Melbourne. Sunday 18th January 2009.
I am one of many Jews – here today, in Israel, and around the world – who are distressed and shamed by what Israel has been doing in our name.
Many Australian Jews have signed our declaration condemning this criminal assault on Gaza. Using the words of the former Israeli parliament member, Uri Avnery, we condemned the military assault as “inhuman, superfluous” and “abominable”.
This was two weeks ago. Since then, the numbers of dead and injured have tripled!
I am proud to join you today to express our anguish at this carnage and our anger, and to express our solidarity with the people of Gaza.
Their desperate plight today comes on top of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis already caused by two years of Israeli blockade. And, of course, this is on top of 60 years of Palestinian suffering – their dispossession that Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has called “ethnic cleansing” – and a brutal military occupation.
But we who are here today know all this. WE are here, because there are so many who are NOT. If we are not to just talk to ourselves, we must do something about the widespread indifference, or worse.
We have a responsibility to turn our moral concern into meaningful action, because it is here, in the West, that the fate of Palestine is decided. We must find ways to counter the barrage of deceit that prevents people from understanding what is going on and reacting to it as human beings.
History is being re-written even as it happens. So, it is a lie that Israel is defending itself. There are no Palestinian F-16 jets bombing Israel. There are no Palestinian tanks in the streets of Tel-Aviv.
The assault on Gaza is not a war, but a cowardly act of terrorism.
It is perpetrated by the most sophisticated military force against a defenceless population. The casualty figures are sufficient evidence of this crime against humanity.
But this is not how it is presented in our media, or by our own politicians, who endlessly, uncritically, repeat the official lies of Israeli propaganda.
Under the guise of “balance”, the victims are blamed for their suffering and have no voice. And the world stands by doing nothing.
It is also a lie, endlessly repeated by our media and politicians, that Hamas does not want to negotiate. The record is clear: Israel has rebuffed serious proposals because it would have to make just concessions.
It is also a lie, endlessly repeated by our media and politicians, that Israel had no choice but to launch this assault. It had a clear choice: to preserve the effective cease-fire that they, the Israelis, violated.
Israel had carefully prepared the military assault long before it had a convenient pretext.
It is a lie that Israel is attacking Gaza to stop rockets. You could learn this from the official website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs: On November 4, Israel violated the cease-fire that held for six months and was protecting Israeli citizens from rockets – as emails from the residents of Sderot clearly reveal.
The official Israeli website showed that Hamas launched its missiles in retaliation for the Israeli attack. However, on December 27, the very day that Israel launched its savage bombardment, the Foreign Ministry changed its website, removing the charts giving the numbers of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza. Of course, these charts revealed the near-total cessation of fire during the truce and provide striking evidence of Hamas’s good faith, and considerable restraint:
Hamas kept the cease-fire despite the crushing blockade against the entire population of Gaza, a blockade which was a violation of Israel’s obligation under the cease-fire, and, in any case, a crime in international law. By what right did Israel and the US impose this collective punishment on the people of Gaza for their exercise in Democracy?
The former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, described the blockade as the destruction of a civilization. This was before the bombing that one Israeli military officer said makes Gaza look like they were bombing it for years, not weeks! And the Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni has the depravity to say now “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.
But we are here because we understand these facts and their moral significance. We must ask ourselves: How is it possible for our respectable media and our politicians to reverse the truth and to portray Israel as the victim?
But we have a weapon that is more powerful than the well-funded propaganda machine of the Israel Lobby and its willing apologists in our media and politics. We have compassion, we have a sense of justice, and we have the truth.
We can make a difference.
However, what we are up against is not just bias, but a kind of culpable ignorance. This is a kind of psychological aberration or deviance that reverses truth. It is a moral blindness that fails to notice the gross imbalance of terror and suffering. Israel’s violence is not merely “disproportionate”; it is barbaric.
We need not wonder that Israeli officials utter depraved lies. Rather, we must wonder why so many other people can accept them so willingly.
We have to try to penetrate the veil of mystification and self-deception that prevents people from thinking clearly and responding as human beings to the heart breaking pictures we see from Gaza.
So, I am here today because I share a motivation with many Jews here and around the world. My 83 year-old mother is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. I grew up with her questions: Why didn’t anyone help the Jews? Why didn’t anyone else care? Why did the world allow it to happen?
These are the same questions we must ask today about the crimes against the Palestinians.
So I’m here because the State of Israel does not represent all Jews. If we have learned the real meaning of the slogan “never again”, we can’t remain silent when the crimes are being committed in our name. We must universalise the lessons of our own tragedy to include others in our moral universe.
This is the lesson of that great Palestinian, the late Edward Said. People have deep emotional identification with their various customs, language and other traditions. But, while we cherish our cultural identity, we must also recognize our shared humanity with others.
The Nazis made Jews wear a yellow Star of David to stigmatise them. I grew up with the immensely moving image of others, non-Jews, like the King of Denmark, who showed their humanity by wearing the yellow star to symbolize their solidarity with the Jewish victims of persecution.
This is the spirit in which I wear a Palestinian badge today and the spirit in which very many Jews and others around the world stand with Palestinians.
It is the spirit captured by an Italian volunteer working in Gaza right now, called Vittorio Arrigoni. I would like to conclude by reading an email from him, sent over a week ago on Friday January 9. He wrote:
The Italian Consulate has just contacted me, saying that tomorrow they shall evacuate a fellow Italian, an elderly nun … The consul gently urged me to seize this last opportunity to escape this hell with the nun. I thanked him for the offer, but I’m not moving from here – I just can’t. For the sake of the losses we endured, before being Italian, Spanish, British or Australian, right now we are all Palestinians.
Dr. Peter Slezak
Independent Australian Jewish Voices