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

Not just antisemitism: protest that neither hates nor falsely equates

Members of Alternative Jewish Voices and Wellington Palestine sat down last weekend to explore the speech of protest that neither hates nor falsely equates.  

We find that language in the discourse of human rights, because rights are either everyone’s rights, or they are nothing. We reject any language which ethnically ranks and values human beings.  Rights value us according to a single, shared human standard.  Then the law can distinguish between the different obligations of occupier and occupied, and the wildly different proportions of actual harm.

We deplore the weapons of war because we are all flesh and blood and family.  We mourn all of the deaths. We do not equate the dangers or the damages. We protest Israel’s regime, wherein the weapons are wielded so disproportionately by the powerful against the powerless.  We call for legal accountability to replace the present, violent impunity.

That is not anti-Israel.  Accountability takes the side of civilians. The armed party which does the overwhelming share of the wrongful killing and destruction, earns the overwhelming share of the law’s attention.  The community which experiences the overwhelming share of the dispossession, loss and harm deserves the greatest part of our concern, our protection.  B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, tracks the casualties of this occupation.  Through the past twenty years, the casualites have been 88% Palestinian. 

Now another 256 are dead in Gaza; 12 in Israel.  It is wrong to decry these factual proportions as anti-Israel, or to attribute antisemitic motives to speakers who are simply counting.

Early in the Great March of Return, Ha’aretz published an Op-Ed by an American rabbi, titled, If You Call the Gaza Death Toll ‘Disproportionate,’ How Many Israelis Have to Die for the Sake of Symmetry?  On May 17, 2018, I responded.

“The deaths arising from Gaza’s weeks-old protests are one-sided: the IDF has killed more than 100 Gazans. They have injured more protestors than Gaza has hospital beds. Médecins Sans Frontières has noted an alarming pattern among the gunshot wounds, indicating a particularly harmful choice of ammunition. No Israeli has been injured or killed.

“You ask whether a person who observes these facts would like to see ‘a hundred Jewish bodies strewn across the desert.’  No, I would not. I am simply observing a fact. I am not seeking more deaths; I am seeking fewer. I am calling attention to avoidable killing. If I may not note the factual distribution of death, then what am I allowed to say?”

Facts are allowed.  Essentializing, dehumanizing hate is not.  Between them lies a hotly contested political vocabulary.

This vocabulary includes objective, discomfiting words like apartheid, a crime against humanity.  Human rights lawyers have repeatedly found that Israel’s arrangements of power constitute apartheid. Their legal analyses make the term available to the rest of us.  I object when anti-Jewish motives are attributed to people for using such substantiated terminology.  It is incidental that this apartheid happens to benefit Jews.  The point is that it illegally, systemically oppresses our fellow human beings. 

If it is antisemitic for non-Jews to conflate ‘Israel,’ ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jews,’ then why do we allow Zionist spokespeople to do precisely that – to hide Israel’s military regime in the protected religious sphere of Judaism?  Are they not essentialising all Jews as nationalists and occupiers? 

When the proponents of Israel’s occupation call their critics antisemitic, they also logically encroach on the meaning of semitism.  I am a Jew, a Semite.  The category is ancient and precious to me. See what they are doing to it. If it is antisemitic to pursue others’ freedom, if human equality is antisemitic, then tell me what they have made of my semitism.

In this era of accusations, how often do we condemn the speech that hates and dehumanizes Palestinians?

We must urgently equalize the hateful, deadly disparity we apply to the dense civilian-military intermingling that prevails in both Israel and Gaza.  Israel consistently ranks among the most militarized states on earth.  Its Ministry of Defense stands in the commercial heart of Tel Aviv.  You can’t walk a block in Israeli cities without seeing weapons, some carried by men and women wearing uniforms and some not.  Gaza is also militarized, some of it visible and some concealed.  Yet we allow ourselves to be told that Israel’s army shields civilians while Gaza’s civilians are deployed to shield Hamas fighters. Which is it? This perception conditions our understanding of justifiable and wrongful killing.

Israel has wiped out generations of Palestinian families on the pretext of striking at individual members of Hamas.  It beggars belief to suggest that Israelis – or anyone else – would accept the killing en masse of generations of the families of their own soldiers, teachers, civil servants, rubbish collectors or police with the same rationale. Nor, straying geographically, would Israelis or anyone else call it justice to blow up the family homes of people suspected of crimes, as Israel does in the West Bank.

Israeli police stations are civic installations, yet the IDF blew up “dozens” of Gaza’s police stations as military targets.  In all these ways, the prevalence of arms in Israel is not seen as forfeiting civilian status. The mere, unproven association with Hamas is allowed to militarize extended families and apartment towers in the Gaza Strip. 

Which is it?  Each inversion protects Israelis and strips Palestinians of their civilian protection. 

We begin discounting Gazan life when we allow “Hamas” to stand in for the name of the place being bombed. Israel does not bomb Hamas, because Hamas is not a place. We see with our own eyes that every bomb lands on the Gaza Strip, an overwhelmingly civilian community.  To euphemise the repeated bombardment of Gazan Palestinians as ‘mowing the lawn’ is the ultimate denial of their humanity. That speech drips with hate and incitement.

It is imperative that we continue to protest boldly, because this did not end with the grief and the wreckage of Gaza.  Since the ceasefire, another 800 Palestinians are facing expulsion from their homes in Silwan.  Naftali Bennett may become Israel’s Prime Minister despite declaring, “I’ve already killed a lot of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.”  Ayelet Shaked may return to prominence despite reminding Israeli soldiers in 2014 to kill the Palestinian “little snakes,” to kill their mothers and to destroy their homes.

The triggers are all still cocked. 

Marilyn Garson, Alternative Jewish Voices of NZ

Ceasefire, but we cannot let this go the same way

Photo Marilyn Garson, from a reclaimed rubble sea wall, Gaza City

I lived in Gaza from 2011, through the attack of 2014, and for one year after. I am not Palestinian, but some of the things I remember will be relevant in the coming months.

The bombardment was shattering. There followed a winter of soul-destroying neglect by donor states. Tens of thousands of Gazans remained in UNRWA shelter-schools.  Many more families shivered in remnant housing, on tilting slabs of concrete, in rooms with three walls and a blanket hung in lieu of a fourth, persistently cold and wet. 

Recovery?  America sold Israel $1.9 billion in replacement arms. The World Bank assessed Israel’s bomb damage to Gaza at $4.4 billion.  Of the $5.4 billion that donors pledged to reconstruct Gaza, in that critical first year the International Crisis Group calculated that the donor states actually came up with a paltry $340 million

Aid is an insufficient place-holding response, but it is needed now.  This time, it cannot happen the same way.

In the workaday business of delivering the material needed to rebuild, the blockade allows Israel to choose the chokepoints of reconstruction.  Having bombed, Israel is allowed to carry on the assault by slow strangulation.

In 2014 they were allowed to impose a farcical compliance regime for the cement that was needed to rebuild the 18,000 homes they had damaged or destroyed.  UNRWA engineers were required to waste their days sitting next to concrete mixers.  International staff spent hours of each day driving between them to count – no shit, count – sacks of cement.  100,000 people were homeless and cement was permitted to reach them like grains of sand through an eye-dropper.  Not a single home was built through the remainder of 2014.

Perhaps this time Israel will choke off the supplies needed to re-pave the tens of thousands of square meters of road they have blown up; it will be something.  We have watched an attack on the veins and arteries of modern civilian infrastructure.  If the crossings regime is allowed to remain in place, we will be leaving the Israeli government to decide unilaterally whether Gazans will be permitted to live in the modern world. 

This time, it simply cannot go the same way. 

I was as frightened by the way the bombs changed us.  1200 hours of incessant terror and violence had re-wired our brains. The lassitude, the thousand-yard-stares, the woman from Rafah who clutched her midsection as if she could hold her twelve lost relatives in place.  I and my team of Gazan over-achievers struggled to finish any task on time.  Eight months later I found research on the anterior midcingulate cortex to help us understand how bombardment can alter the finishing brain. Every step seemed to be so steeply uphill. 

Even more un-Gazan, we often struggled alone.  The very essence of Gaza is its density.  In its urban streets you know the passersby with smalltown frequency.  Gaza coheres with the intentional social glue of resistance.  After the bombardment, people seemed to float alone with their memories. The human heart returns to the scene of unresolved trauma, and our hearts were stuck in many different rooms.

The good people who listened and cared as professionals or as neighbours, were themselves suffering.  Parents compared notes through those months: how many of their children still slept beneath their beds in case the planes came back?  Over everyone’s heads hung the knowledge that there had been no substantial agreement beyond a cessation of firing. 

I felt I was watching people reach for each other, and for meaning. Young Gazan men stood for hours, waving Palestinian flags over the rubble of Shuja’iyya while residents crawled over the rubble landscape in search of something familiar. Bright pennants sprouted across the bombed-out windows of apartments.

Not everyone found meaning. Suicide and predatory behaviour also rose. Hamas cracked down on dissent violently, while more-radical groups made inroads among young people who may have felt they had no other agency.  

The aftermath was all these things at once. When I left Gaza in late 2015, it felt poised between resuming and despairing. Since then, it has gone on for another six years.  This bombardment picked up where the last one left off: in 2014 the destruction of apartment blocks was Israel’s final act and this time, it was their opening salvo.

This time, we cannot let it go the same way.

I had to learn to harness my sadness and outrage.  If we are to make it different this time, we need to do that.

In the first weeks after the 2014 bombing, I could only rage at the blockade wall but the wall stood, undented. I didn’t know how to look further, and as a Jew I was afraid to look further. I began to read books on military accountability. Those principles helped to focus my gaze beyond the wall.

Now as then, we have witnessed a barbaric action, comprised of choices.  Individuals are accountable for each of those choices.  It is neither partisan nor, must I say it, antisemitic to call them to account ceaselessly.  Accountability takes the side of civilian protection.  If one belligerent causes the overwhelming share of the wrongful death and damage, then that party has duly earned the overwhelming share of our attention.  Call them out.

Loathe the wall but rage wisely at its structural supports: expedient politics, the arms trade that profits by field-testing its weapons on Gazan Palestinians, any denial of the simple equality of our lives, the hand-wringing or indifference of the bystander.  Those hold the wall up.

Prior to this violence, Donald Trump had been busily normalising Israel’s diplomatic relations – good-bye to all that.  Normalise BDS, not the occupation of Palestine.  Apply sustained, peaceful, external pressure as you would to any other wound.  BDS firmly rejects an apartheid arrangement of power, until all people enjoy equality and self-determination.

See and reject the single system that classifies life ethnically between the river and the sea.  When you recognise a single systemic wrong, you have recognised Palestinians as a single nation.

A statement by scholars of genocide, mass violence and human rights last week described the danger: “[T]he violence now has intensified systemic racism and exclusionary and violent nationalism in Israel—a well-known pattern in many cases of state violence—posing a serious risk for continued persecution and violence against Palestinians, exacerbated by the political instability in Israel in the last few months.”

In other words, this isn’t over and we will not let it go the same way.

The risk to Gaza now is the risk of our disengagement before we have brought down the walls.  That is the task; nothing less.  This time, Gaza must go free. 

Marilyn Garson,

Alternative Jewish Voices

We Have Come to Parliament to End This

Again today, Alternative Jewish Voices joined Wellington-Palestine, Green and Labour MPs and hundreds of our friends to demand that Aotearoa-NZ stand up and act for the protection of Gazans. We added our support to Green MP Golriz Gharahman’s motion to recognize Palestinians’ right to self-determination and statehood. And again today, we are grateful for the warm welcome and friendship we find when we stand up together. Here are our remarks:

Kia Ora, and shukran.  To each of the Palestinians here, I wish safety for your families, for all of the families.

We are the co-founder of Alternative Jewish Voices.  We join you to do the work of ending an atrocity.

Governments can end this.

The Israeli forces will bomb until governments including ours require them to stop.  That is the history.  After the 2014 bombardment, Israel’s office of the comptroller published its report.  It found that Netanyahu and Gantz had bombed Gaza with no meaningful military objective. They found pretexts to bomb for as long as the world allowed it.

They are doing it again.  Do not give them 50 days – we came here to end this.

All of it.  We abhor all the forms of violence that we see, from bombardment to the everyday humiliations of life under occupation, and the decisions of leaders who put military and nationalist interests before the wellbeing of children and civilians. 

We want Aotearoa-NZ to unequivocally condemn Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate violence.  We want our leaders to call out all the crimes and end the impunity, to uphold the law and protect the endangered people of Gaza.  That’s how we end it.

We are here to end our complicity in the arms trade.  After the last bombardment, America sold Israel $1.9 billion in new weapons.  This week Biden is selling Israel precision-guided missiles worth $3/4 billion.  That is military business as usual:  Israel bombs, America replenishes their bombs and Israel’s arms trade profits from each field-test of its new weapons. 

We are here to end normal trading relations with Israel, because this is not normal.  We begin by auditing and ending our arms transactions with Israel.  We end our complicity.

Then, please, send the money that we would have spent on military robots to Gaza.  Use our money to repair the roads that lead to the Al Shifa hospital, because those roads have been bombed.  Ambulances can not bring the wounded for help.

Use our money to repair Gaza’s only Covid testing lab, which has been hit and cannot operate.  Spend our money on medical aid, for Covid and for the diseases that will spread because sewage treatment has ceased. Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, the veins and arteries of modernity, is being blasted apart.  More than half of the power lines are down, half of Gaza has gone dark and without the internet, they are falling silent. Israel has shut off Gaza’s fuel supplies, and since May 10 Israel has closed the blockade’s goods entrance.  

Those are criminal acts.  Stop this assault, and use our money to rebuild.

And please send our money to build playgrounds.  Hire counsellors to comfort the children of Gaza. That is where our money belongs. 

And send our recognition.

In a world of state power and inter-state institutions, stateless people will always be vulnerable.  Aotearoa-NZ has withheld Palestinians’ equal standing to speak for themselves in a state-based world.  We support the Green Party initiative to give Palestinians their national voice as a state.  Let us hear them speak and negotiate about their land, their resources, their aspirations and right now, their safety.

Recognition would be a step toward resolving this with justice, not merely suspending the fighting.

And we end this as Jews.  Plenty of us are horrified and disturbed by the bombardment of Gaza.  See our protests, all around the world.  We who love our religion – we need to say out loud that this isn’t it.

So I ask my fellow NZ Jews to join us. Do not wring your hands.  Use your hands to pick up a sign and protest.  What good is your horror without your voice?  Come and shout with us:  we revoke the license that we have given to Israel. 

Netanyahu, you claim to do this in our names?  We cancel your naming rights.  Take our names off your bombs.  Your apartheid, your blockade, that is not our Judaism – we reject it.

The ghetto you have built and bombed in Gaza has no place in our Judaism – we are disgusted by your actions.

We who have enabled, we need to act now, to end this and pursue a just peace for all who live between the river and the sea.

Do justice, love mercy.

B’Shalom – ya’tik al afiah – nga mihi nui.

Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Hamas

A few simple facts to distinguish between the Israeli government’s claim that it is ‘bombing Hamas’ and the actual bombs that are landing on the Gaza Strip.

May be an image of fire and sky
photo credit: AFP

The Israeli armed forces are not dropping bombs on Hamas, because Hamas is not a place.  They are dropping bombs on Gaza, which is one of the most densely populated places on this earth.  The language of ‘bombing Hamas’ gives us the soothing impression that the bombs land in a distinct, guilty, non-civilian Hamas-place.  No such location exists in Gaza.

Israeli space also densely mingles the civilian with the military.  The headquarters of the Israeli Ministry of Defense stands in the commercial centre of Tel Aviv.  Uniformed and / or armed Israelis can be seen on every sidewalk of Israel’s cities and towns. The government of Israel has long justified its aggressive force-protection stance by labelling its army as civilians in uniform.  Yet Israel demands its full share of civilian protections.

Israel places police stations in every neighbourhood, yet it just blew up ‘dozens’ of Gaza’s police stations as ‘Hamas targets.’

I heartily wish that every combatant would stand at a distance from every non-combatant in this world, truly I do.  Until that happens, we must not allow anyone to discount the safety of Gaza’s civilian space as it is being discounted in this bombardment.

I have grappled with my dislike of Hamas in print and through four years of living under Hamas’s rule.  I am no defender of theirs.  I consider Hamas to be an unfortunate product of Israel’s occupation.

However, in Israel’s official speech, “Hamas” becomes a deadly strategic convenience that confuses our understanding of civilian Gaza.  So, a few simple facts.

Hamas is the governing authority in the Gaza Strip. It employs teachers, rubbish collectors and countless other non-combatant civil servants.  Those people are civilians.  The homes of combatant and non-combatant Hamas employees hold families.  Those families are civilians.  The family members of Hamas combatants have not forfeited their civilian protections. The children of Hamas combatants have the same protected status as any other child.

Human Rights Watch studied Israel’s targeting of Hamas persons in their family homes across Gaza in 2014.  Its findings are titled: “Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians: Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy.”

 

Hamas rockets did not start this.  Nakba started this.  Blockade.  Repeated bombardments and deprivation.  Now Sheikh Jarrah has triggered an uprising that Hamas joined with its rockets.  History books don’t begin their explanations with today’s events, and neither should our media.

Rockets do not let Israel off the hook for its bombs.  No number of rockets can relieve Israel of its legal obligations regarding Gazan civilians – not for one instant – because Israel’s obligations are not to Hamas.  In the laws of war and occupation, belligerents are not responsible to each other.  Each belligerent is independently responsible and accountable for its actions.  One violation does not release anyone else from their legal obligations.  

Israel fires at will and has time to make its choices.  It chooses to bomb overwhelmingly at night, exacerbating the fear and depriving everyone of sleep.  Israeli planes and drones and tanks and gunships could fire just as well in daylight because Gaza has no defensive weapons. 

We must hold Israel accountable for its choices. To understand what that means, here’s a good enquiry into military accountability for the deaths they call collateral.

I do not celebrate the rockets, because I hate weapons of war – but I do not equate the weapons of the powerful and the powerless.  Rockets make a hole in the ground.  Bombs blow up apartment buildings and essential infrastructure.  Common sense would never confuse them, and neither should our government in its official statements.

I am aghast when I see the wreckage, the shattered bodies and the now-homeless survivors, the petrified children and the grieving parents who will have this horror imprinted on their minds forever. When an unvaccinated, trapped populace flees before one of the world’s most powerful (vaccinated) military machines, I am speechless at the notion of Israel’s restraint – let alone its claim to victimhood. 

Just look, and you will see who is the aggressor and who in need of defense.

When I speak about Gaza, people sometimes tell me that they hesitate to stand up because they’re afraid that they might disrespect the Holocaust. 

Standing up to protect our fellow human beings does not disrespect anyone.  Indifference disrespects the memory of every person who ever needed us to act.

We honour history by living with moral courage.  A trapped community is under assault by one of the most powerful militaries on earth.  Stand up for it.

Help Gaza. Do you understand – we end this.  We own the laws of protection.  Israel always, only stops when it is told to stop by other states. Israel’s Office of the Comptroller assessed that the 2014 war was fought without a meaningful strategy.  They bombed until the world stopped them.  Now they are doing it again.

Jacinda Ardern, we beg you to tell them to stop. 

Marilyn Garson  

Alternative Jewish Voices

Standing together on Nakba Day in sadness and solidarity, outrage and radical hope

May 15, at Wellington’s Nakba Day gathering, we joined Palestinians and many others in outrage and (in the words of another speaker) radical hope. These remarks will be Alternative Jewish Voices’ Nakba Day statement.

Kia Ora,

Thank you – shukran – for inviting me. 

The protests in NZ are furthest from Palestine, so, from the ends of the earth we are with you, seeking your protection, your freedom and all of our futures – because I will only be free when we are all free and safe.

My name is Marilyn Garson, and I am a co-founder of Alternative Jewish Voices.  I’m here with my co-founder Fred Albert. We are with friends and we bring messages of support from more Jewish friends up and down the Island.  We are with you, in sadness and in solidarity.  To each of the Palestinians here today, we wish safety and justice for your families.

Nakba Day and Sheikh Jarrah are both about family homes.  A few generations ago, our antecedents, seeking shelter, took the homes of others.  They drove Palestinians out their homes and built a militarized regime of occupation and apartheid.  Until we resolve it on that level, the Nakba will continue to be an event in the present tense. Israeli settlers are still trying to force Palestinian families out of their homes in the West Bank, in Sheikh Jarrah.  The settlers have ethnic laws and overwhelming force on their side, but their impunity has abruptly ended.

There is no way back to their status quo, because their status quo caused the absolute horror that we see unfolding. 

Let me say that I dread violence, I dread anyone’s violence.  But I do not equate the actions of the powerful and the powerless.  I hate the weapons of war but I see the cause, the power disparities and the proportions of harm.  The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem tracks the casualties of this Israeli regime. Through the past 20 years, the casualties have been 88% Palestinian – and those have been grossly, disproportionately Gazan. 

As a Jew, I do not know how it has felt to be Palestinian through those years.  I do not narrate the experience of those years.  I listen while you tell me what those years have meant.

But I do know how it feels to sit beneath the bombs in Gaza.  I worked in Gaza through the last war.  I sat beneath four years of bombs, and my body will remember them forever. The bombs that Israeli forces are dropping in Gaza are larger by an order of magnitude than the rockets.  Nowhere on this earth are the power disparities greater than in the repeated bombardments of Gaza.  They are not bombing Hamas, because Hamas is not a tidy, separate, non-civilian place.  No, they are bombing Gaza.  One of the most powerful militaries on earth is bombing in overwhelmingly civilian cities, where a million children are trapped behind a wall.  Gazans are fighting to claim their most basic human rights, to walk free and drink clean water. When buildings are falling around them, when unvaccinated civilians flee from a vaccinated army, when we all know there is no safe place behind that wall – you tell me, who is the aggressor, and who is in need of self-defense? 

I plead with our government to act. Jacinda Ardern, Nanaia Mahuta, where are you?  Gaza is in great danger – we need you to stand up and help them. Occupied people are legally protected people and we need you to enforce the laws of protection. 

To our fellow Jews we say, surely this is not the Israel you had in mind.  So please join us.  Standing here, together, you can see the future.  This madness will end when we admit what we have done, when we listen, restore, return – then we can begin to transform this mess together.  We who hold the power, we start by saying:  “Our lives have equal value.  Jewish supremacy is not our Judaism.  I will not have it done in my name.”

Occupation is not our Judaism – not in my name.  Apartheid is not our Judaism – not in my name.  Bomb a million children behind blockade walls – never, never in my name.  That is not our Judaism.

Our Judaism says: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: justice, justice you shall pursue

We join you to do the work of seeking justice together.

B’Shalom – Ya’tik al afiyah – Nga mihi nui.

Alternative Jewish Voices of NZ

— We are grateful to everyone for their warm welcome, and to our friends at Wellington Palestine for their hard work

Image credits: Tommy-Morum Kelly

In Gaza, the bombs had names on them

Again but differently, that terrifying open-ended escalation.

In 2014, Israel’s final, gratuitous act in Gaza was its bombing of two residential apartment buildings.  In 2021, it is their opening gambit.  They have picked up where they left off – but it’s different this time.  UNRWA which sheltered 293,000 displaced people in 2014 has been gutted by Trump while Gaza’s health, water and other essential infrastructures have been hollowed out by Israel through the years.  Where will people go for shelter?

This time, there is Covid on one side.  Israel has vaccinated its military and systematically refused to meet its legal obligations to vaccinate the Palestinians whose land it occupies.  Gazans in distress, in relatives’ homes, in hospitals, will be unable to socially distance.

It is different within Israel, too.  Rockets are reaching further and causing casualties. There is an uprising in Lod.  I dread the violence, everyone’s violence.  I am afraid for my family, I am worried and sad for everyone.

Still, I cannot understand this unless I distinguish between the equal rights of civilians to safety, and the grossly unequal Israeli regime that has placed them all in such danger.  With that distinction, I know there is no way back to the status quo ante, because the status quo caused this. 

Generations of settler-colonial occupation, racially differentiated laws and life prospects, forced expulsion and violence with impunity – that was the status quo. Palestinians have abruptly overturned it.  Rejecting the forced expulsion of families from Sheikh Jarrah and incensed by the paramilitary violation of their sacred space, 80,000 Palestinians faced down the soldiers and prayed at Al Aqsa Mosque.  With that, the status quo was over.  There is no way back.

So I sit with my fears, I dream about a post-racial society that has dealt with its crimes, and I send my best to clear-eyed strangers.

But I will not sit still while Gaza is under bombardment.  That is different.  The wall makes that different.

Two million people are trapped within an illegal blockade, crowded together in a pandemic, lacking reliable supplies of clean water or electricity.  Most of all, they lack any way to move to safety.  You cannot protect civilians behind a wall.  I know this.  I was part of the UNRWA emergency response team that could not keep displaced Palestinians safe enough from Israel’s bombardment in 2014.

My heart is racing today as it used to race then.

Gaza is so small that the bombs have names on them.  First the sound smacks into your chest and the earth shudders, and a moment later the curtains flap inward from the rushing air.  You turn to each new pillar of smoke and dust and flame, and you ask, “Who do I know there – which of my friends lives there?  Who have I lost?”  And even if you don’t know anyone in that neighbourhood, the density of Gaza means that the bomb had someone’s name on it.  Someone has lost.

No matter how many bombs fall, you do that every time.  You peer into every pillar of smoke and strain to know who is gone.  The number of explosions does not blunt a single one of them.

And then neighbours race toward the rubble and the fires.  Neighbours come to dig with a shovel or with their bare hands, to search for survivors or to carry the remains of their friends and families for burial.  When the other sounds abate, you hear the screams of relatives who are tormented by their wait.

The wall, the blockade makes Gaza different.

Occupied people are legally protected people.  The law makes their protection our responsibility, and the people of Gaza need us to live up to our responsibility right now.

So speak up.

Nakba is an event in the present tense – in Jerusalem and in Gaza

I woke up to the news and fear cut into me for my family in Israel.  Where are they right now?  I felt one moment of the fear that Palestinians live with.

No false equivalence: nothing about this is equal.

In video, Israeli police are heavily armed and armoured, backed by courts of ethnic law.  Palestinians stand their ground wearing T-shirts.  An armed charge into an unarmed crowd is not a ‘clash,’ it is an assault.

Israeli soldiers have been vaccinated and most Palestinians have not. To hell with Israel’s legal responsibility. They knew that no state would hold them to it, and no state has.

But look – Palestinians are changing the script before our eyes.  They are taking authorship.

On May 8, 80,000 Palestinians came to Al Aqsa Mosque. Israeli police had violated their holy place and they came to reclaim it. They overwhelmed the roadblocks and the paramilitary police and faced them down with their bodies and their prayers.

Palestinians protested in Ramallah and Jaffa, in Gaza and in Haifa.  They are unstitching the Green Line.  Palestinians and their allies are protesting around the world.

Thousands of Israelis have been filmed dancing this morning, delirious at the sight of fire in the Al Aqsa Mosque.  In 2014, Israelis sat on the hillsides of Sderot to watch the bombardment of Gaza.  I think their desensitized madness has spread; the soullessness that comes from wielding overwhelming violence with impunity.

Wait, look again. In Gaza there is danger of a different magnitude. 

Gazan fighters fired rockets to join the uprising, to protest the forced expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. I am not fond of rockets, but having seen both rockets and bombs in action, I would prefer to stand near a rocket than a one-ton bomb.  A rocket makes a hole in the ground, while the airborne bombs of the IDF make the earth tremble.

Israel conducted airstrikes in Gaza on Monday evening, following rocket fire from Gaza that caused damage to one Israeli vehicle, and “lightly injured” one Israeli civilian, according to an Israeli army statement.” 

Israeli bombs killed 20 Gazans overnight. They killed nine children, and injured scores of people. Let that attest to the relative value placed on one Israeli vehicle and twenty Gazan lives.

International governments condemned the rockets and elided the rest.

Israel, still drunk on its Trump license, may believe it can bomb Gaza with impunity.  Gazans, with clarity and unfathomable endurance, with Covid rampant behind a blockade wall, may feel they have less and less to lose.

This is a formula for catastrophe. We must not let it play out again. Gazans are not  symbols to be held up as proof after the fact.  They are human beings under assault right now, and they need our protection.

Do not tut-tut them all to step back equally, because the inequality of the status quo ante was the cause:  a regime of dispossession, apartheid, blockade, ethnically determined lives and life prospects.

We need to respond to the cause and the crimes. We need to demand that our governments uphold the laws they sign in our names to clear the way forward – not back. Intervene, protect, invoke the law, end the Nakba.

Saturday may be Nakba Day, but Nakba is an event in the present tense until we – yes we, calling on law and justice with every means available – bring it to an end.

Marilyn Garson

When a stone confronts a rifle

When a person holding a stone confronts soldiers who are armed with rifles, ask yourself why they are willing to do that.

On May 8, 80,000 Palestinians came to stand in front of rifles and pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.  They overwhelmed the rifles with their numbers and spirit.  We stand with them.

We deplore Israel’s violation of sacred space during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. We are horrified by the mob violence and the paramilitary police who enable it. This is not a ‘clash’ between two opinions, this is occupation and apartheid at work. 

We reject Israel’s campaign to dispossess the Palestinians, including current efforts to evict families from Sheikh Jarrah.  The New York Times notes, “A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said Friday that the evictions ‘would violate Israel’s obligations under international law’ prohibiting the forced transfer of residents from occupied territory…. [Aryeh] King, the deputy mayor, said ‘of course’ [the evictions] are part of a wider strategy of installing ‘layers of Jews’ throughout East Jerusalem.” 

We say, stop the evictions, and get the Israeli settlers out of occupied East Jerusalem.  This is ethnic cleansing.

Israel’s refusal to vaccinate the Palestinians whose land it occupies in Gaza and the West Bank has been condemned by UN Rapporteurs as “discriminatory and unlawful.” Covid is rampant and we plead with our governments to provide the lifesaving assistance that Israel is withholding. 

We call for an end to Israel’s impunity.  These are crimes.  We must begin to respond to them as crimes. 

We hold the Palestinian protestors in our thoughts.

 — International Jewish Collective for Justice in Palestine

Alternative Jewish Voices makes this statement as a member of the IJCJP.

To our fellow NZ Jews we ask, is this the Israel you had in mind?

If not, where is your protest? Why are you silent??