CODEPINK — To Gaza, With Love

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To Gaza, With Love
19/02/2009 To Gaza, With Love
By Medea Benjamin ` Global Exchange
February 17
Al-Manar.com.lb is not responsible for the content of this article or
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When I traveled to Gaza last week, everywhere I went, a photo haunted
me. I saw it in a brochure called “Gaza will not die” that Hamas gives
out to visitors at the border crossing. A poster-sized version was
posted outside a makeshift memorial at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
And now that I am back home, the image comes to me when I look at
children playing in the park, when I glance at the school across the
street, when I go to sleep at night.
It is a photo of a young Palestinian girl who is literally buried alive
in the rubble from a bomb blast, with just her head protruding from the
ruins. Her eyes are closed, her mouth partially open, as if she were in
a deep sleep. Dried blood covers her lips, her cheeks, her hair.
Someone with a glove is reaching down to touch her forehead, showing
one final gesture of kindness in the midst of such inhumanity.
What was this little girl’s name, I wonder. How old was she? Was she
sleeping when the bomb hit her home? Did she die a quick death or a
slow, agonizing one? Where are her parents, her siblings? How are they
Of the 1,330 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military during the
22-day invasion of Gaza, 437 were children. Let me repeat that: 437
children-each as beautiful and precious as our own.
As a Jew, an American and a mother, I felt compelled to witness,
firsthand, what my people and my taxdollars had done during this
invasion. Visiting Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. Unlike the
primitive weapons of Hamas, the Israelis had so many sophisticated ways
to murder, maim and destroy-unmanned drones, F-16s dropping “smart
bombs” that miss, Apache helicopters launching missiles, tanks firing
from the ground, ships shelling Gaza from the sea. So many horrific
weapons stamped with Made in the USA. While Hamas’ attacks on Israeli
villages are deplorable, Israel’s disproportionate response is
unconscionable, with 1,330 Palestinians dead vs. 13 Israelis.
If the invasion was designed to destroy Hamas, it failed miserably. Not
only is Hamas still in control, but it retains much popular support. If
the invasion was designed as a form of collective punishment, it
succeeded, leaving behind a trail of grieving mothers, angry fathers
and traumatized children.
To get a sense of the devastation, check out a slide show circulating
on the internet called Gaza: Massacre of Children
(www.aztlan.net/gaza/gaza_massacre_of_children.php). It should be
required viewing for all who supported this invasion of Gaza. Babies
charred like shish-kebabs. Limbs chopped off. Features melted from
white phosphorus. Faces crying out in pain, gripped by fear, overcome
by grief.
Anyone who can view the slides and still repeat the mantra that “Israel
has the right to self-defense” or “Hamas brought this upon its own
people,” or worse yet, “the Israeli military didn’t go far enough,”
does a horrible disservice not only to the Palestinian people, but to
Compassion, the greatest virtue in all major religions, is the basic
human emotion prompted by the suffering of others, and it triggers a
desire to alleviate that suffering. True compassion is not
circumscribed by one’s faith or the nationality of those suffering. It
crosses borders; it speaks a universal language; it shares a common
spirituality. Those who have suffered themselves, such as Holocaust
victims, are supposed to have the deepest well of compassion.
The Israeli election was in full swing while was I visiting Gaza. As I
looked out on the ruins of schools, playgrounds, homes, mosques and
clinics, I recalled the words of Benjamin Netanyahu, “No matter how
strong the blows that Hamas received from Israel, it’s not enough.” As
I talked to distraught mothers whose children were on life support in a
bombed hospital, I thought of the “moderate” woman in the race, Tzipi
Livni, who vowed that she would not negotiate with Hamas, insisted that
“terror must be fought with force and lots of force” and warned that
“if by ending the operation we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will
continue until they get the message.”
“The message,” I can report, has been received. It is a message that
Israel is run by war criminals, that the lives of Palestinians mean
nothing to them. Even more chilling is the pro-war message sent by the
Israeli people with their votes for Netanyahu, Livni and anti-Arab
racist Avigdor Lieberman.
How tragic that nation born out of the unspeakable horrors of the
Holocaust has become a nation that supports the slaughter of
Here in the U.S., Congress ignored the suffering of the Palestinians
and pledged its unwavering support for the Israeli state. All but five
members out of 535 voted for a resolution justifying the invasion,
falsely holding Hamas solely responsible for breaking the ceasefire and
praising Israel for facilitating humanitarian aid to Gaza at a time
when food supplies were rotting at the closed borders.
One glimmer of hope we found among people in Gaza was the Obama
administration. Many were upset that Obama did not speak out during the
invasion and that peace envoy George Mitchell, on his first trip to the
Middle East, did not visit Gaza or even Syria. But they felt that
Mitchell was a good choice and Obama, if given the space by the
American people, could play a positive role.
Who can provide that space for Obama? Who can respond to the call for
justice from the Palestinian people? Who can counter AIPAC, the
powerful lobby that supports Israeli aggression?
An organized, mobilized, coordinated grassroots movement is the
critical counterforce, and within that movement, those who have a
particularly powerful voice are American Jews. We have the beginnings
of a such a counterforce within the American Jewish community. Across
the United States, Jews joined marches, sit-ins, die-ins, even chained
themselves to Israeli consulates in protest. Jewish groups like J
Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom lobby for a diplomatic solution. Tikkun
organizes for a Jewish spiritual renewal grounded in social justice.
The Middle East Children’s Alliance and Madre send humanitarian aid to
Palestine. Women in Black hold compelling weekly vigils. American Jews
for a Just Peace plants olive trees on the West Bank. Jewish Voice for
Peace promotes divestment from corporations that profit from
occupation. Jews Against the Occupation calls for an end to U.S. aid to
We need greater coordination among these groups and within the broader
movement. And we need more people and more sustained involvement,
especially Jewish Americans. In loving memory of our ancestors and for
the future of our-and Palestinian-children, more American Jews should
speak out and reach out. As Sholom Schwartzbard, a member of Jews
Against the Occupation, explained at a New York City protest, “We know
from our own history what being sealed behind barbed wire and
checkpoints20is like, and we know that `Never Again’ means not anyone,
not anywhere – or it means nothing at all.”
On March 7, I will return to Gaza with a large international
delegation, bringing aid but more importantly, pressuring the Israeli,
U.S. and Egyptian governments to open the borders and lift the siege.
Many members of the delegation are Jews. We will travel in the spirit
of tikkun olam, repairing the world, but with a heavy sense of
responsibility, shame and yes, compassion. We will never be able to
bring back to life the little girl buried in the rubble. But we can-and
will–hold her in our hearts as we bring a message from America and a
growing number of American Jews: To Gaza, With Love.
For information about joining the trip to Gaza, contact
Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of Global
Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace