On June 10th, 1000's of Americans rallied in Washington at the foot of the Capitol. They were there to deliver an emphatic statement of opposition to 40 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine. I joined other Brooklynites in traveling by bus to stand and state my opposition to the depressing and deplorable situation created by that six-day war of 1967 and the continuous occupation of lands and brutal oppression of the people who live there.
As a Jew, I was brought up by my parents to raise my voice against injustice. When it is Jews that are doing the injustice then, I believe, it's more important than ever to take a stand. The Jewish people who suffered terrible injustice and oppression througout the years, who survived the Holocaust - the Nazi attempt to exterminate them - must stand up and loudly say "no" when a government that says it represents all Jews, perpetrates injustice against another people. It's particularly important because the occupation, as are all occupations, is based on appeals to national, racial and religious superiority. By saying "no" we are asking people to remember the oppression and brutality that we, as Jews, suffered and to understand that we must never ever be a party to the same kind of treatment of other people.
Likewise, as an American citizen I oppose this occupation. This is an occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people that is bought and paid for by staggering sums of money given the Israeli government by my government. Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. aid, way out of proportion to its population and its needs. Over $84 billion has been transferred to that state from the taxes of U.S. citizens. In our government's attempt to control the oil resources of that region, Israel has been our staunchest ally. Thus, if one wants peace with justice in the Mid East, one must oppose the military funding and one-sided support of our government for the state of Israel. Without that support, Israel would not be able to hold the lands it has occupied illegally for 40 years.
The conditions in Gaza and the West Bank today are horrendous and getting worse. Gaza could rightfully be called the world's largest prison. The Israelis have formally left and removed their settlements but control every aspect of that area's life and well-being (or lack of well-being): transportation, water resources, trade, etc. Aided and abetted by the Western powers with the United States at the helm, assistance has been cut off and people there forced into dire circumstances, living below a bare subsistence level. Bush bleats and endlessly preaches to others about the blessings of democracy but when people actually hold a free election and the results go against American strageic interests, then do all pretenses of democracy and the "right to choose" go out the window. So it was when Hamas unseated Fatah in the Palestinan election and the West cut off all aid sending Palestinians into even deeper poverty and misery.
It's the occupation. The entire situation of Israel and Palestine can be summed up by that single phrase. This is an occupation that has been enforced and expanded by illegal settlements on land grabbed from its rightful owners; an occupation implemented on the back of thousands of despicable and immoral house demolitions; an occupation built on the wholesale bulldozing of age-old olive orchards; an occupation to be made permanent by the construction of an Apartheid-like separation wall that cuts entire Palestinian villages in half, depriving the residents of their farmland; an occupation designed with hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints that cause interminable waiting times for people to go about their daily lives or to carry out even the simplest chores such as getting to work or going shopping or attending schools or reaching hospitals.
It's the occupation. Suicide bombings, the rise of extremist fundamentalism, the internecine strife that is now thrusting Palestine toward civil war, all this and more can be laid at the door of the Israeli occupation. Brutal injustice and occupation supported by naked military force breeds desperation. Desperation breeds terrorism and fanaticism because people feel that their situation is hopeless. End the occupation and peace will prevail. End the occupation and terrorism will lose its raison d'être. It's the occupation that underlies all the seemingly intractible problems and the endless warring, hatred and animosity that permeate the region. Once that basic fact is understood then the road to peace becomes pefectly clear: To end the occupation is to move towards peace and justice for both Israel and Palestine.
And so we travelled to Washington by bus, boarding early Sunday morning and returning late that night. The bus was organized by Brooklyn Parents For Peace. I give them high credits for that act and for their principled opposition to the ocupation. The same kudos to United For Peace & Justice, the country's largest peace coalition. It's not been easy to speak out on this issue. The tiny, but powerful, right wing in the American Jewish community has conducted a campaign of intimidation and rigid censorship, smearing anyone who is critical of Israeli policy as an anti-Semite. Thus do Jews, who know in their hearts that Israel is wrong or who have misgivings about its policies, fail to speak out and keep their disagreements inside themselves for fear of being villified. And thus, has former President Jimmy Carter been reviled and marginalized for bravely speaking out against the injustice of the occupation, properly noting its similarity to the Apartheid that reigned for so long in South Africa. Carter is surely not an anti-Semite but he certainly is a man of principle and refuses to be silent as obvious injustice continues for decades.
It is very late, but not too late, for progressives and thoughtful Americans, and particularly for Jews, to speak clearly and loudly. We must break through the curtain of silence that has been fostered in this country on the question of the Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. Indeed, if we love Israel and want to see it fulfill its destiny of a humanist and democratic state, then we must never turn away from criticizing the failed policies it has pursued for 40 years; polices which take it in the very opposite direction. That is why I believe it is imperative for us all to say clearly and forthrightly: End the occupation!
May a just peace prevail for both the Israeli and Palestinian people.
At 6:30am on Sunday, June 10th, Brooklynites lined up to board the bus to Washington.
The Brooklyn Parents For Peace delegation. BPFP sponsored the bus.
The protest was organized by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and United For Peace & Justice, the country's largest peace coalition.
The demand is made to Congress - we want a just peace for all the region's people.
Cindy and Craig Corrie addressed the crowd. They are the parents of Rachel Corrie, the courageous young American woman murdered by a U.S.-made Catepillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier. She was intentionally run over as she stood to defend a Palestinian family whose house was about to be demolished.
Part of the crowd of thousands demonstrating at the Capitol.