Protesters express outrage at an impromptu demonstration in Spokane on Monday.
Five days ago, when I interviewed Ayman Nijim, a Gazan masters student working on his degree in Vermont, the bombardment of his neighborhood and other major population centers in Gaza had barely begun. Since then, he has posted updates that tally the numbers of dead and wounded in his town and others in the besieged area and memorialized specific friends killed in the bombing. While the news we see here might portray the success of Israel in targeting Hamas specifically, the stream of images coming directly from Gaza tells a different story. An ambulance carrying wounded to a hospital that can’t sustain electricity for more than 12 hours a day targeted and destroyed; homes, churches, and stores bombed without warning; children dead in their parents’ arms or missing entire pieces of their bodies.
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Mention of the tunnel economy is only made in reference to the weapons that can be brought in and neglects the fact that the tunnel system is also one of the only ways that Gazans receive any supplies whatsoever (food, construction equipment, medicine) as they live under siege. Americans hear the argument that Israel withdrew its troops and all military presence from Gaza in 2005 and therefore, Hamas supporters and civilians have no reason for their rage at Israel. What many people don’t comprehend about this so-called withdrawal is that it was replaced with an arguably more brutal blockade of the 139-square-mile strip, including restriction of access to the Mediterranean Sea that comprises its western edge. This restriction of movement and supply lines began when Hamas won the election in Gaza in 2007 and has degraded conditions in Gaza since then to nearly unlivable levels.
Over half of the population in Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, are children. For children over the age of 5, this week marks the third time in their lives that they have experienced major military strikes on their homes, schools and neighborhoods. As a result of this daily reality, the majority of people treated for psychological trauma and PTSD in Gaza are children who exhibit symptoms ranging from changes in appetite to loss of speech and permanently stunted brain development. These facts and the humanity of people living in the open air prison that Gaza has become are swept under the rug in favor of more militarism, calls for holy war and scrambles to justify Israel’s actions as self-defense.
Violence, in my mind, has no role to play in a functional human society. As we struggle toward realizing a better world, the attacks from the brutish mentality of war, colonialism and racism remain real threats to their victims. Self defense and nonviolence are complicated philosophies that every political group grapples with as they promote their visions of the world. International law supports the right of occupied people to defend themselves, but Israel’s government consistently shows little regard for those standards. (People interested in the legal technicalities at play in the case of Gaza can read Noura Erakat’s comprehensive piece here.) I can’t endorse the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel, but even less can I endorse the dishonest and chilling reaction from Israel, funded by the U.S., to level entire neighborhoods and put vast resources toward propagandizing the world into believing a lie.
Barack Obama said this week, “Budgets in Washington are tight, but our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad. The United States is committed to providing more than $3 billion each year to help finance Israel’s security through 2018.” That $3 billion a year keeps Israel flush in advanced weaponry including their much-touted Iron Dome missile defense system and the bombs and shells currently falling on Gaza. Americans who do not support the U.S. policy of supporting Israel’s actions and “right to exist” as a brutal occupying force based on apartheid policies have little to gain from their lawmakers, it seems. Breaking the normally sluggish pace of policymaking in Congress, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have already passed resolutions reaffirming unconditional support for Israel and repeating the idea of self defense, casting Hamas as the instigator of current attacks.
In our interview Monday, Ayman Nijim focused on his belief that Americans will soon come to understand our role in this violence and remedy our past actions. He said, “I understand it’s very hard, especially in the U.S. because of the Zionist lobby, but I believe there is deep knowledge now of the atrocities against their brothers and sisters in Palestine and [Americans] will spare no effort to break this lobby.” If you wish to express your support for justice in Palestine as a means to reach peace for everyone involved, the options may seem limited. Corporate and special interest control of our government is, in practical terms, total. The best hope for undoing the apartheid system in Palestine and Israel lies in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is currently gaining steam internationally and in congregations and campuses here in the U.S. The power of stories is also key. At every opportunity, we must learn to question the dominant tales of the culture and replace them with those that are accurate, fair and in service of humanity.
For those seeking an opportunity to express their outrage at this latest expression of militarism and violence funded by the U.S., the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) invites you to join in a rally and march this coming Thursday, July 17 at the Rotary Fountain in Riverfront Park at 5:15 pm. More information available at pjals.org. ♦
Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts. She shares writing, photography and her podcast at truthscout.net.