Any act of violence, especially one against civilians, marks a profound failure of human imagination and causes a deep and abiding trauma for all involved. In mourning the nine lives lost in Gaza and the one life lost in Jerusalem this week, we reject the pattern of condemning the deaths of Israelis while ignoring the deaths of Palestinians. We do not discriminate. One life lost is one life too many - whether Palestinian or Israeli.
Within the context of 44 years of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, in the past two years (31 January 2009 to 31 January 2011, starting just after Operation Cast Lead), over a thousand Palestinians have been made homeless by home demolitions, hundreds have been unlawfully detained, and over 150 men, women and children have been killed by the IDF and settlers, according to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem. (1)
Many acres of Palestinian land have been taken and orchards uprooted by armed settlers. Countless hours have been lost at checkpoints, often fruitlessly, while Palestinians attempted to get medical care, jobs, and access to education. One and a half million Gazans have been living with a limited food supply, lack of electricity and dangerously toxic sewage.
This is occupation: daily, persistent acts of structural violence. All in the service of a government that constantly expands illegal Israeli settlements on land that rightfully belongs to Palestinians.
These acts do not reach our headlines because they are so habitual, so we learn not to see them. But Palestinians live them and their profound consequences everyday, and we must keep that in mind, even as we ponder the terrible events of the past few weeks. (2)
* A person or persons, (we do not know who), bombed a bus stop in Jerusalem, injuring 30 and killing one Israeli civilian;
* An Israeli bombing killed three children and an older man in Gaza;
* A person or persons, (we do not know who), murdered five members of a family, including three children, in Itamar, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank;
* The Israeli government suddenly tightened the siege of Gaza and escalated military attacks, killing a total of 11 Palestinians and injuring more than 40 since mid-March; (3)
* Palestinians fired over 50 shells and rockets from Gaza into civilian areas in southern Israel.
These terrible acts of violence remind us that to end the Israeli occupation our best hope is supporting the inspiring nonviolent Palestinian movement for change, in the form of unarmed protests every Friday in places like Bil’in, Ni'lin, Sheikh Jarrah, and the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. This is a movement that respects life, that is part and parcel of the nonviolent democratic people's movements we have been inspired by throughout the Arab world, that welcomes the solidarity and support of Israeli and international believers in equality and universal human rights.
This is a movement that fundamentally subverts the logic of armies, revenge-fueled 'price tags', and armed struggle. And it is a movement that may well do what no other government to date has done - pressure Israel to be accountable to international law and therefore help create conditions for truly meaningful negotiations.
Because it is so powerful, it is no surprise that the right to engage in nonviolent resistance, a foundational component of any functioning democracy, is under attack in Israel. Human rights activists are being detained or imprisoned. Bills to criminalise the BDS movement, or harass human rights organisations, are working their way through the Knesset.
Just this week:
* The very act of publicly commemorating the Nakba, a crucial nonviolent act of Palestinian remembrance, was essentially criminalised in Israel by the Knesset. (4)
* The Knesset also passed a law allowing small communities in the Galilee and Negev to discriminate against anyone wanting to reside there who does not fit in with the community’s “socio-cultural” character. (5)
* The Knesset also held hearings to assess whether the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group J Street was sufficiently pro-Israel. (6)
* The IDF announced a new military intelligence-gathering unit solely dedicated to monitoring international left-wing peace and human rights groups that the army sees as a threat to Israel. The department will work closely with government ministries. (7)
* Dozens of Israeli soldiers raided the home of Bassem Tamimi, head of the nonviolent Nabi Saleh Popular Committee , and beat his wife and daughter while arresting him presumably on charges of "incitement" and "organising illegal demonstrations." (8)
As the Israeli government increasingly deploys anti-democratic measures and military repression, we at Jewish Voice for Peace are redoubling our efforts to support the best hope - a nonviolent Palestinian-led resistance movement in which we all work together to nurture life, justice and equality. We invite you to join the movement.
(1) B'tselem: Fatalities after operation "Cast Lead"
(2) The Guardian, 23 March 2011: Israeli-Palestinian tensions: a timeline
(3) Alternative Information Center, 23 March 2011: Israel's Military Escalation in Gaza
(4) Jerusalem Post, 23 March 2011: Nakba Bill passes Knesset in third reading
(5) +972 Magazine, 22 March 2011: Knesset passes segregation bill
(6) New York Times, 24 March 2011: U.S. Group Stirs Debate On Being "Pro-Israel"
(7) Ha'aretz, 21 March 2011: Military Intelligence monitoring foreign left-wing organizations and +972 Magazine, 22 March 2011: Military Intelligence monitors "de-legitimisation"
(8) Popular Struggle, 24 March 2011: Israeli Soldiers arrest Bassem Tamimi, Coordinator of Nabi Saleh Popular Committee
(c) Jewish Voice for Peace. Cecilie Surasky is Deputy Director of JVP. She is the editor of Muzzlewatch (http://www.muzzlewatch.com/), JVP's acclaimed blog documenting efforts to silence open debate about Israel-Palestine policy, and leads JVP's online outreach efforts.
About Jewish Voice for Peace: Through grassroots organising, education, advocacy, and media, Jewish Voice for Peace works to achieve a lasting peace that recognises the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination.
Jewish Voice for Peace (http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/) is the only national Jewish organisation that provides a voice for Jews and allies who believe that peace in the Middle East will be achieved through justice and full equality for both Palestinians and Israelis. With offices in New York and California, 100,000 online activists, chapters across the country and an Advisory Board comprised of numerous prominent Jewish thinkers and artists, JVP supports nonviolent efforts here and in Israel-Palestine to end Israel’s Occupation, expand human and civil rights, and implement a US policy based on international law and democracy.