Wednesday 26 January 2011

Gaza 2 years on - A Jewish Voice

Just over two years ago, on 27th December 2008, the mighty Israeli military launched an unprovoked and unannounced air strike on the defenceless population of Gaza.  This murderous onslaught would continue for a further three weeks.  In which time over 1,400 Palestinians would be killed.  Of these, 397 were defenceless, innocent children.  In addition countless others suffered terrible physical and mental injuries.
To honour all the people killed and injured during this onslaught Tayside for Justice in Palestine organized a commemorative event in Dundee last Saturday, 22nd January 2011.  The centre point of this event was an installation by local artist Pat Donnachie.  This featured 357 mini paper coffins wrapped in a Palestinian flag.  The mini coffins were surrounded by 357 pairs of children’s shoes - all to represent the 357 children who were brutally killed by Israeli forces. 
At the commemorative event we had speeches from a wide section of Dundee’s population, including the Lord Provost.  One of the most moving contributions came from Sarah Glynn, who is one of the founding members of Tayside for Justice in Palestine.  Sarah is a Jew and here is her personal testimony.
“I’m standing here as a member of Scottish Jews for a Just Peace. 
Like all of us here I am appalled at what has been happening in Gaza and want to do what little I can to help.
But why do I want to speak with a specifically Jewish voice?
Scottish Jews for a Just Peace exists to tell a very particular message.
To say that, whatever they may claim, the Israeli government does not speak for or act on behalf of the Jewish people. 
Last summer, when the Israeli army attacked the ships bringing aid to Gaza, I tired to write down what it means to be Jewish at a time when people with whom I share a history and an ethnicity have committed such crimes in its name.
Most people sense a pull of family history and a feeling of belonging to a clan. And who could not feel a sense of awe at being part of a clan that has survived two millennia of persecution. Who would not feel a tug on the heart strings when exploring a personal connection to a Polish Shtetl – even if their first introduction to that lost world was through Fiddler on the Roof?
I have been to Poland and seen the small wooden house my grandfather left as a toddler over 100 years ago. And I have seen how the Nazis erased every trace of its Jewish population from that town. Who could not be moved by such a sight?
I have also been to Israel, where others of my family helped build a Jewish homeland. And I am sure that they sincerely believed that they were creating a better world where there would be less persecution. 
But, as I have observed the aggression of the modern Israeli state and read more about its evolution, I have learnt to question the image of Israel that I and so many others of all backgrounds grew up with. I have discovered that the story of a gallant Israeli David fighting for survival against an Arab world committed to its destruction was a foundation myth: a myth that hid a much more troubling reality of another people’s history of suffering and oppression. 
I saw another people’s nightmare. A new exile. A new nation of refugees.
The world not better, but bitter. Crueller. More dangerous.
I saw persecution recreated - in a distorted mirror image with Jews as oppressors. And three generations of Israelis taught to hate.
The Israeli government has tried to use our Jewish history to justify its actions and claim Jewish loyalty and support. I want to claim my history back. I will not boast of Jewish survival - It was not me who was oppressed for two millennia – but, like everyone else, I can learn lessons from that history. I take no personal responsibility for Israeli aggression - It was not me who took Palestinian land and lives – but like everyone else I can do what I can to try and end that suffering. After the Holocaust the world said ‘never again’. That never didn’t just refer to one people’s persecution, nor do we have to wait until millions are dead before we act. 
I will always be moved by the melancholy sound of a Yiddish song; but also by the cries of Gaza’s children.
So I join with you all to say Freedom to Gaza
Free free Palestine”
Though last Saturday was a commemorative event, it is never enough to just remember past sufferings.  Not when the suffering and degradation continues to this very day.  That is why Tayside for Justice in Palestine has chosen this commemorative event to launch our appeal for the next flotilla. This time Free Gaza plans to send a boat bought and supplied by the people of Scotland. We are asking everyone to contribute what they can so that we can demonstrate Scottish support for Gaza and Scottish resistance to this cruel and illegal blockade.
The following list can only give an indication of what the blockade means:
  • 6 out of 10 people have running water only once every 4 to 5 days, and 90% of this is contaminated and not fit to drink
  • Only small amounts of construction materials have been allowed in for UN projects, and nothing has been allowed for private building. Of the 6,000 homes that suffered major damage 2 years ago, 4 out of 5 have not been rebuilt.
  • Because of lack of materials for new buildings, 40,000 children have been turned away by UN schools. 
  • Restrictions on the import of fuel means power plants are only working at 2/3 capacity. There are regular electricity blackouts, which impact on essential services.
  • Gaza’s fragile economy has been destroyed by a combination of the lack of power, restrictions on raw materials, and the almost complete ban on exports. 4 out of 10 people in Gaza are unemployed.
  • 1/3 of Gaza’s farmland and most of its fishing areas are cut off by Israeli soldiers, who will shoot to kill. 
  • Entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip remains severely restricted and unpredictable. Since 2009, 33 patients have died before being given permission to leave Gaza and get to the hospitals they have been referred to.
Regardless of our views on Gaza’s political leaders, or on the tactics some have chosen with which to resist the occupation of Palestinian land, we must condemn this collective ‘punishment’. The real sin of the Palestinians, in the eyes of the Israeli government, is simply to want to be free to live in the villages and towns in which they were born.
Amidst all the horror there is still hope. Israel depends on the support of other nations, especially the USA, and widespread criticism of the Israeli government’s actions can have an impact. We have a long way to go, but, already, an increasing number of people have realised what is happening, and resistance is growing, including within Israel itself. Here in Dundee, thousands of miles from Gaza we can be part of this resistance. 
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