Jewish Fast for Gaza


In response to the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza, my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Brian Walt and I have organized a new initiative, Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.

See below for the press release about the project, which is already attracting increasing numbers of supporters, including many rabbis. Click the link above to visit the website and sign up yourself…


Seeking “to end the Jewish community’s silence over Israel’s collective punishment in Gaza,”  an ad-hoc group of American rabbis has called for a communal fast.  Known as Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza, this new initiative will organize a series of monthly fasts beginning on July 16.

The project was initiated by a group of thirteen rabbis representing a spectrum of American Jewish denominations. The group’s website explains the religious meaning of the campaign: “In Jewish tradition a communal fast is held in times of crisis both as an expression of mourning and a call to repentance. In this spirit, Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza is a collective act of conscience initiated by an ad hoc group of rabbis, Jews, people of faith, and all concerned with (this) ongoing crisis…”

The fast has four goals: to call for a lifting of the blockade, to provide humanitarian and developmental aid to the people of Gaza, to call upon Israel, the US, and the international community to engage in negotiations with Hamas in order to end the blockade, and to encourage the American government to “vigorously engage both Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

The water-only fast will take place every third Thursday of the month, from sunrise to sunset. In addition to signing on to the fast statement, participants have been asked to donate the money they save on food to the Milk for Preschoolers Campaign sponsored by American Near Eastern Refugee Aid, a relief campaign that combats malnutrition among Gazan preschool children.

Since the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, Israel has imposed a blockade that has severely restricted Gaza’s ability to import food, fuel and other essential materials. As a result, the Gazan economy has completely collapsed and it suffers from high levels of unemployment and poverty and rising levels of childhood malnutrition.

“Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people in Gaza amounts to nothing less than collective punishment. While we condemn Hamas’ targeting of Israeli civilians, it is immoral to punish an entire population for the actions of a few,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen, who serves Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL. “This blockade has only served to further oppress an already thoroughly oppressed people.  As Jews and as human beings of conscience, we cannot stand idly by.”

“We’ve been enormously encouraged by the initial response we’ve received from the Jewish community thus far,” said fast organizer Rabbi Brian Walt, former Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America, who noted that the initiative has signed up numerous supporters prior to the launch of the project. “We truly believe this effort is giving voice to a significant number of people who been looking for a Jewish voice of conscience on this issue.”

30 thoughts on “Jewish Fast for Gaza

  1. Shirley Gould

    Although I cannot participate in the fast, I am gratified to see it begun, and thank you for explaining the origin of the idea. Also, I am especially pleased by the wording that identifies my rabbi, who “serves” JRC. That’s a fresh view of the role of the rabbi, and one that I heartily commend.

  2. Debbie

    Where is your concern for Gilad Shalit? And why are you so concerned with supporting a population of which the majority voted in a ruling party that educates children to become suicide bombers, that doesn’t follow the Geneva convention and resorts to firing rockets into civilian areas? THe people of Gaza have to learn that they are accountable for their actions and your way is just letting them get away with murder.

  3. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


    As regards Gilad Shalit: while Gilad is part of our people and his kidnapping is a crime, so is the imprisonment by Israel, without any charges, of hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians, some of whom are children and women. I personally strongly support a deal in which Gilad is freed along with those Israel has imprisoned unjustly (likewise in violation of the Geneva convention.)

    As regards the election of Hamas, I believe your description of them is simplistic. Though I have no love lost for Hamas, the reality is that Israel will have to deal with them if any true peace will be achieved. And in truth, Israel has already dealt with Hamas through any number of channels over the years.

    Most analysts agree that Hamas was elected in 2006 not because Palestinians supported their religious/political ideology, but because they had a track record of delivering effective social services and because the Palestinian public was fed up with the corruption and incompetence of Fatah. Whether or not you accept this analysis, do you really believe that starving 1.5 million people as a consequence of a democratic election is morally appropriate?

    You say that this blockade will teach the Palestinians to be accountable. I disagree. I believe the blockade will only increase the Gazan’s misery, inflaming and radicalizing them against Israel even further. (Do you believe that the children who are suffering from malnutrition now will grow up loving the state of Israel?) The blockade will not make Israel any safer – it will only endanger its security all the more.

  4. Brett Borders

    I think this is a misguided initiative. I feel sympathy for ordinary Gazans, but Egypt nor Israel cannot stand idly by and allow Hamas to import Iranian missiles and develop an Islamist / fascist regime. It’s a disaster for peace / stability / prosperity for the whole region.

  5. YBD

    Rabbi Brant-
    In your reply to Debbie you are implying that just as Gilad Shalit was grabbed randomly (while he was performing his duty as a soldier) and is being held as a hostage, and not as a prisoner of war with the accompanying rights as recognized by the Geneva Convention, Israel did the same and took people off the streets randomly and is holding them hostage, incommunicado from the rest of the world. That is, of course, not true.

    For the record, here, from the newspaper Ha’aretz of 17 March 2009, in an article by Barak Ravid, is a partial list of the terrorists HAMAS is demanding be released as part of a deal for Gilad Shalit:

    (1) Ibrahim Hamed-
    Charged with planning terrorist attacks in which 36 Israelis were murdered.
    (2) Hassan Salama-
    Resposible for two suicide bombings on the No. 18 bus line in Jerusalem and for a suicide bombing in Ashqelon. Sentenced to 49 life sentences.
    (3) Abdallah Barghouti-
    Senior bomb maker for HAMAS in West Bank. Convicted of planning terrorist attacks in which 66 Israelis were murdered in addition to hundreds of wounded, including the attack on the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem (which killed, among others, 5 members of one family including the two parents and 3 children).
    Sentenced to 67 life terms.
    (4) Abbas Sayid-
    Convicted of planning terrorist attacks in which 35 Israelis were murdered and hundreds wounded, including the attack on the Park Hotel on Passover Seder Night (it was this attack that led to the launching of the military operation “Defensive Shield”).
    (5) Ra’ad Hutri-
    One of the masterminds of the attack on the Dolphinarium in which 22 young Israelis were killed. He was also involved in two other suicide bombings.

    Food for thought.

  6. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


    The prisoners Israel decides to release in any agreement is, of course, up to Israel. As regards your assertions that Israel does not imprison Palestinians randomly without due process, here is an an excerpt from a report by the Israeli human rights organization, B’stelem:

    Over the years, Israel has held Palestinians in prolonged detention without trying them and without informing them of the suspicions against them. While detainees may appeal the detention, neither they nor their attorneys are allowed to see the evidence. Israel has therefore made a charade out of the entire system of procedural safeguards in both domestic and international law regarding the right to liberty and due process.

    Full report:

  7. Lisa Kosowski

    Like Ms. Gould who responded above, I cannot participate in the fast (low blood sugar), but I fully support this initiative and I am thinking of an alternative way for me to participate. This is a thoughtful way to attempt to bring attention to the thousands of innocent children and their families who are suffering in so many ways: malnoutrition, lack of basic medical care, lack of sanitation, daily power outtages intentionally imposed by Israel (can you imagine being in the Middle East in the summer without so much as a fan?). Let us also not forget: many of them have also been orphaned and are grieving for their family members who were killed by the IDF during the recent invasion and attack. I continue to admire your courage, and your leadership in stepping up for real Jewish values. Hopefully, those in Gaza will know that the world has not forsaken them.

  8. Serge

    I do not support a relaxation of controls against the smuggling of weapons to the extreme-right-wing Gazan government, which has a stated policy — and a track record of implementing that policy — against coexistence with a neighbouring country and for using any available weaponry to indiscriminately attack civilians of that country, all in flagrant violation of public international law.

    As it happens, I am also personally appalled by the quasi-fascist method of governance employed by the Gazan government domestically, including regular extrajudicial killings, widespread deployment of secret police, systematic press censorship and intimidation, the banning of most cultural activity, and the military instrumentalization of all institutions of higher learning. That said, that is a problem for Gazans and their government to solve or, in the event they are unable to, for the doctrine of international humanitarian aid to cause an international force to intervene. It is not something that Israel has the right to intervene it.

    Rather, Israel’s only right is to take the least restrictive measures available to it that are necessary to ensure that cross-border attacks cease. The idea that less restrictive measures are available to Israel at present is belied by all known facts. Accordingly, I am unable to participate in this fast, nor to agree with the rationale behind it. Pressure should be exerted on the Gazan government to cease its unlawful international aggression. This fast will exert no such pressure — rather, it provides implicit support for it.

  9. Michael Levin

    The Israeli government’s various positions, statements, and arguments regarding Palestinian prisoners and detainees are readily available — statements, positions, and arguments which form a narrative about the nature of Palestinian prisoners and detainees — a narrative which is reflected in part in some of the prior reader comments.

    The website for ADDAMEER (Arabic for conscience) — the Palestinian Prisoner’s Support and Human Rights Association [ ] – is an important Palestinian source of information about Palestinian prisoners and detainees – a source which calls into question many of the statements and arguments made by the Israeli government regarding Palestinian prisoners and detainees.*

    What to do with two such differing narratives? We are fortunate that important research and documentation has been provided by significant human rights organizations – research and documentation which speak directly to issues surrounding Palestinian prisoners and detainees, and which often profoundly differ with the Israeli government narrative.

    In addition to the remarkable work of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem [ ] other highly respected organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued reports which deal specifically with Palestinian prisoners and detainees. I quote from Amnesty International’s most recent report [2009]:

    “Hundreds of Palestinians, including scores of children, were detained by Israeli forces in the OPT and many were held incommunicado for prolonged periods. Most were later released without charge, but hundreds were charged with security-related offences and tried before military courts, whose procedures often failed to meet international standards for fair trial. Some 8,000 Palestinians arrested in 2008 or in previous years were still imprisoned at the end of the year. They included some 300 children and 550 people who were held without charge or trial under military administrative detention orders, including some who had been held for up to six years.

    * Salwa Salah and Sara Siureh, two 16-year-old girls, were arrested at night from their homes in June and were still held in administrative detention at the end of 2008.”

    [ ]
    Other Palestinian sources include the Palestinian human rights group groups Al-Haq [West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists – Geneva — ], and MIFTAH [The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy — ]

  10. Avi Ben Tzvi

    Folks… Debate is fine, but let’s remember to check our facts. For example Lisa makes statements about intentional blackouts caused by Israel. The fact is that 75% of electrical power in Gaza comes from the Israeli electricl grid. It has not been cut off. 5% comes from Egypt. The remaining 20% is generated in Gaza. Fuel for those generators is delivered weekly. By way of example, here is a summary of the crossing in and out of “blockaded” Gaza in the last 2 weeks alone.

    Weekly summary of the Gaza crossings: 5-10 July 2009
    – 422 truckloads (9592 tons) of humanitarian aid were transferred to the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom cargo terminal and the Karni conveyor belt.
    – 2.192 million liters of heavy duty diesel for the Gaza power station and 1275 tons of gas for domestic use were delivered via Nahal Oz fuel depot.
    – 214 Gaza residents entered Israel for medical and 180 for humanitarian reasons via Erez Crossing.

    Weekly summary of the Gaza crossings: 28 June – 4 July 2009
    – 550 truckloads (12.435 tons) of humanitarian aid were transferred to the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom cargo terminal and the Karni conveyor belt. One truckload of export goods left the Gaza Strip.
    – 2.287 million liters of heavy duty diesel for the Gaza power station, 300,000 liters for transportation, 30,000 liters of gasoline, and 925 tons of gas for domestic use were delivered via Nahal Oz fuel depot.
    – 275 Gaza residents entered Israel for medical and humanitarian reasons via Erez Crossing.

    All for the free exchange of ideas. Let’s just not let hyperbole get the better of us.


  11. Susan

    Funny, the Gazans pictured in the photo look anything but malnourished. How is this to be explained? On the other hand, some of the Jews fasting in Evanston and elsewhere probably could stand to shed a few pounds. I have nothing in particular against this initiative, but neither do I think it will produce any significant positive results–and the contrary–increased hatred– although certainly counterintuitive, is of course not to be excluded. That’s exactly what happened after Israel evacuated its 8,500 citizens from Gaza, although they left dozens of beautiful greenhouses intact for the Palestinians as a way to begin to feed themselves. The next day, rockets pounded Sderot.

    This lesson, apparently, like so many others like it, has been lost on the world. Hundreds of Gazans will hungrily gooble up your food, but it’s unlikely that they will think better of Israelis for it. You probably do not expect gratitude—but are you ready for the hatred it may unleash? Beware: you are working against the most enracinated of hatreds possible–the hatred of Jewish people.

    Why not brainstorm to find ways to help the Palestinians find ways to help themselves? There isn’t a single constituency in Gaza that has the power to work for the overthrow of their despicable, corrupt, hateful leaders –who use their people as disposable pawns in a genocidal game–and instead seek a path of peace and prosperity. This needs to be changed.This is the challenge for Jews and the world–and it is daunting. It may not be possible.

    I appreciate your offering the opportunity to comment.

  12. Eric Selinger

    For some of your readers, Brant, the Palestinians in Gaza are just as human as the Israelis in Sderot, and for some they simply aren’t. The contempt one hears in some of these comments makes me sick at heart, but it’s an accurate reflection of who and what we’ve become as a people.

    I’m also fascinated by the mix of tones in Susan’s recent post. On the one hand, there’s her mockery of the fat-and-happy Evanston Jews and the ungrateful “gooblers” in Gaza; on the other, her rather wistful hope that we Jews can find a way to empower Palestinians to overthrow Hamas and live happily in eternal exile. (Because, after all, they and their children and their children’s children must never be allowed to return. But hey, it’s about time we got to be on the winning side of a reconquista, isn’t it?)

    And, indeed, perhaps the best way to empower those other Palestinians is to keep them impoverished, unemployed, hungry, and living in the ruins of the last war with Israel, sure in the knowledge that all Jews everywhere stand with Israel in this long siege. It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m sure it will soon.

  13. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


    I took the opportunity to check into the statistics you cited and I noticed you took them word for word from Israel’s Foreign Ministry website. I hardly think this qualifies as an objective source.

    As per Israel’s “weekly” shipment of diesel fuel to Gaza, please read this recent report from Human Rights Watch:

    Israel … continues to restrict supplies of industrial diesel fuel used to generate electricity, keeping Gaza’s only power plant operating at two-thirds capacity and exacerbating Gaza’s already severe electricity shortage. Israel blocked all petrol, diesel, and cooking gas into Gaza between February 8 and 14, OCHA said. Electricity cuts contribute to widespread water access problems.

    Regarding food aid: The World Food Programme estimates that it would take 400 trucks of food per day in order to meet Gaza’s basic nutritional needs. I think this stat offers some critical context against the claims you cite. For those who are interested in less biased reports on the politics of humantarian aid in Gaza, I also recommend the checking out the website of the International Crisis Group – and in particular their report entitled “Unfinished Business.”

    This seems to be Israel’s latest ploy in the propaganda war: not merely to defend the blockade for reasons of security, but now to deny there is even a blockade at all. Please don’t buy into it.

  14. YBD

    I see that you quote “Human Rights Watch” as a supposedly authoritative source, even though they receive considerable funding from Saudi Arabia, but you consider the Israeli Foreign Ministry as “unreliable”. Seems a rather arbitrary distinction to me.

  15. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


    It’s not “arbitrary” at all to consider a human rights organization such as HRW to be more impartial than the government of a sovereign nation. That’s precisely why we have independent human rights monitors in the first place.

    And by the way, it’s not accurate to say HRW receives “considerable funding from Saudi Arabia.” The total amount of their $44 million annual budget is raised from private individuals and foundations. Of that sum, almost 75 percent comes from North America and about 25 percent from Western Europe, with less than 1 percent from all other regions of the world combined.

    For more on their fund raising activity in Saudi Arabia:

  16. Michael Levin

    Press Statement

    UN and International Agencies Fear Gaza Educational System Unprepared for new school year

    Call for immediate opening of Gaza’s borders
    28 July 2009

    Click to access un_ngo_statement_education_and_the_blockade_2009_07_28_english.pdf

    The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, representing UN aid agencies in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), and the Association of International Development Agencies
    (AIDA), represented by at least 25 NGOs, today demand full and unfettered access into and out of Gaza in particular to restore the Gazan educational system.

    During the 23 days of Israel’s operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza, 18 schools were completely destroyed and at least 280 were damaged. Today, one month before the start of the new school year, more than six months after the ceasefires, none of these schools have been properly rebuilt or rehabilitated due to lack of construction materials.

    Since the imposition of the blockade, students have faced chronic shortages of educational supplies including textbooks, paper and uniforms, though we acknowledge
    the recent moves to allow textbooks, uniforms, and stationary into Gaza. These are welcome first steps. However, the quantities, kinds and predictability of goods being permitted into Gaza are still far below what is required for normal life. Even prior to “Cast Lead” the education system was already under severe duress due to the two year
    blockade that has caused a crisis of “human dignity” in Gaza.

    The right to learn and be educated is a fundamental child right that is uniquely central to every child’s ability to realize his or her potential – and by extension, that of their
    communities and countries. In the context of protracted conflict and occupation, safe schools also offer an unparalleled means of restoring a sense of normalcy and hope for children and their families. Despite the extraordinary odds stacked against them, going
    to school and becoming educated remains the single most cherished priority among Palestinian children. The continuing blockade on Gaza jeopardizes this fundamental child right, along with the remarkable progress in education that has been achieved thus far.

    “The blockade has caused untold suffering to children in Gaza, who face another academic year in terrible conditions”, said Philippe Lazzarini, acting Humanitarian
    Coordinator of oPt.

    Together with the communities we serve, the United Nations and non-governmental humanitarian organizations working in oPt collectively call for immediate steps to end the
    blockade, as is required by international humanitarian and human rights law. We call on the Government of Israel to urgently facilitate entry of construction materials and
    supplies for schools in the coming weeks, and to ensure that students, teachers and trainers can freely exit and enter Gaza to continue learning.

    Ensuring access to education is an obligation of all governments, its primacy proclaimed by agreements ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the
    Convention on the Rights of the Child. Education is also the heart of all development and the essential prerequisite for equality, dignity, and lasting peace. The future belongs to
    this generation of children and adolescents, and that future is inextricably rooted in the quality of education that they receive today.



    Click to access un_ngo_fact_sheet_blockade_figures_2009_07_28_english.pdf

    THE NUMBERS: More than half the population of Gaza – 780,578, or 53% – is under the age of 18.

    ACCESS TO EDUCATION: There are 640 schools in Gaza – 383 government schools, 221 UNRWA schools and 36 private schools, which together serve a total of 441,452 students.

    The inability of university and post-graduate level students to travel to pursue academic studies in specialized fields is stifling the intellectual advancement of young adults in Gaza. Between July and September 2008, only 70 students managed to exit Gaza via Erez while hundreds more remained trapped owing to a newly instated diplomatic escort requirement mandated by Israeli authorities.

    More than 1,000 Gazan students apply to universities around the world each year but as there is no official body or channel to coordinate their requests or exits, it is difficult to know how many students want to study abroad this coming year.

    OVERCROWDING: Around 88% of UNRWA schools and 82% of government schools operate on a shift system to accommodate the high number of students. Blockade restrictions have made it difficult to invest in building new schools or repair damaged schools.

    In north Gaza, 9,000 students from 15 damaged schools were accommodated in 73 schools in the same area. 4,000 of them were squeezed in two schools. Some 1,200 secondary students in governmental schools in north Gaza run the risk of not being accommodated in the 2009/2010 school year.

    DECLINING ACHIEVEMENT: In governmental schools, school attendance and performance have declined as a result of ageing education infrastructure, overcrowding, and frequent disruptions caused by military operations. In the first semester of the 2007-2008 school year, only 20% of 16,000 sixth graders in Gaza passed standardized exams in Math, Science, English and Arabic.


    Infrastructure: Operation Cast Lead had devastating consequences for the education system already weakened as a result of the blockade. During the military offensive, at least 280 schools and kindergartens were damaged/ severely damaged, including 18 schools were destroyed (8 government, 2 private and 8 Kindergartens). Six of the destroyed government schools are in North Gaza alone, affecting almost 9,000 students who had to relocate to other schools.

    Six university buildings were destroyed, and 16 were damaged.

    Teachers and Students: According to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), 164 students and 12 teachers from its schools were killed during the Israeli military offensive; 98 of the students killed were from north Gaza. A further 454 students and 5 teachers were injured. A total of 86 children and 3 teachers who attend UNRWA schools were killed, and a further 402 students and 14 teachers were injured. Schoolchildren, thousands of whom lost family members and/or their homes, are still suffering from trauma and anxiety and are in need of psycho-social support and recreational play activities.

    Displacement: At the peak of the offensive, almost 51,000 individuals, among them approximately 28,560 children, had sought refuge in 44 UNRWA schools across Gaza, causing considerable wear and tear on classrooms, sanitation facilities and furniture.

    MATERIALS TO RECONSTRUCT: According to Ministry of Education and Higher Education, it needs to build 105 new schools to cater for yearly increase in student population. Construction materials needed includes items such as 25,000 tons of iron bars, 40,000 tons of cement.

    BRAIN FOOD: Around one-fifth of school children are iodine deficient. The prevalence of anaemia among children 9 – 12 months old of age is 61.6%; and prevalence among pregnant women is around 29%, and 22% of children 12 – 59 months old lack Vitamin A.

    Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, 2009. Total population in Gaza is 1,486,816.

    UNRWA statistics:

    Click to access uif-dec07.pdf

    UNRWAand Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, “Obstacle Course: Students Denied Exit from Gaza,” July 2009. Ministry of Education and Higher Education, 2009
    Save the Children UK, 2008 Child Rights Annual Review.
    MoEHE UNICEF, UNRWA, MOEHE OCHA Nutrition Department / MoH / PNA, 2007 Nutrition Department / MoH / PNA; Nutrition Surveillance System Report, 2007 MoH / PNA and MARAM Project, 2004

  17. Vic Rosenthal

    It’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start by adding back the context that you have left out.

    The premise of your argument is that the conflict is primarily a human rights issue between Israelis and Palestinians. And it follows from this that Israel, which is much more powerful than the Palestinian Authority or Hamas or any other collection of Palestinians, is in control of the conflict. And therefore, the solutions suggested will naturally take the form of Israel granting the Palestinians their ‘rights’.

    What’s wrong with this picture? Simply that the Palestinians are not driving the conflict from their side, although they are essential to it. The conflict is actually between Israel on one side and the Arab states and Iran on the other and has been going at least since the founding of the Jewish state.

    The Palestinian side — on which we also find Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others — is lubricated by the enormous amount of money that the West has pumped into it by our purchase of Arab and Iranian oil. The huge missile buildups in Lebanon and Syria, the persistent rocket attacks from Hamas, the growing nuclear threat from Iran — all of these, and every kind of Palestinian terrorism, are encouraged, supported and financed by the major powers of the Mideast.

    Suddenly, Israel — which is highly vulnerable because of its small size and concentrated population — doesn’t look so comparatively powerful. Yes, it has a nuclear deterrent, but the day it will be used will certainly be a day too late.

    Sure, the Palestinians in Gaza have it tough – although not at all as tough as Hamas wants it to appear (and their situation could change in a minute if Hamas stopped its aggression). But when you put back the context – the continuous war on Israel that the Palestinians are only a small part of – things look different indeed.
    (adapted from a post on my site,

  18. David Sokal

    Very good debate free of personal attacks and full of thoughtful ideas and sincere beliefs, unlike the Talkback thread in response to Rabbi Forman’s article in the Jerusalem Post which often strays from meaningful discourse. Given that the purpose of the fast is to draw attention to the situation in Gaza, I would say that this blog and, to a lesser degree, the Forman article and response to it indicates success.

    I have met a son of Gaza here in the Northwest. He was living with an American family and attending high school. His English was superb. He was finding his classes less than challenging and couldn’t understand why his fellow American students were having such a hard time mastering their lessons. Based on the impression he made during the time we spent together, I believed he was not exaggerating.

    Perhaps he represents the best of Gaza, but I suspect he is not alone.

    As Lot and his sisters fled from Sodom and Gemorrah, Abraham pleaded with G-d to spare these towns if only ten good people could be found. Not exactly an apples to apples comparison with Gaza, but the image of Abraham, father of us Jews and our Ishmaelite half-brothers, searching for even a shred of humanity in these foreigners is one we should take into consideration when dealing with the people of Gaza, and that I hope they take into consideration when dealing with us.

  19. Vic Rosenthal

    David Sokal’s last comment suggests a comparison between God’s punishment of the Sodomites and Israel’s ‘punishment’ of Gazans.
    But Israel’s actions are not punitive: they have been taken to try to stop the aggression of Hamas. Despite much of what has been said here, they are aimed at Hamas and not at the civilian population.
    Organizations like Human Rights Watch have carried on a campaign to demonize the IDF and Israel; for example its recent report on ‘white flag killings’ presents random facts made to look like actual evidence of Israeli crimes in a cynical smear that is no more firmly grounded than the Aftonbladet organ-stealing accusations.
    Of course there are good, innocent people that are hurt by war and strife. Hamas bears most if not all of the responsibility for this.
    There is no doubt in my mind and that of most other Zionists that Palestinian Arabs are human. The suggestion that we think otherwise is insulting.

  20. David Sokal

    Dear Mr. Rosenthal,

    I’m sorry if I insulted you. That was not my intention at all. My intention is to engage your intellect and your heart.

    As you state that you have the wisdom imparted to us in the story about Abraham (to see the humanity of the “enemy”), I have no quarrel with you or any other Zionists that do likewise. Especially considering that I also believe that we Jews have a right to return to and live in peace in our ancient homeland, which I believe makes me a Zionist as well.

    But I question if you are fully committed to the principle conveyed in the story from Genesis, which, at least according to my midrash, asks us to see the humanity in our enemy, not just the innocent civilians, but all of them.

    Abraham asks G-d to spare ALL of Sodom and Gomorrah, even if only a few righteous people are found.

    I know that the vast numbers of Israeli soldiers are good young men and women. I know many of them personally as friends and relatives. But I also know that an attack in a heavily populated area that results in the destruction of civilian infrastructure and lives is not so easily justified as you would like it to be by the bombing of S’derot, anymore then the bombing of S’derot is justified by the lack of justice for the Palestinian people and the material hardships they face. Ultimately, in a sane world, there would be no justification for this sort of endless cycle of violence.

    Furthermore, it is my perspective that Ehud Barak and Tsipi Livney proceeded with this operation at this particular moment not only to protect the Israeli citizenry but to prove they were worthy of elected office by demonstrating their “toughness”. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it was my perception that when Israel pulled out, it made no effort to talk to Hamas in order to obtain concessions re: the security of Israel’s territory in return for guarantees not to violate the security of Gaza.

    As a result, it was no surprise that arms smuggling and shelling resumed almost immediately, while on the Israeli side, the embargo resumed. I assume the shelling and smuggling by Hamas were hampered by the destruction of infrastructure and loss of personnel. However, this is clearly a temporary setback at best. So, what was gained by striking out in anger?

    We can go on and on about who did what and when, like children arguing on the playground. Perhaps that is the way the world really works and we have no choice but to preserve ourselves through violence. Perhaps.

    But Abraham’s demands of G-d, in this classic Jewish struggle with the divine, points to another possibility. Perhaps we are wrong and the path to self-preservation may be exactly the opposite. It may be in seeing the image of ourselves in those we fear most. Naturally, like violence, this process of awakening to the other “takes two to tango”. There was no chance that Hitler would suddenly become sane and so self-preservation required escape, armed resistance, collaboration or simply a combination of great luck and resilience.

    I do not believe that Hamas is Hitler (regardless of what their charter says). Number one, Israel is much more powerful than Hamas. Number two, I believe Hamas has indicated a willingness to negotiate. It recently stated it is willing to work out its differences with Fatah and even recognize them as the rightful leaders of Palestine, as long as they have a place at the table in negotiating a settlement with Israel.

    Humanity must eventually choose non-violence for resolving issues like that between Israel and Palestine. The ever-shrinking planet makes it paramount. Practical steps include talking about peace and reconciliation as if it is a real possibility and then finding partners on the other side that will do the same.

    Many Israelis and Palestinians are already doing this. Given the fringe status of those leading this effort, it is riskier and takes greater courage than promoting fear and rationalizing violence as a reasonable response.

    And many more people exist on both sides of this ancient divide between half-brothers, sons of Ishmael and Ya’akov, waiting to be reconciled to one another.

    The fast for Gaza by Jewish rabbis is an effort to reach out to Palestinians and show them that we are humans and understand the hardships they face and will do what we can to end these hardships. This effort is based on hope, not on fear. Is it naive and irrational? No more than the belief that force will provide more than short term solutions.


  21. Vic Rosenthal

    The invasion of Gaza was seen as the only way to stop the continuous terrorism — rockets, tunnels, incursions — emanating from there. It wasn’t undertaken lightly, and although you probably will scoff at this assertion, more care was taken to avoid civilian casualties than ever before in the history of warfare.
    Your statement about Barak and Livni’s motives is speculative. Consider also the possibility that there could have been a large number of casualties among the Israeli soldiers, something which would have not helped in the election. In my opinion, the Israeli public was not looking for ‘toughness’ but rather for an end to the terrorism and that was the goal of the operation.
    When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, control of the area was given to the PA, which was unable to prevent Hamas terrorism, and was unable to prevent the Hamas takeover in 2007. I don’t see how talking to Hamas at this point would have achieved anything other than legitimizing this racist, terrorist group.
    Why do you think Hamas is different than Hitler? Hitler announced (in Mein Kampf) that he intended to kill Jews and then he did it. Hamas’ charter is clearly antisemitic, no less than Mein Kampf, and they have also done their best to kill Jews. The fact that they claim a willingness to negotiate doesn’t change this. Hitler negotiated at Munich.
    One of Hamas’ main goals is to become part of the PA — indeed to dominate it — so they can have the benefit of the huge amount of Western aid that is flowing through it. To this end they wish to achieve legitimacy, which they gain whenever a legitimate power sits down with them.
    If they want legitimacy, all they have to do is recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept prior agreements. Even Yasser Arafat did this (or said he did).
    You said that Israel is more powerful than Hamas. Yes and no. Israel has power, but is constrained in using it by various factors, some external — like the US pressure that caused Israel to terminate the Gaza operation early without destroying Hamas — and some internal, like the basic humanity that stops Israel from flattening Gaza with airpower and artillery the way the US and Britain did to German cities (not to mention Japan) in WWII.
    Certainly its better to settle differences nonviolently when possible. But that doesn’t mean that it’s always better to negotiate when the other side uses negotiation as a tactic to advance its military aims.
    It’s not an emotional question of hope vs. fear. It’s a question of a rational assessment of Hamas’ goals and tactics, and making a point of leaving out both of these emotional factors which cloud our judgment.
    Yes, they are human. So is the burglar about whom Sanhedrin 72a says “If Someone Comes to Kill You, Rise Up and Kill Him First.”

  22. David Sokal

    Hi Vic – I agree with everything you say except for one: your rational assessment of Hamas based on their charter and other information that you have. Perhaps the charter represents the current thinking of the Hamas leadership (I don’t think any of us can know for sure and I have heard people who have met with Hamas officials get a different impression than the one you have). But even if there is one person in Hamas that has even one iota of influence and who is inclined to think otherwise, it is my preference as an individual, with very little influence over international affairs myself, to sit down with him and discuss non-violent solutions to our problems. I will leave the rising up to kill first to others. I will however, be armed and ready to fight defensively when they cross the border to come and kill me, my family, neighbors and other innocents (I suppose this still might fit within the language of Sanhedrin 72a as it does leave some wiggle room for interpretation).

    My preference: to dig up even the smallest measure of goodwill and hopefully mold that into something more substantial. There are enough politicians, commentators, generals, and others on both sides to worry about military strategy. Admittedly, limited grassroots efforts at peacemaking are more likely to occur when the peacemakers are protected by warriors. But I don’t see any hypocrisy in taking this position. Both eventually are headed in the same direction (the security of their community). Even the government sends out diplomats to secretly negotiate in times of conflict to see if there are openings for a peaceful resolution. I don’t see why those of us who do what we can as lowly citizens can’t play similar roles. See my website to see what I am doing in my role as a “citizen diplomat”. Not quite the same as the fast for Gaza, but along similar lines of thinking. I’d be happy to hear your thoughtful critique of my venture as well. Thanks for the conversation Vic! So far it has been very engaging. David

  23. Vic Rosenthal

    Regarding the Hamas covenant: if they don’t believe it, why don’t they change it? It would get them a shot at legitimacy and aid money.

    Even if they did dump the silly stuff about the Lions clubs and the quaint antisemitism (“the Jews started WWI”) I think they are very serious when they say that “all Palestine is an Islamic Waqf”.

    You write,
    “Both eventually are headed in the same direction (the security of their community).”

    I think this is false in the case of Hamas. Their primary goal is to get the Jews out of their waqf. If this was not so, then why won’t they take the few simple steps needed to gain international acceptance?

    I can say this about your olive oil business: it certainly won’t hurt the cause of peace. But until political issues like recognition of Israel as a Jewish state are solved, there won’t be peace.

    By the way, yesterday you said “Israel is stronger than Hamas”. I wrote a long response to this on my blog,

  24. David Sokal

    Hi Vic –

    Point by point here are my thoughts:
    1) As I said, if even one member of Hamas has doubts about the charter, especially the Islamic Waqf part, I will talk to him or her. Even if they do hold to that part of the charter, but disagree with the parts that are anti-Jewish, and are willing to talk and listen, I will talk and listen to them. AND, even if they hold to the parts that are anti-Jewish, but are willing to talk and listen, i will reciprocate. My bottom line is, whatever the person believes, are they willing to try and resolve issues non-violently. Over time, listening and talking are habit forming, just as shooting and bombing are.
    2) By “both are headed in the same direction” I meant the warriors and the peacemakers in either camp. For example, you and I both are working for peace for our people. We just have different visions of how to get there and probably different visions of what peace will look like. Are there any peacemakers in the Hamas camp? I don’t know. People have said there were none in the Fatah camp or among the Palestinians altogether. I do know for a fact that that is not true.
    3) Do a majority of Israelis require that Israel be recognized as a “Jewish” state? Probably. But there are many that are beginning to recognize that given the inevitable contradictions inherent in a Jewish State in which the majority of citizens are secular Jews, and a goodly number of whom are non-Jews, (especially if you include the territories), some day we may have to give up the Jewish State in order to embrace a truly democratic and just Israel. Personally, I favor a Jewish State in our ancient homeland where the vast majority speak Hebrew. I love the language and have a deep sense of awe at it’s reawakening. I also love the land itself. I would hate to see that diminished. I also was raised as a Zionist and have that undercurrent of anxiety of a Galut Jew deeply embedded in my soul. But in the end, a just state that treats all citizens equally is a higher priority. Israel is as multi-ethnic as a country can be. This is one of its strengths. For the most part all the minority groups are well treated. But it is far from perfect. And, if we include the territories, is anything but perfect. We should also recognize that Hamas is not the only one with an international image problem. I don’t see all the nations jumping at the opportunity to defend Israel as a Jewish State, as Obama recently did. Even non-Muslim states strongly condemn the occupation and question the concept of a Jewish State. A lot of people still don’t understand the concept of a Jewish People. I hear Americans all the time criticize Israel as a theocracy and I have to explain that Jews are the same as Italians, Germans or French, but admittedly it isn’t that simple.
    4) I am a believer in the idea that change comes from the bottom and from the top. It is a feedback loop, especially in a democracy, but also in non-democratic societies although to a lesser degree. The more that Israelis and Palestinians realize we can partner with one another in positive ways in everyday activities, the more that both people will be inclined to press for change in their leadership. Given the entrenched and corrupted nature of politics on both sides (and admittedly on the Palestinian side it is a horrific situation), this process may take a long time. Maybe even one-hundred years. That is what I call looking to the future (to say the least). I am already seeing a difference in the attitudes of many younger Israelis and Palestinians especially the more secular ones. They have a more global outlook and the old entrenched ways don’t attract them so much any more. Some of it is not so good. Hopefully the trend for many younger Israelis to support the positions of Avigdor Lieberman is a passing phase. Talk about an image problem …
    Thanks for taking a look at my website. I’ll check out your blog and learn more about your view on Hamas.
    Best Regards, David

  25. Vic Rosenthal

    The view that every problem is amenable to solution by talking and compromising is a popular one in liberal Western societies. I don’t believe that; you apparently do.

    In my opinion, a Jewish state, which you have correctly indicated does not need to be a theocracy, is consistent with a just state that treats citizens equally. Yes, there is room for improvement in Israel in this regard. What it cannot do is satisfy the nationalist aspirations of non-Jewish peoples, no matter how just it is.

    But I don’t see that as our job. That’s why the Palestinians want to create a Palestinian Arab state.

  26. Eric Selinger


    It’s true that for some, this fast is part of a larger desire to see all problems as solvable by talk and compromise.

    There’s another way to look at it–or, more broadly, at the sort of initiative and protest that it represents.

    In an op-ed piece today (9/11), two Marine Corps commanding officers (a commandant and a former commander in chief of US central command) write the following:

    “As our leaders work to prevent terrorists from again striking on our soil, they should remember the fundamental precept of counterinsurgency we’ve relearned in Afghanistan and Iraq: Undermine the enemy’s legitimacy while building our own. These wars will not be won on the battlefield. They will be won in the hearts of young men who decide not to sign up to be fighters and young women who decline to be suicide bombers. If Americans torture and it comes to light — as it inevitably will — it embitters and alienates the very people we need most.”

    It may be that this counterinsurgency model does not apply to the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, but what if it does? Efforts to reach out to the other side, person to person or community to community, aren’t necessarily about compromising with extremists and hoping that they’ll return the favor. They could also be seen as efforts to undermine the legitimacy of a very real enemy, and building our own.

    In which case, even someone who supported the military campaign and the blockade in Gaza could see the value, perhaps, in the protests against them. Not cynically, but as a necessary second front in a very long, very complex undertaking.

    Just a thought.

  27. David Sokal

    Hi Eric,

    Very well put. And it is more than just a thought. Judging by the Fast for Gaza as one of many examples, numerous people are already putting that thought into action.


  28. Pingback: Israelis, Jews join civil protests against occupation; time for Americans to take second look at US support for Israel « Zatar and Spinach

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