did I know to leave the windows slightly open to diminish the chance that they would blow inward?  Had I plugged in every device to charge while there was electricity? In two of their households, parents were distracting their small children by teaching them to dance to the peculiar backbeat of the naval shelling that was pouring into Beach Camp, an undefended refugee camp just north of me.

Two of my male colleagues called me. They each lived nearby. Each man offered to leave his family, collect me, and bring me home to live with his family through the war. One of those men had enduring professional differences with me, yet he pressed me especially to take shelter with him.  No one, he insisted, should be alone beneath the bombs.

I’ve thought of him often through Covid. Imagine calling up the people you dislike, and pleading with them to lock down with your family through the worst, open-ended stress.  Imagine checking in with your nemesis daily because you are sharing an experience more profound than your dislike. Rather than turning on each other, rather than assuming that personal responsibility is sufficient in a collective crisis, Palestinians knew, ‘I will be well while I am caring for you, too.’

In 2013, I was appointed to a task force.  Israel’s blockade of Gaza produces deep poverty, and 800,000 Gazans were then in need of relief food (today, more than 1,000,000 Gazans need relief food).  Budgets were not keeping pace with need.  Our task force had to devise policy and operating systems to prioritise the food entitlements of 800,000 human beings behind a wall. Disrupted by the war of 2014, it took the task force 16 months to devise, implement, code, train and roll out a new system.  When Covid struck, the system enabled food distribution, rather than collection.

Our thorniest ethical question was this: what happens when a parent secures their family’s entitlement by giving false information?  In a situation of scarcity and malnutrition, what policy response is fair?

Fair to whom, we wondered.  Fair to a fiercely protective parent? Fair to the neighbour who did not lie? How could civic order be maintained, if not by punishing dishonesty?  How else should the system preserve its integrity? What was the point of having policy if entitlement could be forged? What would happen to neighbours if trust broke down? Round and round we went, trying to devise fairness behind an indefensible wall.

The man who broke through our stuckness was a self-described trouble-maker with lifelong radical credentials. “Wait,” he pleaded, “stop.  Who is this policy for?  Who are we responsible to?  Food policy is a policy for children’s nutrition, so why are we arguing about adults?  What is fair for the children?”

We devised our solution from caring rather than punishment, aiming to harness shared values. Our system was despised and mistrusted, as would be any mechanism to cope with insufficient resources. However, it nourished children first  and we could devise no more decent response to Israel’s indecent deprivation of Gazans.

Surviving in a situation willfully designed to harm them, Gazans made goodness their intentional, hourly work. In so doing, they refused to be defined by the violence of others and got on with the business of making the better world they had in mind.  They chose to act as if they had already won.

Their choices choices feel relevant now, as the language of outrage seeps into our social fractures.  People I care about are being drawn onto uncharacteristically angry and absolute ground.  This is going to call for every bit of transcendence we have. 

Marilyn Garson

Generations of Imprisonment – No Justice in Sight

Alternative Jewish Voices joins our fellow Jewish activists to protest the incarceration of Palestinians in Israel’s military jails.

In September 2021 the world’s attention focused briefly on six Palestinian prisoners who escaped from the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel.  The spotlight revealed deep and ongoing human rights violations against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

As Jews from around the world, we in the International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine (IJCJP) are dismayed and acutely sensitive to the age-old command not to stand idly by.

The statistics are grim. 4,650 Palestinian prisoners are now incarcerated, including 200 children and 40 women. Some 520 people are held in administrative detention, which provides that a prisoner can be held for months without charge or trial, which can then be renewed—over and over again ad infinitum. One Palestinian  former aid worker from Gaza has been held more than five years, appearing in Israeli courts 166 times without evidence that any crime has been committed. (1) One of the Gilboa escapees, Monadel Yacoub Nafe’at, had been in administrative detention since 2019.

In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that “Israeli authorities try Palestinians charged with crimes in military courts, where they face a conviction rate of nearly 100 percent.” (2) Israel is the only country on earth to routinely prosecute children in its military courts.

For decades, prisoners have charged officials with torture, beatings and other forms of maltreatment, all of which are prohibited by international law. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have engaged regularly in hunger strikes to protest their conditions.

This revolving door of imprisonment touches every Palestinian family, and amounts to the collective punishment of a people.

If we do nothing, how will we reply when a generation of Palestinians asks, “Why have all of my male cousins been incarcerated? Why have all my uncles been incarcerated?” (3)

Let us take seriously another age-old precept: Justice, justice, thou shall pursue. Let us therefore act in each of our communities to draw attention to these injustices where we can, whether in individual or communal settings.

(1)   Numbers provided by Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/13/infographic-how-many-palestinians-are-imprisoned-by-israel-interactive, relying on figures from Addameer, the prisoner’s rights group, adameer.org).

(2) https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution#_ftn248

(3) From Aotearoa to Palestine: Discussing Foreign Policy for Solidarity, a Te Kuaka podcast by NZ Alternative. For notes and further information, https://anchor.fm/te-kuaka/episodes/From-Aotearoa-to-Palestine-Discussing-Foreign-Policy-for-Solidarity-e17s8c8

Signatories

Jewish Voice for Peace (USA)

Jews Say No! (USA)

Independent Jewish Voices Canada

Boycott From Within (Israeli Citizens for BDS)

South African Jews for a Free Palestine

Jewish Voice for Labour (UK)

Jewish Network for Palestine (UK)

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East (Germany)

Alternative Jewish Voices (New Zealand)

Jewish Call for Peace (Luxembourg)

Jews Against the Occupation (Australia)

French Jewish Peace Union

Another Jewish Voice (Belgium)

All groups listed are members of the International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine (IJCJP)

Important, Welcome News about (and from) the Wellington Jewish Council

At a recent Wellington Jewish community meeting, participants made clear their dissatisfaction with the Jewish Council’s tone of voice, composition, accountability and their narrow definition of the Jewish community’s shared interests.

The Wellington Jewish Council (our regional council, which also sends four delegates to the NZ Jewish Council’s membership of eighteen) has taken this feedback on board.  They have begun the work to revise their constitution and earn their mandate. 

We at Alternative Jewish Voices regard this as a hopeful, significant opening. We share this excerpt from the Council’s email with their agreement:

After reflecting on the discussion held, we propose that in order to re-establish the Wellington Jewish Council, a new constitution will be required that can capture the voice and aspirations of the community. Below is a survey to help begin that journey.  …

Until we have completed the process of drafting and confirming a constitution, the four of us will not purport to speak on behalf of the Wellington Jewish Council as we do not feel that we have a mandate to do so.

The Council has circulated a survey to elicit the Jewish community’s views about the representation we want.  Here’s the challenge.  Wellington Jews who belong to a synagogue will have received this survey at least once.  Our existing institutions have multiple channels and email lists.  How can this consultation include the members of our community who do not belong, or have not felt welcome, in our institutions?  They are disenfranchised now, and their views are essential if this process is to result in the genuine representation of our community as a whole.

Please help by sharing this survey with members of the Wellington Jewish community who might not have received it.  If you are Jewish in the Wellington region, please complete a survey. Please include yourself, in the hope that this conversation will lead to a more inclusive community, and a Council voice that actually reflects and represents more of us.

Here is the survey link

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfWeBfl5bOFUNzgVq6xjVMN1rdFW12Jnj_yBgsycDL4SMtBOA/viewform

If you want a copy of the regional or national Jewish Council’s current constitution, please write to the contact address below or write directly to the Wellington Jewish Council.  The survey is open for three weeks.

Alternative Jewish Voices

No Time for Fragility: we need to do to community differently

The fragility of Zionism is undermining us. Our membership institutions and representation are narrowing the NZ Jewish community, precisely when engagement and collective action are needed. It’s time for us to do community differently.

Let me say (as we have repeated for years) that this is not about being agreed with.  It is about learning to exist and let others exist who disagree.  Zionism must cease to be our litmus test.

A few years back, a fellow Jew told me, “You are a walking indictment of everything I believe.”  That’s an honest statement of a belief so fragile that the very existence of others threatens it.  Problem is, I do live and I will walk.

While I could not walk safely in my own shul, I would wake up at 2:30 am to join Tzedek Chicago’s Torah study group. All I wanted was to belong in some Jewish space. They welcomed me while I was torn in half – but Aotearoa is still my community and its needs are my needs.

For advocating Palestinians’ full measure of rights, I have been targeted in some ugly ways. I have also been the object of astonishing hatred from a few (non-Palestinian) supposed fellow advocates.  Happily, there are plenty of people doing the real mahi of building coalitions and relationships for change.

I wrote a book about my work and my colleagues in Gaza. My Radio NZ interview was cancelled on the day it was to air.  I filed an Official Information Act request to learn the reason.  RNZ disclosed the internal email that had warned, “Given the huge flood of formal complaints we get any time we do a Palestine story without Israeli balance…”

They cut the interview because no one had on hand a story from Israel to “mention before and after.”  Without those defensive bookends in place, our national radio station self-censored. 

In these and other ways, I have learned something that Palestinians already know: this has become an identity campaign of erasure.  Erasure makes others – not the substance of any issue – the object of its attack.  A campaign of erasure is fought through restatements of history, exclusion and lies and harmful forms of license.

To be targeted in those ways, Palestinians know and I have learned, strikes at a deep, essential place.  Emotionally expensive as it is to withstand this form of attack, one cannot concede except by losing one’s very self.

We formed Alternative Jewish Voices partly to do the work of withstanding.

Along the way, we’ve heard from numerous fellow Jews who keep their mouths shut because they know the punishment that would follow if they spoke. We’ve met others who turned away from the community because they cannot keep their mouths shut. The result is the suppression, alienation and exclusion of Jews by Jewish institutions, for reasons unrelated to their Jewishness.

The NZ Jewish Council calls itself “the representative body of Jewish communities in New Zealand.” However, its members are indirectly and not transparently selected by other institutions, further excluding the excluded.  Thus they represent much less than they claim.

We must pry open our institutions or make more institutions.  We, and the media and government, need to listen more widely. We are a religious community, not a single-issue interest group.  Judaism has been plural for 2000 years, and no one has a monopoly on it today. 

Ours is a devastating moment to be a community in pieces. Have we no common interest in discussing city planning, housing, Covid response, climate, racism, inequality? The finite planet, our interdependent health and distributional justice all depend on our collective action.  Fragile communities wither and fail because they deny any need to be challenged by people who don’t fully agree.  We need every challenging conversation now. We confront issues which will not be solved only by people who fully agree with us.

Compare our fragility with the unfolding of mana whenua institutions in Auckland.  They are responding to Covid and related needs by casting their net inclusively, recognising an interdependent crisis and stepping straight in to do the mahi. It should not have fallen so heavily on their shoulders, but their action and their community-building will not be undone.  Maori Health Authority – what a proof of concept.  

If we are to live up to the demands upon us as a Jewish community, we too need to do community differently. We need to formulate aspirational solutions that can anchor a much wider group of us.  We disagree and yet we are in this together.

Marilyn Garson

For Alternative Jewish Voices

Te Kuaka / NZ Alternative podcast: it’s time to do Palestine policy differently

Imagine foreign policy led by our values, grounded in justice.

Imagine policy that speaks to decolonisation – here and there.

Listen to the podcast by Te Kuaka / New Zealand Alternative: From Aotearoa to Palestine, with Nadia Abu Shanab and Samira Archer of Justice For Palestine, and Marilyn Garson of Alternative Jewish Voices.

Big thanks to Phoebe and all of NZ Alternative for making a space to speak aspirationally about the world that can, and should, become our world.

It’s time we met

Don’t be a stranger

We formed Alternative Jewish Voices as a platform for the unrepresented breadth of our Aotearoa Jewish community.  Our community is wider than the membership of Jewish synagogues and organisations.

At the series of Wellington rallies in May, people repeatedly approached us after we spoke.  They introduced themselves as Jews, unaffiliated with any institution.  Some fretted that they might be considered “not Jewish enough to speak.” 

The power to define, and conversely the fear of being excluded by a definition, is hardly new.  We are not writing to examine our history of communal exclusion or alienation here.  We would like to end it.

If you have a Jewish parent or grandparent, then you are part of the community.  Join it: speak up, own and be identified with Jewish issues, explore your culture, history, religion or identity – however you may enter into it. If anyone doubts your standing to do that, please educate them nicely by explaining, “I am as Jew as you.”

In our last national census, the number of people identifying as Jews fell by 20%.  There are nearly three times as many self-identified Jedi warriors as there are Jews in Aotearoa at the moment. Notwithstanding the inherent appeal of being a Jedi warrior, it might also be that our Jewish institutions don’t feel relevant or welcoming to all of us.

This is not a political exercise.  We won’t ask about your politics and we won’t claim to be representing you.  We seek only a more inclusive sense of our own community. We should know each other.

We invite you to get in touch.  Write to the contact address at the bottom of this page.  We’ll make a mailing list, we’ll ask how you might like to be in community.  Who knows where it might lead.  We hope you will find others with curiosity like your own. New friends, a meal, an exchange of stories, a debate, a bit of exploration about this Jewishness of ours – whatever.

Please get in touch, and please share this with others who might want to join us.

Alternative Jewish Voices

When ‘bombs respond to rockets’ someone has buried the lede

“Israeli military bombs Gaza after rocket strike” – The Guardian

A security guard refuses to allow a customer to enter a supermarket.  A small group clings to the individualistic rights that the overwhelming majority have agreed to forego.  A government crashes its own economy.

Those stories only make sense if you know that a pandemic has overturned normal life.  Covid is the lede, the indispensable point which inverts the apparent rights and wrongs of these stories.  Without the lede, you would draw the wrong conclusion from each of the stories.

So it is with these recent headlines, Israel Strikes Hamas Targets After Rocket Launches or Israel hits Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire

There goes Hamas again, disturbing a quiet morning and provoking the Israeli military for no apparent reason.

Israel’s occupation and illegal blockade of Gaza is the lede, the sine qua non that makes sense of the story.  Again this morning, Gazans woke up with countless weapons of aggression pointing at them, with concrete walls and fences and drones and warships surrounding them, with technology and scarcity and deprivation combining to diminish their life chances.  They woke up trapped on a firing range.

Try writing the story that way.

“Still dispossessed, illegally blockaded and deprived of their basic human rights, Gazan Palestinians continue to resist. Fighters fired a number of rockets which landed in an Israeli field.  Israel, still flaunting international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dispatched warplanes to fire grossly larger explosive missiles into Gazan cities.  They claim to have blown up something that was in some way related to the governing authority, but they provided no evidence.”

Given all that; given an occupied people’s legal right to armed resistance (which the International Criminal Court must weigh against the illegality of firing rockets that cannot be aimed); given that the casualties and rubble of this occupation have been overwhelmingly Palestinian; and given the wildly different realities of threat arising from the exchange of fire being reported … why does the media begin with, and implicitly blame the whole mess on, a rocket? 

There would be no rocket if there were no occupation and blockade. To start the story with the rocket is to have normalised all the generations and tonnage of damage done to date. Gazan resistance is a response to Israel’s occupation.  Why not start there, by asking why Israel maintains the abysmal conditions which give rise to armed resistance?

To be clear, I regard Hamas as an unpleasant product of Israel’s occupation.  Having lived under their rule for four years, I believe that they constitute a secondary oppression for Gazans. As a peace-loving, life-loving person, I regard every exchange of fire as a failure of human reason and empathy.  However, responsibility for those failures is not equally shared.  Neither are the harms, and neither are the threats implied by these exchanges of fire. Stand next to the hole made by a rocket and the crater left by a one-ton bomb.  Neither one is nice but you would never, ever mistake one for the other.

Yet, again and again, the media treats Israel as a normal society while treating resistance as the disturbance of normalcy. Why not take law basic human equality as the norm, and challenge Israel’s deviation from that standard?  

 What’s wrong with us, that we think ‘normal’ can or should consist of Gazans accepting life prospects and living conditions that we, ourselves, would never tolerate for our children?

The current normalcy is predicated on Gazans being jolted awake by bombs and missiles landing in crowded neighbourhoods.  Have you ever heard a good-sized bomb explode near enough to make your building shudder, make the doors leap inward from their hinges and turn the windows to spiderwebs? Gazans wake up this way, times beyond counting.

In the mornings after those nights, we used to gather at the desks of colleagues who lived near the sites of missile attacks, bringing cups of strong Turkish coffee and whatever chocolate was at hand.  We would ask if they still had windows, and whether their children had gotten back to sleep.  After each shock, recovery was measured by the number of children who were willing to sleep in their beds, and the number who would only sleep beneath their beds for safety in case the planes came back.  Thunderstorms were an agony for children and their sleep-deprived parents.

The Israeli air force’s ability and willingness to fire into Gazan homes and streets keeps the violence far from Israeli children’s beds or Tel Aviv beaches, while ensuring that there is no square inch of safe civilian space in the Gaza Strip. Nowhere is not dangerous. To be in Gaza is to be hypervigilant because the car in front of you, the apartment down the hall, the road beneath your feet, or your neighbour’s son may be targeted without warning, in the next minute.  Most young Gazan adults have never been free to leave the Strip.  They have lived every minute on this firing range.

That is the lived ‘normal’ which our media declines to mention.  And it is the normalcy that proponents of Israel’s occupation are keen to elide by speaking only of Hamas rather than the whole human community of the Gaza Strip.  Gaza is not Hamas, and Hamas is not Gaza.

When the story begins with that rocket, it asks Gaza, ‘Why do you disturb the peace?’  With its lede, the story would ask why Israel perpetuates these unforgivable conditions. 

But why resist that way? Why poke the Israeli bear?  When I asked them, my Palestinian colleagues sighed that the world only notices Gazans when they fight.  As soon as there is quiet, the rest of us turn quickly away until Gazans find some way to remind us, “We’re still here.”

I wonder if they are right.  Is it our quiet morning that the rocket unsettled – is that why our media seems more ready to condemn the resistance than the injustice?

Marilyn Garson

Shana Tova – Jewish New Year hopes for Palestine, from Alternative Jewish Voices and friends.

Shana Tova – happy Jewish New Year – to Palestine, from Alternative Jewish Voices and friends.

2021 has been the most difficult year.

May the coming year be much sweeter.

May you live in dignity,

freedom and equality,

with the full measure of your rights

and the full expression of your culture.  

May your homes be safe and your journeys undisturbed. May those who have been driven out choose whether to return.

May Palestinian nationality be recognised, so that you speak as of right and manage the resources of your land wisely.

We wish your children healthy food and clean water, schoolbooks and playgrounds and art, and the knowledge that they will sleep safely in their beds at night.

We wish you health in this time of pandemic.

We wish you could just be, living your lives without violence and oppression.  We wish you normalcy – work, rest, untroubled sleep.

We wish you each a vote and a voice to determine the transformation that must occur for everyone who lives between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. May it become a shared space governed as all of its citizens see fit, unscarred by ugly walls and checkpoints.

May you enter into the conversations that will realise such change.

We wish energy and impatience to all of us around you, as we escalate the principled pressure for transformation.  For as long as it is radical to insist upon the full measure of Palestinians’ equal human rights and the unexceptional application of international law; for that long we will continue.

May all of our religions be respected, loved and protected. That, too, is our shared work.

Let 2021 have been the worst year.   

We can make the coming year much sweeter.  

Marilyn Garson    

Fred Albert

David Weinstein

Judith Reinkin

Lynn Jenner

Sue Berman

Margalit Toledano

Justine Sachs

Palestine policy in a rules-based world

Beit Lahiya, Gaza Nov 2012, Marilyn Garson

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged APEC to ensure fair access to Covid vaccines, as a step toward a ‘rules-based’ Pacific region.  As a small, remote country, Aotearoa-NZ depends heavily on those rules. We have moral, legal and self-interested reasons to act and speak for a rules-based world and when we do, our voice carries.

We should use our voice now, while we are all staring at our contradictions.  Covid shows that our health is indivisible – while the old, morally vacant politics have eroded our ability to act collectively on health, climate, inequality, violence, or the massive flows of refugees driven from their homes by from great hardship.   Self-interest lies in restoring our international institutions.  Institutions are not just buildings, they are agreed behaviours and rules.  We need to reinvigorate especially those agreements which underpin our institutions of law, equality and science. 

Why should Palestine be on our agenda?  Israel’s forever-occupation is a product of the old power politics. Our donor and policy choices make us actively complicit: we are part of the Palestine problem.  In May we all watched the intentional destruction escalate once more:  over 260 Gazan lives lost and 13 in Israel, half a billion dollars of infrastructure and housing wrecked, one-fifth of Gazans left without running water, and ongoing expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem. 

On the ground things are only worse, but the excessive violence has finally broken into the mainstream media.  The New York Times, Vanity Fair and others are publishing real images of Gazans’ experience.  Even staid diplomatic voices now declare that states must change their diplomacy in order to bring solutions about. 

And where does Aotearoa stand?  Contrast these two statements.  Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon used to appeal for humanitarian aid to Gaza. Now he speaks of cause, law and responsibility.

“Israel has pursued a policy of incremental de facto annexation in the territories it has occupied since 1967… This is not a conflict between equals… a powerful state is controlling another people through an open-ended occupation, settling its own people on the land in violation of international law and enforcing a legal regime of institutionalised discrimination. Calls for a return to unconditional bilateral talks every time there is a fresh flare-up in fighting will only serve to perpetuate the status quo if these root causes are not addressed. What has become increasingly clear in recent years is Israel’s intent to maintain its structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation… a situation that arguably constitutes apartheid. It is now time for the international community to recognise and confront the consequences of Israel’s policies and actions in this regard.”

Compare that with our Foreign Minister, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, writing on December 14, 2020:

“Successive New Zealand Governments have been clear that Israeli settlements are a violation of international law.  On 23 June 2020, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rt Hon Winston Peters issued a statement highlighting this and warning that annexation would also breach international law and have negative implications for the peace process… New Zealand has a warm relationship with the Palestinian Authority, but our policy to date has been one of non-recognition of Palestine, on the basis that it lacks sufficient control of its territory to constitute a state…  New Zealand will continue to pursue a principled and balanced approach to the Middle East Peace Process including support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Illegality without consequence.  Blind, bystanding balance.  We can’t recognise Palestine because, well, because it’s so successfully and perennially occupied, for reasons that we warmly decline to analyse.

Is that really where our principles lead us?

Rather than waiting for justice to sprout like magic beans, we could ground our voice in the institutions of law and equality.  International law and the Geneva Conventions are institutions of principle. They oblige our constructive intervention on behalf of all people in a rules-based world.  

Law and treaty and convention are only meaningful if they are supported by action when they are breached. This report by the UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk outlines the sources of states’ legal obligations to act on the many breaches in Palestine, and it notes the characteristics of actions that have helped elsewhere.

Lynk reiterated just last week that Israel’s West Bank settlements, which have transferred 680,000 Israeli settlers onto occupied Palestinian land, should be classified as war crimes.  

“The illegality of the Israeli settlements is one of the most settled and uncontentious issues in modern international law and diplomacy. Their illegality has been confirmed by the United Nations Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and by many international and regional human rights organizations… [but] the international community has been remarkably reluctant to enforce its own laws.”

We sponsored UN Resolution 2334 in 2016 to reiterate that illegality, but we have done nothing to make our action meaningful.  We speak up for principled fair access to Covid vaccines in the Pacific, but we have not spoken to Israel’s legal (and moral) failure to provide Covid vaccines to the people of occupied Palestine.  And so on. 

The rules-based order we seek requires more than that.

Ardi Imseis is a Canadian law professor and former Senior Legal Counsel to the Chief Justice of Alberta. He has made an excellent argument to go further and recognise the State of Palestine.  He elaborates Palestine’s qualification to be recognised, and outlines the legal and institutional value of regarding both Palestine and Israel as sovereign and territorially inviolable. In a world of state-based institutions, a State of Palestine would have access to “a number of legal principles that, by definition, can only apply to states and which are therefore the bedrock of the modern international legal order.”  Recognition would also “serve as a holding operation … to halt the ongoing colonization by the occupying power” of Palestinian territory and Palestinians’ lives. 

Alternative Jewish Voices has called for us to recognise Palestinians as a people with equal standing to speak about their resources, lives and aspirations.  Recognition would help to bring about the preconditions for any number of states to be governed in the interest of all citizens.  Isn’t that what our government says that it wants?

Early in our own uneven work of decolonisation, Aotearoa-NZ would bring a grounded, hopeful voice to the project of doing Palestine policy differently.  We would add to the external pressure for constructive change.  Surely that is where our values lead us. How much impact would it make, to uphold the laws that we sign or to act in the interest of a rules-based world? Absurdly, in all the decades of this occupation, it hasn’t been tried. 

No single policy will please the Jewish community, because we are not monolithic.  A quarter of the American Jewish voters – and a third of those aged under forty years – surveyed by the Jewish Electorate Institute now call Israel an apartheid state.  Locally, we are as deeply divided.  However, we are not the object of the policy and we must not be an excuse for inaction.  Israel’s forever-occupation is not about us.  As Sara Roy writes,

“Israel’s struggle against the Palestinian people is fundamentally about their presence and their representation to the world.  It is about diminishing if not removing their certainty by depriving them of agency and capacity and condemning them for their own privation.  Palestinians have resisted.  Yet, their resistance is not enough… They must be seen as a civil society with aspirations no different from ours.  They must be seen as the solution to the problems of their region.” 

In our Jewish community, in Aotearoa and in Palestine, there can be no future based on erasing a nation.  We need to embark on the work of listening, making good the harm that has been done, imagining and constructing a future together.  There is no other way forward – and that is the vision to which our national policy should speak.

Marilyn Garson