As Gaza Burns, Jews Disagree, Protest & Pray

NK

Human rights groups methodically tally each man, woman and child killed in Gaza (797 as of this writing, most of them civilians, 5,100 wounded), while the media arm of the Israeli Defense Forces offers counter-tallies: the number of missiles Hamas has fired (2,270)—some reaching as far north as Jerusalem—the number of Hamas’ smuggling tunnels uncovered (31), the number of Israeli soldiers killed in action (29). These numbers will likely change every hour.

In the weeks leading up to the Israeli invasion of Gaza and now as increasingly grisly accounts and bloody images emerge of Palestinian homes and hospitals blown apart, American Jews are conflicted—alternately protesting against or rallying behind the Israeli state, following each development obsessively, or turning their faces away from what is being carried out in their name. “I don’t know how to react,” a middle-aged New Yorker with Israeli family admits. “I really have no idea. I want to stay out of it.”

At Romemu, a Renewal community that gathers on the Upper West Side, Rabbi David Ingber prays for peace. He faces the ark and, opening his arms wide, says: “Let us pray for the children in this conflict, the children on both sides.” Services here are held in an old church and there is no air conditioning; fans whir and one woman waves a prayer book back and forth to cool herself. The crowd of about 300 sings a niggun, a wordless melody, accompanied by a djembe and a guitar. As the tempo increases, congregants clap their hands and sway from side to side. Some close their eyes. A barefoot child dances on the carpeted floor.

At an Orthodox temple in midtown, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor, lights candles in remembrance of the three teenage Israeli settlers whose bodies were found buried in the West Bank, likely killed by Palestinians, at the beginning of the month. “We are fighting the scourge of terrorism,” he says to the crowd of one hundred gathered at Park East Synagogue. “We pray to God for an end to this tyranny, for a time when hatred is not taught to children. These boys were cut down as they studied law, studied the Torah.”

New York Councilman David Greenfield is invited to the bimah where he says, “The war for Israel’s survival is happening on Twitter and Facebook, in the papers and on the evening news.” People in the crowd nod their heads. “You know what I’m talking about. Each and every one of you has the obligation to stand up and speak out. Don’t allow your colleagues to trash Israel. We need to punish our political enemies. This is the least we can do to honor these boys’ memory.” There is more applause.

The final speaker, the president of the temple admits he doesn’t know what to say. Words fail. “Justice must be carried out.” He stumbles through his sentences. “Either diplomatically or otherwise. Either at the negotiating table or by other means.” There is applause, the cantor leads a prayer, and the crowd files out onto the hot, New York street.

Nearby, outside of the Israeli consulate, a protest against the Israeli bombing of Gaza has drawn a crowd of hundreds. They gather in a barricaded section off of Yitzhak Rabin Way. Two middle-aged women carry signs over their heads which read, “Not In Our Name, Jews For Peace.” One has long, gray hair, wears a flowery dress, and has an “Occupy Wall Street, Not Palestine” button pinned to her jacket.

At the microphone Yisroel Dovid Weiss, a spokesperson from Naturei Karta, a group of anti-Zionist Haredi Jews, greets the crowd with Salaam Aleikum, and calls Israel an “abomination” whose “very existence is an offence to the Almighty.” The crowd cheers.

“Zionism is a rebellion against God, a base nationalism that has no space or place in the Jewish religion,” he says. “We oppose the occupation because we are Jewish.” Payos hang down on either side of his face; he wears a fedora and a Palestinian flag wrapped around his neck. “This was given to me by an Arab,” he later explains.

Thousands of miles away an American émigré from Brooklyn takes the train to Sderot from his apartment outside of Jerusalem. He wants to see what is happening in Gaza for himself, so he climbs a hill on the northwest side of the city, overlooking Beit Hanoun and further south, Gaza City with its 500,000 Palestinian residents. The buildings look small from here and he can’t make out any movements. At the center of world news, just a mile away, but still obscured.

He watches as rockets are launched from building-tops in Gaza, leaving long wispy streams as they arch into the air. Far more dramatic is when Israel strikes: the missiles make huge explosions, plumes of black smoke spreading over the skyline. It looks like the city is on fire. Buildings are obliterated, people inside, reduced to rubble in seconds.

There is a crowd here, watching from lawn chairs and perched on tailgates. Someone is smoking a hookah. The Israeli-American can only speculate as to why they come. Because they are blood-thirsty? To pray for an end? To bear witness? It isn’t clear.

After spending two hours watching his country bomb Gaza, he’s had enough. If called to join the other reserves in the ground invasion, he would load his weapon and fire it for the place he now calls home. But tonight he walks down the hill, takes the bus, then a train, then another bus, back to Jerusalem.

 

 

Sam Kestenbaum has worked for Harper’s Magazine and in newsrooms in Sana’a, Ramallah, and Beijing. His writing has appeared in Tikkun Magazine, Killing the Buddha, Religion & Politics and elsewhere.

  • apotropoxy

    Israel had been a collective state of mind since Rome ended Jewish influence in Palestine well over 1,800 years ago. With the temple gone and the opportunity to make ritual sacrifice a memory, Jews had to reinvent themselves. “Israel” became the community of the book, traditions and ethical practice. Land possession became seen as a kin to idolatry.
    Since WW 2, “Israel” has returned to its former temple-state identity which was made possible by super-powers not unlike the super-powers that dominated Palestine the ancient world. It has returned to its traditional client state status but its function is different now. Israel is now Zion and its assignment is to make unity in the world’s oil patch impossible. I fear the West has set up this new Jewish state for another epic tragedy.

    Jewish scripture is not a title to land and Israeli behavior is not healing the world.

  • Whiskyjack

    I agree. A historical perspective of the Jews claim to the land can be found here: http://vimeo.com/50531435 , with a handy guide to who is killing who: http://blog.ninapaley.com/2012/10/01/this-land-is-mine/ . I cannot see how this can end well.

  • Mark Woods

    Ah, “apotropoxy” and “Whiskeyjack” – you sound like a couple of grumpy old men. The Israeli state was created with UN approval in 1948 and at that time all the civilized nations of the world thought it was a great idea. The Arabs tried to crush the baby in the cradle in 1948 and couldn’t. They tried again when Israel was a teenager in 1967 and 1973 and still couldn’t. So now they have to try and get the rest of the world to de-legitimize Israel. How? By sacrificing up their own innocent civilians to the retributive guided missiles that Israel needs to defend itself. If the Palestinians would lay down their weapons, there would be peace in the Middle East. If the Israelis do, there would be genocide. It’s as simple as that.

    By the way, that “oil patch” thing is getting a bit old.

  • Nation State

    So the only answer is occupation forever or kill all Arabs? Nice options Israel has there. Glad to see them being so empathetic and not generalizing an entire race like what was done to them, oh wait.

  • cgosling

    If praying did any good, the current problem would not exist. Religion is the greatest single factor fueling the conflict. How do humans determine who owns territory? Initially by conquest, and then by a strong defense system. The strength of a nation’s God and the number of prayers by its citizens have nothing to do with that nation’s success. Some claim that the Jews were the original owners of the area, but the first humans who populated that area were migrating bands of hunter-gatherers about 30 thousand years ago. How far back in time must we go to determine who rightly owns the land? Is it six thousand years, or 10 thousand years, or 30 thousand years?

  • http://kestrelsparhawk.livejournal.com/ kestrel sparhawk

    Not all Jews are anti-zionist. Some of us are simply angry and horrified at the State of Israel, which is acting a lot like their former oppressors, just as children of abusive parents themselves become abusers. I just want to get this point in since the “peace” congregation appears to be anti-zionist. Would there were only two sides in the conflict.

  • Nation State

    Zionism has accomplished its goal. What more do you need Zionism for? J-street is a Zionist peace organization but imo there will never be a Palestine. Too many settlements and Israel will never allow it (for whatever reason) It’s much better to abandon Zionism now and Learn to be binational state. Israel did this to its self.

  • Nation State

    God doesn’t work in our time, only His. Tribulations are sometimes required for a better future. The suffering in Middle East isn’t in vain I think and wasn’t caused by God but by those who attempted to speak on Gods behalf.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Or, the Arabs could stop trying to kill Israelis.

  • Jim Reed

    They are way behind.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Not for lack of trying, but rather for poorer strategy and tactics.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Yeah, these poor people have some weird impression that if they just yell “apartheid!” “Racist!” “Colonialist” “Murderer!” and the like that Israel will give up and hand the country over to the Palestinians.

    The reality is that Israel is the only non-basket case country in the entire region, with a strong economy, largely liberal democratic political system, and advanced science and technology sector (only second to countries like the US). They also happen to have one of the most powerful militaries in the world.

    Sorry to tell you folks. Israel ain’t going anywhere.

  • Jim Reed

    Maybe their strategy is to fire not-too-dangerous rockets just to make a point. I also wonder what their strategy was the other day in flying a drone over Israel? Did they want to see if they could get a $500 toy flying in Israeli airspace to see if Israel wiould fire a million dollars worth of Iron Dome rockets to knock it out of the sky?

  • Nation State

    Not having an active military or control of your borders probably dampens their prospects of weapons as well. One would assume if I locked my neighbor in his house and told him I would control his water and supplies he might get angry too. Zionist arguments don’t work in the 21st century, maybe in the
    50s. Only one party is free, only party has a country, only one party has a capable military. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel and despite what US media says the world is turning sour to Israel. Goodluck with that Hasbara.

  • Jim Reed

    Israel should try giving back the land that they have taken for building settlements. That might help cool tensions. At least it would be worth a try.

  • Jim Reed

    I think Christian Zionists in America are a key. Since the 50s they have supported an expanding Israel, and they have had the political power to keep America allied to Israel and giving them massive military support. As Christianity loses influence here, Christian Zionism will also lose influence, and Israel will have incentive to try harder to solve the problems over there. As long as Israel has the unconditional military backing of the US, they are more powerful than the rest of the world combined.

  • Jarnauga

    Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. The result? Somalia on the Mediterranean. How about Hamas using all that aid money to improve the lives of their people rather than pursuing some stupid revenge strategy against Israel? Oh, yeah…that would entail Hamas actually giving a crap about its own people.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Those non-dangerous rockets have sent my elderly relatives repeatedly into shelters.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    They already left Gaza…which is where the rockets are coming from.

  • Jim Reed

    I guess they should all get together and decide how the land should be divided up.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    We’ll just see what happens, won’t we? Given the Israeli record in wars against the Arabs (100%), I know who I’m betting on.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    That’s the problem. Peace talks have thus far been elusive.

  • Nation State

    End the blockade before you try and criticize Hamas management of Gaza. It’s a miracle they survived and thrived this long under blockade.

  • Nation State

    I 100% guarantee you there is only 2 outcomes. Israel will become binational once it finishes settling the West Bank and finds out there is no more land to give the Palestinians for a 2 SS or Israel agrees to a 2 state solution and voluntarily gives up land and normalizes relations with its neighbors. Either way Israel loses in the end considering the religious mandate to colonize Judea and Samaria is gaining in popularity. Israel won’t get rid of Arabs, Hamas, or Islam and will learn to live with it like it should have expected moving into an Islam majority region. History has shown us u can’t occupy a people forever.

  • Nation State

    Israel has never defined its borders. PLO has said talks should begin on basis of 67 border but Israel doesn’t agree. Gaza is still occupied under UN laws because it has no control over its borders or airspace/waters.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    I agree with your second outcome (and hope for it). This is not a loss for Israel, except for hardcore, religious fanatic settlers, for whom I have no sympathy whatsoever.

  • Jarnauga

    Riiight. Here’s a better idea- let Hamas stop smuggling weapons and materials to build tunnels and clean up the corrupt Hamas leadership of Khaled Mashaal & Co.,who are stealing millions from Gazans (and criticized by Arab Muslims for it) so they can live comfortably in Qatar. Let them do that and you might get both the naval blockade lifted and the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah reopened. Get Mashaal to hand over money that rightfully belongs to the children of Gaza and you’d be amazed at what you could do. Oh, and when Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel, they won’t have to worry about rebuilding constantly due to the fact that Israel is very good at protecting itself. The miracle is how Gazans can put up with Hamas and its antics. Makes Fatah look sober and rational.

  • Jarnauga

    Right…because when your neighbor wants to exterminate your entire family, the rational thing to do is to give him weapons. Only one party is sane- the other party would rather pursue revenge than improve their children’s lives.

  • Nation State

    We see eye to eye occasionally and debate without insults for the most part. Crazy

  • niteshade

    Not one dime from America should be sent over there. I’m tired of my tax money being used to kill people that are no danger to the U.S. If Israel wants to be a 1960′s South Africa let them foot the entire bill.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ the Old Adam

    Hamas wants all Jews dead.

    If Israel layer down all it’s weapons, they would be destroyed. if Hamas layer down all their weapons there’d be peace.

    That’s the truth of it.

  • jfigdor

    No, he said the only options were Israeli occupation forever or the 2nd holocaust of the Jews.

  • jfigdor

    Poor weapons.

  • Jekyll

    “all the civilized nations of the world”…yeah the Europeans, the ones that were savagely butchering each other a decade ago from ’48. Israel…Zionism is a European Darwinian ideology and now Israel itself, because of Zionism is reaching octogenarian age.

  • Jekyll

    Maybe your elderly parents should go back to where they came from ?

  • Jekyll
  • Jekyll

    Sounds like a European country…maybe it should be in EUROPE!

  • Jekyll

    Hmm comical truth, yes it is.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Alas, it’s a bit too late for that.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Lot’s of things the US does that “I’m tired of my tax money being used for”. Too bad things don’t work that way.
    But feel free to keep yelling into the wind.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Nah. Don’t think so. So sorry.

  • Jekyll

    No, no they really should. They should go back where they came from, i.e. Europe.

  • Jekyll

    It’s never too late to bring people back to their homes, where they belong.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    I’m afraid they don’t give a crap what you think. (And neither do I.)

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Ah, well.

  • Jekyll

    Of course you don’t, or else they would not be there in the first place. It is the personification of chutzpah, being a a place where one does not belong too nor wanted.

  • Jekyll

    No all is not well for anybody when foreigners occupy a land.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    You mean, like the US?

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Sucks doesn’t it? That whole “winner” thing.
    Is there really any point to you and I talking with one another?

  • Jekyll

    No I meant European colonizers.

  • Jekyll

    Winners are declared at the end, not during.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Fine, fine. We’ll talk about it again at “the end”, alright?

  • Jekyll

    It won’t be long now…

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Right…right. Can we be done, now?

  • Jekyll

    Your fellow Zionists should have ended it before the slaughter.

  • niteshade

    I was yelling at the Israeli murderers