Feeding the turmoil

California Assembly and Senate congratulate Israel during a bloodbath

David L. Mandel is a public interest attorney and writer in Sacramento who lived in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for 10 years. He is active with Jewish Voice for Peace, which draws on Jewish tradition and values to promote peace and justice for Israel and Palestine, and for changes in U.S. policy to achieve that. Contact him at sacramento@jewishvoiceforpeace.org.

The venerable Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz’s online edition May 14 displayed video of what was literally a split-screen reality as Israeli and U.S. elites toasted a symbolic embassy opening in Jerusalem while 61 unarmed Palestinian protesters—including an 8-month-old girl—were gunned down by Israeli snipers in Gaza or suffocated by tear gas.

In Sacramento, a third screen could have underlined the stark contrasts even more. At the Capitol, both houses passed resolutions (HR 107, SR 109) congratulating Israel on its anniversary, declaring in the fourth of 12 “Whereas” clauses: “Israel has much to commemorate and celebrate, most notably that it has established, in its 70 years of existence, the most successful and politically stable democracy in a Middle East that continues to experience great turmoil.”

“Great turmoil” indeed. The toll of 110-plus dead and thousands shot has been condemned as criminal by UN officials and the world’s major human rights organizations, including B’tselem in Israel, which called on soldiers to refuse “flagrantly illegal” orders to shoot civilians. From my own personal experience in the Israeli army, my educated guess is that a significant number may have heeded that call and were sent away from the “front,” silenced by threats of court-martial. Or perhaps the snipers’ ranks are simply pre-purged of any who might have moral qualms. The recently disclosed video of two snipers celebrating after a long-distance “hit” of a Palestinian who posed no threat whatsoever was jarring.

It’s dispiriting to hear from Israeli friends that, for the most part, there is anything but “great turmoil” among Jews inside the country. Protests have been small, as most of the population has swallowed the absurd assertions that one of the strongest militaries in the world had no choice but to open fire on what was mostly a peaceful, family-oriented encampment, with many of the victims shot hundreds of meters from a fortified, triple fence that encages some two million; and that otherwise, the desperate Gazans would somehow have overrun Israel and slaughtered its population.

And what about that “successful and politically stable democracy” praised in the Capitol resolutions?

Only one senator, Bill Monning of Monterey, dared to speak of the reality unfolding 10,000 miles away, decrying “the shooting of over 50 unarmed Palestinians at the wall, protesting a history in their view of discrimination, of occupation and a denial of human rights.” Indeed. How complicated should it be to understand that when one national-religious group rules over another that lacks basic rights, it can’t be called a democracy? In the hellhole that Gaza has become after 11 years of suffocating blockade, who can be surprised that well over 100,000 people, most of them the descendants of Palestinians expelled from their homes around Israel’s establishment in 1948, would march for their human right to return? Fulfillment of that right may well be complicated by all that has happened since, but do they deserve to be shot for asking? In the end even Monning voted for the resolution, but his words sparked a 25-minute floor discussion, unusual for such congratulatory measures (and nothing of the sort transpired in the Assembly). In between praising Israel and invoking the Holocaust, several senators at least challenged the wisdom of President Trump’s provocative embassy move, and evidenced some discomfort with the day’s juxtapositions.

One senator did not vote aye: Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, in a short statement, cited the incongruity between the resolution’s praise for the fact that “Israel regularly sends humanitarian aid, search and rescue teams, mobile hospitals, and other emergency supplies to help victims of disasters around the world” and the ongoing, human-caused disaster in Gaza.

Is there any hope? Maybe. Despite the carnage, the mass, non-violent mobilization of Gazans reinforces a new phase in the Palestinian struggle for freedom. And when dozens of us stood at 16th and J streets Tuesday demanding an end to the killing and Palestinian freedom, the number of supportive honks and waves was noticeably way up from past actions.