Breaking the Cycle

In the course that I teach on “Islam and the Geopolitics of the Middle East” we address, among many other things, the Israel/Palestine conflict. As I was reading this article which appeared on “Al-Hewar” on June 18, 2018, I wanted very much for my friends and for those who have taken my course in the past to read it. The older I get the more I love to read history and the Jewish Rabbi Warshal, did a good job in this article addressing a very much needed historical background to the situation in Gaza.

Here is the opinion of Rabbi Bruce Warshal.

This past March 30th Hamas initiated its “Great March of Return” on the Gaza border with Israel in order to protest conditions in the Gaza Strip under Israeli dominance.  It was not a wise tactic.  It culminated in the loss of almost 100 Palestinian lives on May 14th, the 70th anniversary of Israel on the solar calendar.

 I do not wish to analyze who is to blame, the Palestinian protestors or the Israeli army.  I want to review how we got to this situation.  An historical review is needed.

 In 2005, Ariel Sharon pulled the Jewish settlers and the Israeli military out of Gaza, without the intent of making peace with the Palestinians.  Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s senior advisor, summed it up succinctly: “The disengagement (from Gaza) is actually formaldehyde.  It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians…this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely.”

 It is important to realize that in 2005 the Palestinian Authority (PA) that Israel recognized as a bargaining partner, not Hamas, controlled Gaza.  Yet, immediately after withdrawal the Israelis hermetically sealed Gaza.  Crossing points between Gaza and Israel, as well as the airport and the port, were shut tight.  Gaza became an open-air jail.   Only a trickle of food and medical supplies were allowed in.  Weisglass quipped that the Gazans were being “put on a diet.”

 Fast forward to 2006: In fair elections, Hamas defeats Fatah, the leaders of the PA.  Israel responds that it will not deal with terrorists.  The same Dov Weisglass, now an advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, reasserts his diet recipe: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

 Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, obtained a court order that forced the Israeli government to release its records detailing the plan for the “diet.”  Health officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories needed by Gaza’s millions of inhabitants to avoid malnutrition.  Those figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day… An average of only 67 trucks, much less than half of the minimum requirement, entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 trucks before the blockade began in 2005.

Many international observers considered this starvation diet an act of terrorism. Hamas responded with their acts of terrorism, including suicide bombers and rockets lobbed into Israel.  There was then a ceasefire which Israel broke, leading to Israel’s invasion of Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilians.  Hamas then countered with rockets, tunneling into Israel and other means of resistance. 

 Fast forward to 2012. Israel invaded Gaza again with Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day military excursion that caused “only” 100 Palestinian deaths.  And the cycle continues to this very day.

 I do not want to portray the Palestinians as pure, innocent people.  They are as flawed as the Israelis and all other peoples, including us Americans.  But Israel is the powerful partner in this dance of death.  Why does it treat Gaza in what the world construes as inhuman ways? 

 I believe it is because Israelis look down on Arabs with various degrees of disrespect, ranging from simple prejudice such as looking down on menial work as avodah arevim, meaning “Arab work,” to outright dehumanization.  Witness the rabbi at the funeral of Baruch Goldstein (a settler fanatic who murdered 29 Palestinians as they prayed in a mosque), who preached that the lives of a thousand Arabs are not worth the fingernail of a single Jew.

 The cycle will not be broken until Israel places more importance on peace rather than settlement expansion into a Greater Israel.  But real peace surely will not come unless Israel begins to understand that Palestinians are human -- if you prick them, do they not bleed?

 We must understand their narrative, epitomized in the picture of an elderly Gaza resident holding this sign: “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bomb my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, BUT I am to blame:  I shot a rocket back.”

 Makes us ponder, doesn’t it? 

Rabbi Bruce Warshal, a Reform rabbi and a leader of Peace Now, grew up in a small coal town in Pennsylvania before getting a master's degree in economics in 1962 from Yale University, and where he received his law degree. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1969, after receiving a master's in Hebrew Letters, two years earlier.

After practicing law in Cleveland, Ohio, Warshal served as rabbi at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan and later at Touro Synagogue in New Orleans. He was the founding executive director of Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.

Warshal also became director of the South Florida Newspaper Network, and publisher of the Florida Jewish Journal. When the South Florida Sun Sentinel acquired the Journal in 1998, he remained as publisher. After retiring as head of the Journal in 2003, he stayed on as its chief columnist.

 

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