Two rabbis at Honukkah: light a candle for Gaza, or US media and Israel

When it comes to reporting on the human realities of the Palestinians, mainstream news in the US is blatantly biased in favor of the Israeli state.

Even simple facts about the Palestinians don’t see the light of day in the US news. Do most Americans know that the majority of Palestinians don’t have stable access to water, to food, or to electricity?

Many Americans have been trained to think that the issue is “too complex to understand.” But it isn’t, really. By keeping average Americans under this impression, denying us access to serious news about Palestinians, we are kept uninformed, misinformed, or rendered apathetic about one of the greatest crimes their tax-dollars go to support. (1) (2)

Last Hanukkah, two rabbis submitted an op-ed to the Washington Post, in which they offered a sympathetic account about the plight Palestinians under the Israeli-enforced embargo (we should recall that one Israeli official publicly declared it was time to put the Palestinian people “on a diet.”We should also recall that depriving innocent children of food because you don’t agree with their president’s political policies is illegal under international law.)

The rabbis cited Amnesty International as they decry the harsh apartheid policies imposed on the Palestinian people:

We cannot forget that Israel’s military assault occurred in the midst of a crushing blockade that Israel has imposed upon Gaza since January 2006.

As a result of this collective punishment:

– 80% of the Gazan population is dependent on international aid.

– 61% of the population is food insecure.

– The unemployment rate is approximately 39%, one of the highest in the world.

– Power outages usually last 4-6 hours a day and often longer.

– 60% of the population receives running water only once every 4 or 5 days, for 6-8 hours.

– 50 to 80 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are released into the sea every day.

– Approximately 90% of water supplied to Gaza residents is not suitable for drinking and is contaminated with salt and nitrates.

– 78% of homes with major damages from Operation Cast Lead have not been rebuilt.

(Source: Amnesty International USA Web Log, 11/29/10)
link to blog.amnestyusa.org

And here is what is amazing: the Washington Post agreed to accept their article, as long as they could practically rewrite it, excerpting much of what the rabbis had written and changing their prose to make it reflect the political views of the editor. In other words, the article couldn’t be critical of Israel unless it offered justifications for the very Israeli policies the rabbis were criticizing as inhumane and unjust.

The rabbis couldn’t say that Israel “initiated a massive military assault against Gaza;” instead the WaPo editors decided it had to be changed thus: Israel initiated responded to Hamas rocket fire and military weapon stockpiling with a massive military assault against in Gaza.

Note these additions are hearsay at best. The Hamas rocket fire in the months before the war had totally ceased, and the weapon stockpiling is simply laughable; here is a country with nuclear submarines accusing one of the poorest peoples in the world of stockpiling AK-47s?

Next, the rabbis were not allowed to say that those killed in the massacres “were hundreds of unarmed civilians, including more than 300 children;” instead they were told to insert a fictional statistic: Among the dead were more than 700 Hamas fighters, but also hundreds of unarmed civilians, including more than 300 children.

And finally the WaPo editors insisted they insert that “the high number of deaths were a consequence of Hamas using human shields.” This also is merely hearsay, and there is no evidence provided by the Israeli government to back it up; it appears simply as a post facto rationale.

And now we see why Americans have such a different view of the Israeli conflict than nearly everyone else in the world. In a recent UN Security Council vote to officially condemn the illegal Israeli settlement expansion, every single member of the security council voted in favor, with the US alone voting against and effectively vetoing the measure.

The reason is that we are so poorly informed. I would submit that if reasonable people had access to the basic facts, and an honest portrait of the human realities involved on both sides of the border, the political conclusions to draw would be quite obvious.

But the fact remains that the Palestinian people remain in a media darkroom in the US. If you want out of the dark, you’ll have to abandon the cable networks and the big newspapers, and instead go the likes of al-Jazeera or Democracy Now.

The most comprehensive and authoritative investigation of the 2009 Gaza massacres (officially known as “Operation Cast Lead”) is the Goldstone report, commissioned by the UN. Its results were clear for all to see; the conclusions to be drawn were quite obvious. But in the US it was hardly reported on, and often it was vilified by the media right. (I addressed the report here.)

Here is the fill op-ed that the WaPo final refused to print (you can also see the great Mondoweiss blogpost on it here):

Light a Candle for Gaza
By Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Alissa Wise

On the morning of December 27, 2008, the sixth day of Hanukkah, Israel initiated a massive military assault against Gaza with “Operation Cast Lead.” The name of the operation was a reference to a popular Hanukkah song written by the venerated Israeli poet Chaim Nachman Bialik: “My teacher gave a dreidel to me/A dreidel of cast lead.”

When Israel’s military actions ended on January 18, some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed. Among the dead were hundreds of unarmed civilians, including over 300 children.

Personal testimonies from the Palestinians who lived through Cast Lead in Gaza indicate the profoundly tragic consequences of Israel’s military assault. Here is one such account – excerpted from Amnesty International’s 2009 Report, “Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction”:

After Sabah’s house was shelled I ran over there. She was on fire and was holding her baby girl Shahed, who was completely burned. Her husband and some of the children were dead and others were burning. Ambulances could not come because the area was surrounded by the Israeli army… We drove toward the nearest hospital, Kamal ‘Adwan hospital…On the way to al-‘Atatrah Square we saw Israeli soldiers and stopped, and suddenly, the soldiers shot at us. My son Matar and Muhammad-Hikmat were killed.

This Hanukkah, how will we Jews choose to commemorate a legacy such as this? Many of us will invariably retreat behind a veil of defensiveness, claiming Israel’s action was an appropriate, commensurate response to the threat posed by Hamas. Some of us might be troubled, but choose to look away from the hard and painful reality of this bloodshed. Still others may simply allow Gaza to become subsumed by the sheer volume of world crises that seem to call out for our attention.

This Hanukkah, however, we are asking the Jewish community to light a candle for Gaza.

After all, this is the season in which we rededicate our determination to create light amidst the darkness. And quite frankly, the time is long overdue for the American Jewish community to shine a light on the dark truth of “Operation Cast Lead.”

Indeed, we have been deeply complicit in keeping this truth away from the light of day. Two years later, Israel still refuses to conduct a credible, transparent and independent investigation of its actions in Gaza. The sole attempt at such a proper investigation, the Goldstone Report, was successfully blackballed and eventually quashed under a campaign spearheaded by the Israeli and the US governments – and largely supported by the American Jewish establishment.

This Hanukkah, we would also do well to shine a light on the larger context of the reality in Gaza. We cannot forget that Israel’s military assault occurred in the midst of a crushing blockade that Israel has imposed upon Gaza since January 2006.

As a result of this collective punishment:

– 80% of the Gazan population is dependent on international aid.

– 61% of the population is food insecure.

– The unemployment rate is approximately 39%, one of the highest in the world.

– Power outages usually last 4-6 hours a day and often longer.

– 60% of the population receives running water only once every 4 or 5 days, for 6-8 hours.

– 50 to 80 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are released into the sea every day.

– Approximately 90% of water supplied to Gaza residents is not suitable for drinking and is contaminated with salt and nitrates.

– 78% of homes with major damages from Operation Cast Lead have not been rebuilt.

(Source: Amnesty International USA Web Log, 11/29/10)
link to blog.amnestyusa.org

Despite Israel’s claims to the contrary, its blockade remains very much in force. According to highly detailed research conducted by the Israeli NGO Gisha, Israel consistently lets through less than half of the required truckloads of essential goods mandated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Just weeks ago, European Union foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton, speaking on behalf of all EU foreign ministers commented, “At the present time, we think that what’s happened with Gaza is unsatisfactory, the volume of goods is not increasing as significantly as it needs to.”

The most tangible way we can light a candle for Gaza is to support those who refuse to allow this crisis to remain the darkness. The most courageous example: the movement of civilian flotillas that seek to break the blockade with symbolic humanitarian cargo. The most recent flotilla tragically gained international attention last May when the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was seized by Israeli commandos in a raid that left eight unarmed Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American citizen dead. (A recent report on the assault by a UN fact-finding mission said Israeli soldiers used “lethal force” in a “widespread and arbitrary manner, which caused an unnecessarily large number of persons to be killed or seriously injured,” and “carried out extralegal, arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law.”)

Despite this tragedy (or perhaps because of it), the flotilla movement is growing steadily. Here in the US, a group of peace activists is seeking to add the first American boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” which they intend to launch next spring as part of an international flotilla from over a dozen European, Asian and North American countries.

The US Boat to Gaza organizing statement asserts:

“The Audacity of Hope” will be a passenger ship with approximately 40-60 Americans on board including a 4-5 member crew and a small number of press and media professionals. We will not carry more than symbolic cargo: just as the students who sat in at Woolworth counters in the 1960s were not doing so because they wanted lunch, our voyage will be an act of civil disobedience and non-violent challenge to an illegal blockade rather than a mission to import humanitarian cargo. By the same token, one of our objectives will be to transport two Gazan graduate students who have been invited to visit and speak at a US university, but who have been prevented from leaving Gaza by the Israeli and Egyptian governments. Additionally, we plan to bring out Gazan products, which “Stand for Justice” is purchasing from a Gazan company.

For those who seek justice in Gaza, the courageous activists who are willing to put their own bodies on the line are immensely deserving of our support.

On Hanukkah, the festival that enshrines the ongoing human struggle for freedom, the season that seeks to shed light on the dark places of our world, it is time for us to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.

It is time for us to light a candle for Gaza.

 

Notes and references:

1. How much of our tax-dollars are handed out to Israel?

Daily US military aid to Israel is 8.2 million. Every day.

Well, Israel is the top receiver of foreign aid. Here is a report from a report from the Congressional Research Service documenting the 3 billion dollars every year that the US offers Israel in grants. We don’t even pay our puppet dictators that much (Mubarak got 2 billion to keep a stranglehold on the Egyptian people; and Uribe’s Columbia gets just under 1 billion to let the US use their airspace). See also here and here.

2. When I say crime, I am referring to the unambiguous international crime Israel perpetuates by occupying land it took in an aggressive war, a move which at the time (1967) was condemned by every country in the world, including the US.

The UN Security resolutions during and immediately after the war (here and here), which clearly and insistently call for Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied militarily during the war. I should emphasize that the US was a signatory to these resolutions, and that it was perfectly clear to all involved that the continued Israeli occupation of these lands (and domination of their residents) constituted a war crime.

The Israeli response has been disingenuous, at best. Israel will claim that they acquired the territories in a war that was technically defensive, and so the law against acquiring territory during war doesn’t apply to them, since it was not a war of aggression but of defense. A convenient conclusion for them to make, but unfortunately a logic that did not find acceptance by any other nation in the world at the time.

I print below two of the most relevant resolutions, of which the US was a signatory:

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242

(November 22, 1967)

The Security Council,

Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East,

Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,

Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter.

1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force […]

Security Resolution 262:

United Nations Security Council Resolution 262

December 31, 1968

The Security Council,

Having considered the agenda contained in document S/Agenda/1462,

Having noted the contents of the letter of the Permanent Representative of Lebanon (S/8945),1/

Having noted the supplementary information provided by the Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization contained in documents S/7930/Add.107 2/ and Add.108,3/

Having heard the statements of the representative of Lebanon and of the representative of Israel concerning the grave attack committed against the civil International Airport of Beirut,

Observing that the military action by the armed forces of Israel against the civil International Airport of Beirut was premeditated and of a large scale and carefully planned nature,

Gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation resulting from this violation of the Security Council resolutions,

Deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation resulting from this violation of the Security Council resolutions,

Deeply concerned about the need to assure free uninterrupted international civil air traffic,

1. Condemns Israel for its premeditated military action in violation of its obligations under the Charter and the cease-fire resolutions;

2. Considers that such premeditated acts of violence endanger the maintenance of the peace;

3. Issues a solemn warning to Israel that if such acts were to be repeated, the Council would have to consider further steps to give effect to its decisions;

[…]

Adopted unanimously at the 1462nd meeting.

For some (sad) laughs, and for some basics about the news, and an excellent documentary on the coverage:

This is in two 30 min. segments. At minimum watch the first 3 minutes.

Light a Candle for Gaza
By Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Alissa Wise

On the morning of December 27, 2008, the sixth day of Hanukkah, Israel initiated a massive military assault against Gaza with “Operation Cast Lead.” The name of the operation was a reference to a popular Hanukkah song written by the venerated Israeli poet Chaim Nachman Bialik: “My teacher gave a dreidel to me/A dreidel of cast lead.”

When Israel’s military actions ended on January 18, some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed. Among the dead were hundreds of unarmed civilians, including over 300 children.

Personal testimonies from the Palestinians who lived through Cast Lead in Gaza indicate the profoundly tragic consequences of Israel’s military assault. Here is one such account – excerpted from Amnesty International’s 2009 Report, “Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction”:

After Sabah’s house was shelled I ran over there. She was on fire and was holding her baby girl Shahed, who was completely burned. Her husband and some of the children were dead and others were burning. Ambulances could not come because the area was surrounded by the Israeli army… We drove toward the nearest hospital, Kamal ‘Adwan hospital…On the way to al-‘Atatrah Square we saw Israeli soldiers and stopped, and suddenly, the soldiers shot at us. My son Matar and Muhammad-Hikmat were killed.

This Hanukkah, how will we Jews choose to commemorate a legacy such as this? Many of us will invariably retreat behind a veil of defensiveness, claiming Israel’s action was an appropriate, commensurate response to the threat posed by Hamas. Some of us might be troubled, but choose to look away from the hard and painful reality of this bloodshed. Still others may simply allow Gaza to become subsumed by the sheer volume of world crises that seem to call out for our attention.

This Hanukkah, however, we are asking the Jewish community to light a candle for Gaza.

After all, this is the season in which we rededicate our determination to create light amidst the darkness. And quite frankly, the time is long overdue for the American Jewish community to shine a light on the dark truth of “Operation Cast Lead.”

Indeed, we have been deeply complicit in keeping this truth away from the light of day. Two years later, Israel still refuses to conduct a credible, transparent and independent investigation of its actions in Gaza. The sole attempt at such a proper investigation, the Goldstone Report, was successfully blackballed and eventually quashed under a campaign spearheaded by the Israeli and the US governments – and largely supported by the American Jewish establishment.

This Hanukkah, we would also do well to shine a light on the larger context of the reality in Gaza. We cannot forget that Israel’s military assault occurred in the midst of a crushing blockade that Israel has imposed upon Gaza since January 2006.

As a result of this collective punishment:

– 80% of the Gazan population is dependent on international aid.

– 61% of the population is food insecure.

– The unemployment rate is approximately 39%, one of the highest in the world.

– Power outages usually last 4-6 hours a day and often longer.

– 60% of the population receives running water only once every 4 or 5 days, for 6-8 hours.

– 50 to 80 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are released into the sea every day.

– Approximately 90% of water supplied to Gaza residents is not suitable for drinking and is contaminated with salt and nitrates.

– 78% of homes with major damages from Operation Cast Lead have not been rebuilt.

(Source: Amnesty International USA Web Log, 11/29/10)
link to blog.amnestyusa.org

Despite Israel’s claims to the contrary, its blockade remains very much in force. According to highly detailed research conducted by the Israeli NGO Gisha, Israel consistently lets through less than half of the required truckloads of essential goods mandated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Just weeks ago, European Union foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton, speaking on behalf of all EU foreign ministers commented, “At the present time, we think that what’s happened with Gaza is unsatisfactory, the volume of goods is not increasing as significantly as it needs to.”

The most tangible way we can light a candle for Gaza is to support those who refuse to allow this crisis to remain the darkness. The most courageous example: the movement of civilian flotillas that seek to break the blockade with symbolic humanitarian cargo. The most recent flotilla tragically gained international attention last May when the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was seized by Israeli commandos in a raid that left eight unarmed Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American citizen dead. (A recent report on the assault by a UN fact-finding mission said Israeli soldiers used “lethal force” in a “widespread and arbitrary manner, which caused an unnecessarily large number of persons to be killed or seriously injured,” and “carried out extralegal, arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law.”)

Despite this tragedy (or perhaps because of it), the flotilla movement is growing steadily. Here in the US, a group of peace activists is seeking to add the first American boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” which they intend to launch next spring as part of an international flotilla from over a dozen European, Asian and North American countries.

The US Boat to Gaza organizing statement asserts:

“The Audacity of Hope” will be a passenger ship with approximately 40-60 Americans on board including a 4-5 member crew and a small number of press and media professionals. We will not carry more than symbolic cargo: just as the students who sat in at Woolworth counters in the 1960s were not doing so because they wanted lunch, our voyage will be an act of civil disobedience and non-violent challenge to an illegal blockade rather than a mission to import humanitarian cargo. By the same token, one of our objectives will be to transport two Gazan graduate students who have been invited to visit and speak at a US university, but who have been prevented from leaving Gaza by the Israeli and Egyptian governments. Additionally, we plan to bring out Gazan products, which “Stand for Justice” is purchasing from a Gazan company.

For those who seek justice in Gaza, the courageous activists who are willing to put their own bodies on the line are immensely deserving of our support.

On Hanukkah, the festival that enshrines the ongoing human struggle for freedom, the season that seeks to shed light on the dark places of our world, it is time for us to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.

It is time for us to light a candle for Gaza.

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