Opinion

Israel Is Unabashedly Asserting Its Illiberal Power. We Liberal Jews Are Enabling It

Basking in Trump's shadow, Israel is unconstrained in its infliction of violence on liberal values within Israel and literal violence on Gaza. And we, purportedly liberal Jews, have acquiesced

People spray water on a Palestinian UNRWA employee who tried to set himself on fire during a protest against jobs termination inside its headquarters in Gaza City. July 25, 2018
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Look back over the past eight months.

We, Jews, have acquiesced.

We shrugged off international law and all those diplomatic impediments, and accepted the unilateral gift of Jerusalem from Donald Trump. We may have cringed at the spectacle of Trump’s embassy opening, but we vociferously defended Israel’s killings of Gazan protestors on the same day. 

A Palestinian man looks at a building destroyed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City. July 15, 2018
\ SUHAIB SALEM/ REUTERS

We tolerated the targeting of human rights organizations within Israel. We tolerated the exclusion from Israel of those who oppose the occupation through boycott, like those big bad Quakers. The fine details of Israel’s creeping legal annexation of the West Bank are too complicated to generate much heat.

We do not peep at the eye-for-an-eyelash proportions of Israel’s violence in Gaza. IDF snipers fire at protestors and IDF jets bomb kite-makers, because that’s just Gaza and everything there can be Hamas’s fault. Let Gaza live with no crossings, if it doesn’t appreciate the one Israel lets it have.  Let Gaza live with no American aid, if Hamas won’t gratify Donald Trump

Many Jews protested against Israel's plans to deport refugees, because that offended liberal values and everyone knows it. The same Jews would have protested a few years ago, when countries like Hungary muscled other refugees away, but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a friend now and that’s a bit awkward. And speaking of awkward, can we please not discuss Poland

We wrote some indignant letters about Israel’s new Nation-State Law, and really took to the streets to defend the rights of gay men, because those are liberal values and everyone knows it.

Netanyahu and other Likud lawmakers in the Knesset after the passage of the nation-state law.
Olivier Fitoussi

There were two massive bombardments of Gaza this year, but that’s just Gaza. Fortunately, it has an endless supply of "terror targets" for such moments. Besides, what with Iran and Syria, it’s not a good time to be critical.

I think it’s an excellent time to be critical.

Basking in the shadow of Trump, Israel is unabashedly asserting its illiberal power. In eight months, we purportedly liberal Jews have gotten used to it. We object episodically, as we are towed along. Grumble, donate, visit, defend, repeat.

I remember evaluating history’s joiners and bystanders as a child. I tried to frame questions that left open the possibility of generosity, as well as condemnation. Did they not know, or did they not want to? Were they not brave enough to stand up in opposition? What were the rewards of joining, and what were the costs of standing up?

I began to apply my childhood lesson to my Jewish community when I left Gaza, where I was working, for a break, near the end of the 2014 onslaught. 

"I want you to know that I agonized," one liberal Zionist assured me. 

My skin still bore the burnt smells of the war. I inhaled them as I weighed the value of liberal angst against the enabling fact of liberal inaction. 

Relatives of 15-year-old Othman Hilles, killed by Israeli fire during a border protest, mourn during his funeral at the family's home in Gaza City. July 14, 2018
Khalil Hamra/AP

Gaza, I decided, is the place where the Jewish callus formed. Its regime is the least constrained project of Jewish power. There have been other wars and other occupied places, but no other population has been so hidden, so controlled, and so vilified for our consumption. 

There, we learned to discount lives. Although we know that the immiseration of Gaza is wrong, we got used to a regime that classifies life, this one deserving of water and light, and those ones not. This one fully human, and those ones less. We live while they exist on sufferance.

If Gaza is the place where we trained ourselves to acquiesce, then in Gaza we can recover our footing. It is simple, really. If the value of human life is indivisible, then the walls around Gaza must go.

Nothing less; not a little more restraint with the snipers’ bullets, and not an extra hour of electricity this week. No, each time we advocate for marginal improvements to the lives that are being lived on sufferance, we reiterate our power over those lives. That is the problem, not the solution.

We can stand up and declare that our lives have equal value, and we can begin to claw back the losses of this ugly year. Or, we can ask ourselves what we will be enabling in the coming months.

Marilyn Garson lived and worked in Gaza 2011 – 2015. She writes from New Zealand. Her blog is Transforming Gaza. Twitter: @skinonbothsides