In a half-page ad in last Saturday’s New York Times, more than 350 Holocaust survivors and their descendants harshly criticized Israel for its actions in Gaza, specifically the "massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine." The U.S. came in for criticism for its funding and defense of Israel, and the ad called for an economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.
The ad’s attack on Holocaust survivor and educator Elie Wiesel for supposedly using the Holocaust to justify the killing of civilians in Gaza in a Times piece was overwrought, but the criticism of Israel’s military campaign, which led to the deaths of many civilians, has been made by many. The source of the criticism is what makes the ad significant, and if it was sponsored by the Jewish Anti-Zionist network as the Jewish Voice complained, that doesn’t diminish its relevance in any way.
The Eagle recently received a letter from a local resident returned from the Middle East in response to the August 5 op-ed column by Robert Scheer, the Jewish chaplain of Williams College, entitled "Imagining peace." The writer requested anonymity, fearing the letter would jeopardize the ability to return there. The Eagle does not print anonymous letters as a matter of policy, but an exchange of emails indicated the writer’s concerns were legitimate and opinions worth sharing.
"Dear Robert Scherr:
"I’ve also just returned from Palestine a few weeks ago. While you were running into a bomb shelter, I was taking cover from live ammunition, stun grenades and tear gas being fired in my neighborhood by Israeli occupation forces. I’ve also shared the anguish of friends, but their children were not called up to serve, they were shot in the face and killed. I didn’t wonder when respite would come; I wondered when justice would come.
"After 40+ years of occupation, an ongoing blockade, incessant bombings, thousands of murdered children, closing the borders, Hamas is responding to Israel, not the other way around. On July 16, Hamas proposed a 10-year truce that was based on reasonable conditions. Among them were: Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border. Freeing all the prisoners arrested after the killing of the three youths. Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people. Internationalizing the Rafah Crossing and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations. International forces on the borders. Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque. Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip.
"As a Jewish person myself, it is chilling to know that Jews, like you, who claim they are invested in peace, would not go to the Palestinian territories when they are in Israel, visit the occupied, displaced, disowned, imprisoned, ghettoized Palestinian people and speak with them. Peace will not come by promoting the narrative of the occupier. It will come when we promote the voices of the oppressed and take into account their injustices. Standing up for injustices and speaking the truth is what it means to be Jewish.
"I urge you to help me in rebuilding peace by reversing the injustices done upon the 1.8 million people of Gaza. As of today, I am working on a campaign to bring in sustainable builders, architects and laborers to rebuild the neighborhoods and schools, so that by September, the 500,000 people who are now homeless will have shelter, and somewhere to send their children to school. Unfortunately this kind of effort will jeopardize my ability to enter the borders of Israel to return to the Palestinian territories. Therefore I will not state my name but direct you to our Facebook page where you can follow our activities, donate, or volunteer: www.facebook.com/GREANPalestine"
Criticism of Israeli government policy is not the same as anti-Semitism, and Hamas is not a synonym for Palestinian. If many Americans are more critical of Israeli actions than those of Hamas it is because the Middle East’s only true democracy is held to a higher standard.
The different perspectives of the anonymous writer and Cantor Scheer aside, it is clear that both advocate mutual understanding between the warring parties. If peace is to come, and the angry partisans on both sides are to be defeated, that understanding must come first.