Friday April 6 is this year the seventh day of Passover. In Jewish tradition that day commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea by the band of runaway Israelite slaves, escaping and resisting Pharaoh, for the sake of their own freedom. That was when Pharaoh’s army and his power dissolved into the Sea, blown away by YHWH/ Yahhhh, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, become a Hurricane of Transformation.
That Friday is also scheduled to be the day of another large gathering of Palestinians at the border between Gaza and Israel. We do not know what the day will bring: perhaps more bloodshed, perhaps on both sides of the border respect and adherence to a nonviolent discipline in response to the horror of the deaths last Friday.
We do know this: Many Jews, and many others, in America and Israel, stand in tears before God and Torah and other sacred wisdom, deeply saddened by the unnecessary deaths of at least sixteen Palestinians and injuries to close to 800 others among the thousands of Palestinians protesting last week as part of a “March of Return” along the Israel/Gaza border.
Many who were horrified by the deaths are grateful that there were no deaths or serious injuries to Israeli soldiers or civilians. And precisely this fact casts great doubt on the legitimacy of using live ammunition to shoot into the assemblage, when it seems clear there was no direct danger to Israeli lives. Only such a strong and immediate danger could have justified the lethal violence ordered ahead of time by the present Israeli government.
These people strongly support the right to non-violent protest, whether here in North America or in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, as a fundamental right of civilians. We support the vast majority of the Gazan protesters who chose a deliberately nonviolent form of protest, and condemn the fact that some resorted to throwing stones, burning tires, and Molotov cocktails at soldiers, and a few tried to breach the border fence.
The root cause of the protest and of the frightened response by the present Israeli government is the continuing blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government. That blockade is an illegitimate use of collective punishment for the people of Gaza for having voted for or accepted the election by majority vote for Hamas to govern the region.
The blockade is a continuing aspect of the over-all military occupation and forcibly imposed settlements by the Israeli government of Palestinian communities beyond the Green Line – the only places where a peaceful independent Palestine could come into being alongside Israel.
The denial to the Palestinian people of self-determination in those areas is a denial of human rights. That includes the blockade of civilian goods from entering or leaving Gaza so as to impoverish its people as a part of that illegitimate denial.
In regard to what may have been the illegitimate use of lethal force against an almost entirely nonviolent demonstration, we call for these actions:
First, the creation of an international investigating commission that includes Israelis and Palestinians, to examine the decision-making in the present Israeli government and in some Palestinian groups that ordered or encouraged the use of violence in the situation on the cusp of Passover last Friday..
Second, we urge individual Israeli soldiers to assess whether orders to use lethal violence in this or similar situations may require their refusal to obey such orders if they are illegal. And we urge all Palestinians in Gaza and beyond to use their power and influence to deny support to any Palestinian groups that urge or allow the use of violence in this or similar situations.
The Israeli group called “B’Tzelem,” ”In the Image” – that is, “In God’s Image are all human beings created” – has already taken ads in major Israeli newspapers to call on Israeli soldiers to refuse manifestly illegal orders to fire when their lives are not endangered.
We recall the teaching of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that when King Saul ordered his own royal bodyguard to kill Israelite priests who had fed the guerrilla underground led by David, the bodyguards refused – even though the guerilla band was a clear and present threat to Saul’s legitimate government. (I Sam. 22:6-17).
The message is clear: Human life is so precious that even in military situations, one must take every precaution to avoid killing, even of an enemy or of one perceived as endangering the government. All the more must lethal force be rejected when no such danger exists.
In alignment with the ancient Tabbis and our deepest Jewish values, we call on Israel to find ways to respond to the demonstrations planned for tomorrow and the next few weeks in ways that will not escalate the situation or lead to injury or death; to cooperate with an international investigation of the decisions that led to live fire being used on demonstrators; and to refrain from revising the rules of engagement to permit the expanded use of live fire.
To many it may seem that only in the long term can a peace agreement end the on-again, off-again violence on the Gaza border, which endangers residents of Gaza, along with Israelis living near the border, and the soldiers sent to protect this border.
But this delay is itself lethal. We urge the present government of Israel and the Israeli people, and the present leaders and the whole community of Palestinians as a whole, to begin now immediate negotiations for a just peace between Israel and a new Palestine.
And we urge that American Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others of ethical commitment, press the US government to press both peoples and their leaders to move forward now on the road to peace.
And we urge leaders of all peoples to begin at once to play an active role in ending the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The closure of the borders with Israel and Egypt severely limits the import of needed goods as well as the exports necessary to allow for economic growth. The people of Gaza have limited access to electricity, clean water, and medical support.
The Hamas government, no doubt, shares significant blame for the situation in Gaza, as a result of their repression, corruption, and continued violent rejection of the existence of Israel. So does Egypt, which has largely closed its border with Gaza. So does the present government of the United States, which has just drastically cut its long-standing financial allotment to meeting the urgent needs of the people of Gaza.
But the government of Israel, which continues to control Gaza’s borders, air space, and population registry even after the official disengagement, maintains major responsibility for the humanitarian crisis there. We encourage Israelis to deploy all their creativity of the start-up nation to end this crisis, refrain from escalating violence at the border, and work toward a two-state peace that will keep both Israelis and Palestinians safe and free.
As the traditional Passover Telling says, “In every generation, every human being is obligated to look upon herself, himself, as if we go forth from slavery to freedom, not our ancestors only.
God forbid – God forbade! -- that on this Passover the present government of Israel should choose to act like Pharaoh.
May the Seventh Day be instead the day that both peoples take the first courageous steps into the Sea, not red with blood, into the freedom for them both that only peace can bring.