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Voices / Viewpoint

Intolerable impact

Given the Jewish experience with ghettos and extermination, who should feel compassion for Gazans more than Jews?

Elayne Clift, a regular Commons columnist, writes about politics and world events.

Saxtons River

It’s amazing watching what people reveal about themselves when tensions in the Middle East explode.

Some otherwise liberal, compassionate souls with big hearts suddenly morph into raging self-appointed authorities. Others who’ve suffered deeply and have reason not to be kind toward oppressors become surprisingly gentle. Some spew invectives, while others weep for dying children.

But nothing rivals what has taken place on social media since the horrific conflict between Israel and the Palestinians began.

Having responded to a friend’s pro-Israel Facebook post in which she equated my sympathy for the plight of ordinary Palestinians with being “pro-Hamas,” a slew of opinions started flying and haven’t stopped.

“It’s one thing to be so-called ‘pro-Hamas’ but quite another to simply be against the slaughter of innocents,” I wrote. “No one denies Israel’s right to exist (least of all me, a Jew) or to defend itself, but their slaughter approaches genocide.

“I cannot sanction the disproportionate response to the aggression perpetrated by some Palestinians. Most people in Gaza are ordinary, impoverished folks trying to survive in terrible ghetto conditions with absolutely nowhere to go or hide. Given the Jewish experience with ghettos and extermination, who should feel compassion for them more than Jews?

“When I learned that 25 people perished while eating a meal together during Ramadan (suppose it had been 25 Jews breaking the Yom Kippur fast?), or that hospitals and U.N. safe-haven schools were being bombed with children killed, maimed, traumatized, there is no way I could sanction Israel’s aggression.

“While both sides need to regain their sanity and end hostilities in a sensibly negotiated settlement, Gaza has become a killing field. It makes me sad, and I feel an unwelcome shame (where once I felt pride) that ‘my people’ could behave like this.

“I ask this simple question: How does killing more children after the tragedy of lost youth that started this conflagration solve the problem or redeem the tragedy?”

* * *

Some readers support my position, some argue against it, and some spew spurious vitriol. The people who agree with me frame their arguments as I have, with a social-justice, human-rights lens, while those with opposing points of view respond from a (frequently erroneous) historical and political perspective. The passion that both sides feel is stunning, and sometimes alarming.

Because of copious dichotomized debates, I want to offer some further thoughts, beginning with a quote attributed to Holocaust survivor Reuven Moskovitz:

“It is a sacred duty for me to protest against persecution, the oppression, and imprisonment of so many people in Gaza. As a Holocaust survivor I cannot live with the fact that the State of Israel is imprisoning an entire people behind fences. It’s just immoral.”

Leaving a synagogue because of “our overwhelming silence as Jews” over what was happening in Gaza, writer Naomi Wolf said, “I mourn genocide in Gaza...I mourn all victims.... Where is God? God is only where we stand with our neighbor in trouble and against injustice.”

Someone in Gaza wrote this email to my friend: “Israel has targeted houses and residential areas. When people flee their homes, the warplanes target them in the streets. They didn’t even allow the Red Cross to pull dead bodies and injured people out. Medical teams and journalists are among the victims. More than 70 percent are children and women. We have no power and no water. It’s horrible.”

* * *

It is not my purpose here to debate the merits, mistakes or arguments of either side in this terrible conflict. Nor am I trying to justify my position. I am merely stating it.

I think it is urgent to transcend the politically expedient rhetoric of Hamas and others who say their goal is to destroy Israel, wiping Jews off the face of the Earth. Consider Israel’s military strength and its American support, and you realize that is never going to happen.

We also need to acknowledge that a human rights approach to the situation does not make one “pro-Hamas.” Name calling serves no purpose other than to inflame.

Israel has a right to exist and to defend itself, but that does not give it carte blanche to slaughter innocent people by the thousands. Nor does Israeli oppression of Palestinians mean Hamas has a right to fire rockets indiscriminately.

We must acknowledge that both sides are guilty of hideous violence, broken promises, outrageous lies, blind hatred, and unwillingness to negotiate in the interest of mutual survival. But we also need to recognize that both sides are equally terrified.

That’s why the blame-game is useless. It gets us nowhere in solving the problem.

Neither does name-calling. Anti-semitic accusations (and acts) must not be tolerated; no one should assert that charge against someone because they hold differing views.

In the end, the conflagration will expire when its impact becomes intolerable. For me, it already is. That’s why I speak out.

Will others find their voices of conscience before another woman, on either side, grieves a dead child who never had a chance at life?

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Originally published in The Commons issue #265 (Wednesday, July 30, 2014). This story appeared on page C1.

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