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.