Word on the Street: Gaza

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on April 29, 2018

With violence and suffering in Gaza continuing unabated, many of us in the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement feel a sickening sense of frustration and deja vu.

For the entirety of our ten years and through countless rounds of violence in Gaza, J Street has articulated the steps that can and should be taken to break the deadly cycle. And now, we can’t help but be angry at the leaders here and in the region who have failed to address the underlying causes of this crisis.

We’re shocked by the sheer numbers of Palestinians killed and wounded by live Israeli fire — the vast majority of whom were engaged in nonviolent protest.

We’re appalled by Hamas’ commitment to terror and the destruction of Israel, and by their efforts to foment violence and co-opt largely peaceful protesters.

We’re frustrated at the inaction (and harmful actions) of Israel’s government, the Palestinian Authority and the international community in the face of unacceptable conditions in Gaza which only grow worse — exacerbating instability and unrest.

And we simply don’t buy the excuses put forward by those who deny any Israeli responsibility for the humanitarian disaster that is Gaza today.

In a must-read piece in this week’s Forward, Peter Beinart picks apart the traditional arguments that Israel “withdrew” from Gaza and that the measures it takes are justified simply by uttering the words “security” and “Hamas”.

Recognizing that there’s more than enough blame to go around for the present situation also means acknowledging that this isn’t all on Hamas and the PA. There is action that can be taken by Israel and by the United States to break the cycle of violence, protect human life and help those who are suffering.

We founded this movement ten years ago precisely because we didn’t accept the status quo and we were tired of excuses. We wanted to mobilize support — and pressure — for leadership that values forward-looking solutions over backward-looking recrimination and rejects the status quo instead of perpetuating it.

That’s why, over the past few weeks, we have been encouraged to see important voices in Washington speaking out in support of urgent action to improve the situation in Gaza and alleviate the crisis facing its people.

In the Senate, we have supported a letter, led by Senator Bernie Sanders and signed by a number of his colleagues already, calling on the Trump administration to take a series of urgent steps that can help improve the situation on the ground. Those steps include immediately restoring funding to the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA and encouraging the easing of the crippling blockade of Gaza.

And in the House of Representatives, we were proud to see a joint statement issued by 10 J Street-endorsed members of Congress, which stated,

As strong supporters of Israel and advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we respect Israel’s right to defend itself. However, short of a threat to human life, we call on the Israeli Defense Forces to immediately stop using deadly force against unarmed protesters. Likewise, we respect the Palestinians who are advocating for change through peaceful means. However, we call on the Palestinian demonstrators to renounce the violence and inflammatory rhetoric expressed by Hamas.

While Israel has every right to defend itself against threats to the security and safety of its residents, we believe there is no way to justify the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters. We urge the Israeli government to use maximum possible restraint, to use non-lethal force in response to unarmed protesters and to examine whether its violent response to the demonstrations is advancing or damaging Israeli security.

We know that this response has already left behind hundreds and hundreds of severely wounded victims and aggrieved families, further exacerbating the crisis in Gaza and helping to perpetuate this terrible cycle of violence.

With the protest marches and clashes expected to continue and to culminate on May 15, our movement and our elected officials must call loudly and clearly for sanity, restraint and respect for human life and nonviolent protest.

We must make clear that complex political and humanitarian crises cannot be resolved by military force, and that only bold, responsible leadership to address the underlying causes can finally break this disastrous, deteriorating status quo.

Our Jewish values and our deep concern for both Israelis and Palestinians compel us to speak out and insist: A better future is possible.