Hanukkah in March: Light a Candle for Gaza

Last December, on the third anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, Rabbi Alissa Wise and I submitted an article to the Washington Post in which we asked the public to mark this occasion by lighting a Hanukkah candle for Gaza. The piece was edited further and we were told that it would run in WaPo’s online “On Faith” section.

At the eleventh hour, one day before our piece was to run, we were asked to make some more substantive edits in ways that would have significantly altered the message of the article. Unlike the earlier changes, these weren’t editorial tweaks – they were all too familiar pro-Cast Lead talking points.

Alissa and I rejected the last minute demands, and offered even more links to substantiate our claims. In the meantime, Hanukkah came and went and ultimately the piece never ran.

Fast forward to last week: blogger Phil Weiss had learned about the whole sad story and wrote a short post about it on Mondoweiss. After reading it, I got in touch with him and gave him the full background. M’weiss posted the complete story today, complete with the text of WaPo’s censored version.

So click below to read the article that never saw the light of day. Not seasonally appropriate any more, but still sadly relevant.

Light a Candle for Gaza
By Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Alissa Wise

On the morning of December 27, 2008, the sixth day of Hanukkah, Israel initiated a massive military assault against Gaza with “Operation Cast Lead.” The name of the operation was a reference to a popular Hanukkah song written by the venerated Israeli poet Chaim Nachman Bialik: “My teacher gave a dreidel to me/A dreidel of cast lead.”

When Israel’s military actions ended on January 18, some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed. Among the dead were hundreds of unarmed civilians, including over 300 children.

Personal testimonies from the Palestinians who lived through Cast Lead in Gaza indicate the profoundly tragic consequences of Israel’s military assault. Here is one such account – excerpted from Amnesty International’s 2009 Report, “Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction”:

After Sabah’s house was shelled I ran over there. She was on fire and was holding her baby girl Shahed, who was completely burned. Her husband and some of the children were dead and others were burning. Ambulances could not come because the area was surrounded by the Israeli army.

We put some of the injured in a wagon tied to the tractor to take them to hospital. My nephew Muhammad (Sabah’s son) picked up his wife, Ghada, who was burning all over her body, and I took her little girl, Farah, who was also on fire. My nephew Muhammad-Hikmat drove the tractor and my son Matar and my nephews ‘Omar and ‘Ali also came with us and took the body of baby Shahed and two other bodies. Sabah and the other wounded were put into a car; other relatives were also leaving. We drove toward the nearest hospital, Kamal
‘Adwan hospital.

As we got near the school, on the way to al-‘Atatrah Square we saw Israeli soldiers and stopped, and suddenly, the soldiers shot at us. My son Matar and Muhammad- Hikmat were killed. The soldiers made us get out of the wagon. I ran away with ‘Ali and ‘Omar, who had also been shot and were injured. Muhammad, Ghada and Farah were allowed to go on but only on foot and the soldiers did not allow them to take the dead.

This Hanukkah, how will we Jews choose to commemorate a legacy such as this? Many of us will invariably retreat behind a veil of defensiveness, claiming Israel’s action was an appropriate, commensurate response to the threat posed by Hamas. Some of us might be troubled, but choose to look away from the hard and painful reality of this bloodshed. Still others may simply allow Gaza to become subsumed by the sheer volume of world crises that seem to call out for our attention.

This Hanukkah, however, we are asking the Jewish community to light a candle for Gaza.

After all, this is the season in which we rededicate our determination to create light amidst the darkness. And quite frankly, the time is long overdue for the American Jewish community to shine a light on the dark truth of “Operation Cast Lead.”

Indeed, we have been deeply complicit in keeping this truth away from the light of day. Two years later, Israel still refuses to conduct a credible, transparent and independent investigation of its actions in Gaza. The sole attempt at such a proper investigation, the Goldstone Report, was successfully blackballed and eventually quashed under a campaign spearheaded by the Israeli and the US governments – and largely supported by the American Jewish establishment.

This Hanukkah, we would also do well to shine a light on the larger context of the reality in Gaza. We cannot forget that Israel’s military assault occurred in the midst of a crushing blockade that Israel has imposed upon Gaza since January 2006.

As a result of this collective punishment:

– 80% of the Gazan population is dependent on international aid.

– 61% of the population is food insecure.

– The unemployment rate is approximately 39%, one of the highest in the world.

– Power outages usually last 4-6 hours a day and often longer.

– 60% of the population receives running water only once every 4 or 5 days, for 6-8 hours.

– 50 to 80 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are released into the sea every day.

– Approximately 90% of water supplied to Gaza residents is not suitable for drinking and is contaminated with salt and nitrates.

– 78% of homes with major damages from Operation Cast Lead have not been rebuilt.

Despite Israel’s claims to the contrary, its blockade remains very much in force. According to highly detailed research conducted by the Israeli NGO Gisha, Israel consistently lets through less than half of the required truckloads of essential goods mandated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Just weeks ago, European Union foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton, speaking on behalf of all EU foreign ministers commented, “At the present time, we think that what’s happened with Gaza is unsatisfactory, the volume of goods is not increasing as significantly as it needs to.”

The most tangible way we can light a candle for Gaza is to support those who refuse to allow this crisis to remain the darkness. The most courageous example: the movement of civilian flotillas that seek to break the blockade with symbolic humanitarian cargo. The most recent flotilla tragically gained international attention last May when the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was seized by Israeli commandos in a raid that left eight unarmed Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American citizen dead. (A recent report on the assault by a UN fact-finding mission said Israeli soldiers used “lethal force” in a “widespread and arbitrary manner, which caused an unnecessarily large number of persons to be killed or seriously injured,” and “carried out extralegal, arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law.”)

Despite this tragedy (or perhaps because of it), the flotilla movement is growing steadily. Here in the US, a group of peace activists is seeking to add the first American boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” which they intend to launch next spring as part of an international flotilla from over a dozen European, Asian and North American countries.

The US Boat to Gaza organizing statement asserts:

“The Audacity of Hope” will be a passenger ship with approximately 40-60 Americans on board including a 4-5 member crew and a small number of press and media professionals. We will not carry more than symbolic cargo: just as the students who sat in at Woolworth counters in the 1960s were not doing so because they wanted lunch, our voyage will be an act of civil disobedience and non-violent challenge to an illegal blockade rather than a mission to import humanitarian cargo. By the same token, one of our objectives will be to transport two Gazan graduate students who have been invited to visit and speak at a US university, but who have been prevented from leaving Gaza by the Israeli and Egyptian governments. Additionally, we plan to bring out Gazan products, which “Stand for Justice” is purchasing from a Gazan company.

For those who seek justice in Gaza, the courageous activists who are willing to put their own bodies on the line are immensely deserving of our support.

On Hanukkah, the festival that enshrines the ongoing human struggle for freedom, the season that seeks to shed light on the dark places of our world, it is time for us to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.

It is time for us to light a candle for Gaza.

10 thoughts on “Hanukkah in March: Light a Candle for Gaza

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      Not another point of view so much as a distraction. Niggling over casualty numbers is just an attempt to draw attention away from the essential injustice of what Israel perpetrated during Cast Lead.

      Having said this, Gordon’s point that Hamas’ numbers are not reliable is well taken. I’d only add that the IDF’s numbers are severely suspect as well. From B’tselem:

      According to the military, a total of 295 Palestinians who were “not involved” in the fighting were killed. As the military refused to provide B’Tselem its list of fatalities, a comparison of names was not possible. However, the blatant discrepancy between the numbers is intolerable.

      In the end, I’m much more inclined to believe numbers that come from human rights monitors such as B’tselem or Amnesty International than a Commentary Magazine blogger whose bio says:

      Evelyn Gordon immigrated to Israel in 1987, immediately after obtaining her degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University, and has worked as a journalist and commentator in Israel since 1990.

  1. Jordan Goodman

    Shalom Rav and All,

    You write: “In the end, I’m much more inclined to believe numbers that come from human rights monitors such as B’tselem or Amnesty International than a Commentary Magazine blogger whose bio says: ‘Evelyn Gordon immigrated to Israel in 1987, immediately after obtaining her degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University, and has worked as a journalist and commentator in Israel since 1990.'”

    You dismiss Evelyn Gordon as well as the IDF as not credible resources
    You accept “B’tselem.” The link below (provided by Lisa Pildes responding to a previous post) suggests that there may be a problem with B’tselem’s credibility. http://bit.ly/gaDsJg

    B’sofo shel hadavar (In the end), this is really about which narrative one chooses to embrace and thus which (re)sources will affirm said narrative.
    And of course, your readers will decide for themselves.

    Shabbat Shalom/Shavu’a Tov to all us,

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      Whatever “narrative” we choose to embrace, we would do better to trust independent human rights monitors such as B’tselem than partisan journals such as Commentary or Israel-defense organizations such as CAMERA (let alone the IDF – the party actually accused of these human rights violations.)

      1. Richard Kahn

        Do you really consider B’tselem to be non-partisan? I find it difficult to deny that both Commentary and B’tselem have agendas.

      2. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

        I certainly agree that all institutions have agendas either articulated or unarticulated. But “partisan” is a very different story. Commentary is a partisan, neo-conservative journal. B’stelem is an independent human rights organization that uses universally accepted criteria when it investigates allegations of human rights abuse.

        From the B’tselem website:

        B’Tselem ensures the reliability of its information through independent fieldwork and rigorous research, the results of which are thoroughly cross-checked with relevant documents, official government sources, and information from other sources, among them Israeli, Palestinian, and other human rights organizations. B’Tselem includes responses from the relevant authorities in its reports whenever we get them, so you can evaluate both our findings and those of the government and make your own judgment.

  2. Marc Trius

    In our house we lit candles fueled by an olive oil called Al-Ard, or The Land, which is made by Palestinians in the West Bank. We joked that it was guaranteed made a week’s journey from the Temple Mount.

    To Mr. Goodman, who likes to use Hebrew to spice his comments up a bit:
    האמין למי שאתה רוצה. הבעיה היא לא במספּרים, אלא בעובדות; מה, 300 זה בסדר ו-1000 לא? זה אפֿילו לא סדר גודל! בצלם לא צריכים לזייף נתונים, וצה”ל כן צריכים — וזוהי כל ההוכחה הדרושה.

    For the benefit of Mr. Kahn, a translation:
    Believe whom you want. The problem is not with numbers, but with facts; what, 300 is ok but 1000 is not? It’s not even an order of magnitude! B’tselem don’t need to falsify data, the IDF does — and that’s all the necessary proof.

    Marc Trius, Minneapolis, formerly Haifa.

    1. Jordan Goodman

      Shalom Marc and All,

      Here’s what the NGO monitor has to say about B’tselem.


      If they’re not credible then indeed this is about which narrative one chooses to embrace and thus which (re)sources will affirm said narrative. And of course, the readers of this blog will decide for themselves.


      1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

        Come on now, Jordan. NGO Monitor is an Israel defense organization. Let’s get real here.

        It’s exceedingly cynical to say people should embrace a “narrative” and only secondarily choose resources to support it. Whatever one’s point of view, one needs to start with credible evidence. And an independent human rights agency is by definition more credible than a partisan Israel advocacy group.

        Time to end the spitting match…

  3. Jordan Goodman

    Shalom Rav and All,

    So….B’tselem some Palestinians and some other select sources are “Torah from Mt. Sinai,” regarding the facts on the ground in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. The IDF, a Commentary blogger, Hamas itself, and NGO Monitor are not valid reporters/interpreters of those same facts on the ground.

    It looks like the opinions of some who identify with Progressive Judaism are actually Fundamentalist in nature. Please help me understand where I might be wrong here.

    Shabbat Shalom/Shavu’a Tov



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