Gaza, Israel and Weeping for the Dead Children

Jeremiah 32:15 “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” [i]

Jeremiah’s words cry out seeking a response. Once again, Rachel is weeping for her children because they are no more. With the end of the ceasefire today (08/08/14) surely there will be more death and devastation.

Over 400[ii] Gazan children have died in this unholy war in the Holy Land. Like Rachel, millions have shed tears for the children. Tears have flowed for all of the innocents who have died in the bloodshed that stains the sacred ground of Palestine and Israel.

I suspect the deaths and bloodshed over the past two months have resolved nothing. The Israelis may have dealt a severe blow to Hamas but they have bred more hatred in Gaza and the West Bank than there was two months ago. I wonder, what will arise based on all who have been killed and wounded along with the devastation that has occurred? I fear the children who have experienced three brutal wars over the past eight years will be even more radicalized. Hamas is evil but will it be replaced by something even worse?

Meanwhile, on the Israeli side, nationalism seems to have an even deeper fervour than ever.

The question of what it means when Israel refers to itself as a Jewish state came into sharp focus while I served as a human rights observer in Palestine and Israel. I came to realize Israel is ethnically Jewish but it bore no resemblance to the vision of being a light to the nations from the Hebrew Bible let alone did it measure up to this passage from Isaiah,                                     Isaiah 2:3b-4 For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, & the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.     God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;                              they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;                nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

This vision of Isaiah stood in stark contrast to the brutality of the occupation I witnessed. Adam Shatz in a recent article in The Nation, wrote of how he too witnessed the horrors of the occupation firsthand. His understanding resonates deeply with my experience, “The subjugation of an entire people through a system of pervasive control and countless petty humiliations, always backed by the threat of violence; the confiscation not only of people`s land, but of its future.” [iii]

The government of Israel has turned Gaza into the world’s largest prison. Palestinians cannot leave nor do they have bomb shelters to protect their children while Israeli artillery and missiles hellishly rain down from the sky. They are chronically short of food because of the blockade. Prior to the outbreak of this war the World Health Organization reported more than 50% of the children in Gaza and the West Bank under2 years have iron deficiency anemia. It also reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under5 is not improving.[iv] Israeli attacks have decimated the water and sewage system in Gaza. Hospitals and medical facilities have been targeted and lie in ruin. Not only are the children at risk from the weapons of war but because of the long term damage to Gazan infrastructure.

Rabbi Michael Lerner writes the following,                                                                                   “… it is the brutality of that assault that finally has broken me into tears and heartbreak. While claiming that it is only interested in uprooting tunnels that could be used to attack Israel, the IDF has engaged in the same criminal behavior that the world condemns in other struggles: the intentional targeting of civilians (the same crime that Hamas has been engaged in over the years, which correctly has earned it the label as a terrorist organization). Using the excuse that Hamas is using civilians as “human shields” and placing its war material in civilian apartments, Israel has managed to kill more than 1,000 civilians and wounded thousands.  The stories that have emerged from eyewitness accounts of hundreds of children being killed by Israel’s indiscriminate destructiveness, the shelling of United Nations schools and public hospitals, and finally the destruction of Gaza’s water and electricity, guaranteeing deaths from typhoid and other diseases as well as widespread hunger among the million and a half Gazans most of whom have had nothing to do with Hamas, highlights to the world an Israel that is rivaling some of the most oppressive and brutal regimes in the contemporary world.”[v]

Terrorism is to be decried and denounced no matter whether it is the act of an organized movement or a state. The evidence is clear, Hamas has targeted innocent civilians and Israel has done the same.

People of faith, be they Christian, Muslim or Jew, mourn and weep. Lament is a normal human reaction but it will do nothing to end the bloodshed. We must also decry what has transpired and demand accountability before the International Court of Justice for all who have committed war crimes.

Only increased international pressure will make Israel realize that it must move toward peace by: respecting the Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian and human rights laws, ending the years of blockade in Gaza and ending the occupation across all of Palestine. 

I fear that little or nothing will occur in the near term to quell the tears that flow from Rachel and from all others myself included until Israel realizes that peace and security are two sides of the same coin and true peace will never exist without justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

[i] All Biblical quotes are taken from the NRSV Bible.

[ii] This number comes from a widely reported interview with Permille Ironside, Head of UNICEF field office in Gaza, on Aug. 5, 2014.




About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem while on sabbatical in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.
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9 Responses to Gaza, Israel and Weeping for the Dead Children

  1. David Lewis says:

    Good to hear your thoughts on this again Steve. Such a travesty and to think that our government gives unqualified support to the state of Israel who is conducting its affairs more like a terrorist state than an accountable 21st century democracy that could be a shining light and positive model in a very troubled region.

  2. Carol Steel says:

    Thank you for this wise and well done summary. It brings tears and frustration. It names the issues and the brutalities in fair and honest words. Thank you.

  3. Paul Burns says:

    Part of my confusion on this entire issue is the actions the Israeli government towards Palestinians. It is true that the Israeli government feels they are surrounded by “enemies” – at least in their minds – and they want the world to believe they are fighting for their existence as a state. However, can they not see the similarities between the way they are treating Gazans and the way the Jewish people were treated in WW 2. I’m thinking of the Warsaw ghetto and people being prosecuted because of who they are, not what they have done. Surely, some of the Israeli citizens must see the similarities and feel that it is wrong. There is no justice here and there will be a balancing of the ledgers at some point. There always is. The British found out they couldn’t continue to punish the Irish people because of the actions of the IRA. It won’t work.

    In the meantime, I think the Harper Government – notice we never say the Conservatives, just the Harper Government – needs to take a serious look at our seemingly unconditional support of Israel regardless of what they do.

  4. Ann White says:

    Steve, thank you for this. I weep with Rachel and thousands of others over the carnage that Gaza has become. Yes, there are faults on both sides. I think that is true in any situation where war exists. I’ve almost given up hoping that the International Community will see things as they are and lose their fear of being seen to upset Israel. Please keep posting and bringing your informed perspective to this devastating situation. shalom, Ann Date: Fri, 8 Aug 2014 12:36:20 +0000 To:

  5. Paul Toner says:

    I confess to feeling helpless and lamenting as Rachel in the face of an ideological Harper government. The more I protest and call them to basic human rights, the more entrenched they become and convinced of their us-them righteousness.

  6. Shirley Kirkpatrick says:

    Dear Steve , I thank you for sharing your thoughts on this very sad, cruel state of affairs in the Holy land. We are all grieving the loss of so many children and the loss of hope for a just resolution for Palestine . I cry with you over the radicalization that this war and it’s brutality are creating in the young . thinking of you and wishing you moments of peace and a glimmer HOPE that peace is still a possibility if the world wants it to come. Shirley and Derald K

    Sent from my iPad


  7. Paul Cerar says:

    You Gadarene Swine: I have watched the many Jew-hatred demonstrations in Canada, and have yet to witness a single person speak in support of democracy in Palestine! The Jew-hatred movement is using the Palestine War as an excuse to engage in fascism in Canada, against Canadians.

    Take you foreign war and shove it up your ass! You and your war are not welcome in Canada! Please leave and never return! I do not care who you are, where you were born or where you go. You can go to Palestine or Pakistan. You can go to Iraq or Iran – or you can go to Hell. Leave!

    Paul Cerar

  8. Ali Khan says:

    You advocate for the terrorists Hamas. Where are your tears for the 160 Gazan children who died digging the Hamas terror tunnels with their bare hands?

    How would you protect the citizens of Israel from 10 years of indiscriminate Hamas missiles raining down on civilians? Or are Israeli lives just not worthy of protection?

    Gaza could have had warm friendly relations with their neighbors Egypt and Israel. Instead, they chose to terrorize them and expect them to ‘turn the other cheek’. And they welcome the West’s useful idiots who march and advocate on their behalf.

    • Steve Berube says:

      I grieve also for all of the children who were killed as child labourers anywhere in the world.

      The prophet Jeremiah once said, `Beware of those who say peace when there is no peace.` Jeremiah was basically warning against the use of propaganda. The number of 160 children who died while digging tunnels comes from a study authored by Nicholas Pelham and published in the Institute for Palestinian Studies. In it he discusses the tunnel system between Gaza and Egypt (1,100+ tunnels) which kept the economy afloat in Gaza in spite of Israel’s blockade. The digging of tunnels was basically done by private contractors and not Hamas – although Hamas did not to stop child labour and taxed the tunnel usage. Pelham makes no reference to the 30+ tunnels dug into Israel or if there were child fatalities in the construction of that part of the tunnel system.

      If you read the report you would also know that digging tunnels was one of the highest paying jobs in Gaza, up to $75 US/day or about 5x’s what the normal pay level was. In comparison to what a child could earn as a street vendor it was astronomical. When a family has no other means of income it must be tempting to allow your child to take on such work in spite of the risks. The illegal blockade by Israel is what created the tunnel system between Gaza and Egypt. Also, you do not have to be a Rhodes Scholar to know that Hamas has been hated by Egyptian authorities other than the Muslim Brotherhood`s brief reign in office.

      I condemn those who launch rockets from Gaza into Israel. It is a war crime and evil. I suspect the fear that you portray is real. I would also suspect that the reality of the brutality of the occupation and the decade long statistics that point to 10 Palestinians dying for every Israeli who is killed as a result of the conflict is something to be considered.

      There will only be true peace between Israel and Palestine when justice.

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