Tragedy in Gaza: Reckoning with Root Causes

Cross-posted with Tikkun Daily

It’s happening again.

As of this writing, Israel has dropped 800 tons of explosives on Gaza, a strip of land roughly the size of Detroit. The official death toll currently stands at 81, the majority of whom are civilians and half of whom are women and children.

Yes, it’s happening again, and like the similar military onslaughts in 2008/9 and 2012, we’re hearing the same tired talking points from Israeli politicians, the US State Department spokespeople and the American Jewish communal establishment – all variations on the theme of “Well, they started it.” And like before, the suggestion that we examine the larger context of this carnage is tragically lost amidst the noise of the literal and figurative bomb-throwing.

But of course, anyone who is truly interested in seeking a real and lasting solution would do well to look at root causes. In the most immediate sense, that means reckoning seriously with what Forward Editor-at -Large JJ Goldberg has called the “foundation of politics and lies” propagated by Israeli politicians and military leaders that led straight to a “war that nobody wanted — not the army, not the government, not even the enemy, Hamas.”

In the larger context, it means recognizing that this war is but the latest instance of Israel’s “mowing the lawn” in Gaza – a strategy in which Israel shows Hamas who’s boss by way of massive military onslaughts every few years. The most unguardedly honest expression of this strategy was expressed by Israeli journalist Gilad Sharon (son of Ariel) back in 2012:

There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

And in the ultimate sense, it means admitting that this latest injustice is irrevocably connected to an injustice that occurred decades ago. when scores of Palestinians were driven from their cities and villages in the coastal plain and lower Galilee and warehoused in the tiny Gaza strip. By all accounts, most were simply too overwhelmed to realize what was happening. The ones who tried to return to their homes were termed “infiltrators” and were killed on sight. Others resisted by staging raids in the newly declared state of Israel. Sometimes they succeeded, more often they did not. Either way, Israel decided early on that it would respond to each of these reprisals with a overwhelming military show of force.

In some sense, you might say Israel has been “mowing the lawn” ever since. If there could be any doubt, just read this famous 1956 eulogy given by General Moshe Dayan for a young kibbutznik named Ro’i Rotenberg, who was killed by Gazans who had crossed over the border into Israel:

Do not today besmirch the murderers with accusations. Who are we that we should bewail their mighty hatred of us?  For eight years they sit in refugee camps in Gaza, and opposite their gaze we appropriate for ourselves as our own portion the land and the villages in which they and their fathers dwelled…

This we know: that in order that the hope to destroy us should die we have to be armed and ready, morning and night. We are a generation of settlement, and without a steel helmet and the barrel of a cannon we cannot plant a tree and build a house. Our children will not live if we do not build shelters, and without a barbed wire fence and a machine gun we cannot pave a road and channel water. The millions of Jews that were destroyed because they did not have a land look at us from the ashes of Israelite history and command us to take possession of and establish a land for our nation. (Translation, Michael Shalom Kochin, 2009)

Those who are ready and willing to reckon with root causes must not be content to simply accept these bi-annual military onslaughts as simply the price of Jewish nationhood. Israel will never become, as its national anthem would have it, “a free people in its own land” until it deals squarely with the injustices that led to its birth – and have tragically continued until this very day.

In this regard we can take heart in the small but intrepid cadre of Israelis who have the courage to shine a bright light on this larger context. Take a look at the clip from the modest, yet courageous rally in Tel Aviv, in which protesters stood down angry motorists while holding up a large banner that read “The Occupation Murders Us All.” Read this powerful post by Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf entitled “Why I Object to This Military Campaign, Even as Missiles Fall on My City,” in which he compares the West Bank to a “minimum security facility” and Gaza to “a maximum security prison.”

And finally, read and consider signing on to this recent Open Letter released by Jewish Voice for Peace that urges us to “face the root cause of this crisis”:

In this time of tremendous suffering and fear, from Jerusalem to Gaza, and from Hebron to Be’er Sheva, we reaffirm that all Israelis and Palestinians deserve security, justice, and equality, and we mourn all those who have died.

Our unshakeable commitment to freedom and justice for all compels us to acknowledge that this violence has fallen overwhelmingly on Palestinians. And it compels us to affirm that this violence has a root cause: Israel’s illegal occupation.

We are united in our belief that:

The denial of Palestinian human rights must end.
Illegal settlements must end.
Bombing civilians must end.
Killing children must end.
Valuing Jewish lives at the expense of others must end.

Only by embracing equality for all peoples can this terrible bloodshed end.

15 thoughts on “Tragedy in Gaza: Reckoning with Root Causes

  1. seekingtowalkinfaithfulness

    Dear Rabbi Rosen, I want to thank you for your posts and for your recent book. I am presently serving as a reservist with CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) in Hebron. As you know, your courageous voice is joined by many in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and also with many international voices who seek nonviolent ways to peace among God’s creation: Peace for all whom God has created in God’s image and likeness.

  2. Dan webber

    As an outsider looking in,I find a understandable dichotomy of the views in what’s happening in the Middle East .what I can not fathom is why the Palestinians continue to fight Israel in the same totally self defeating this rate the dispute can last if I were a genius or better yet ,Solomon I would come up with a the risk of repeating myself,and although I am either a genius or it is.the Palestinians stand down,stop all incitement and a halt to this stupid back and forth.try to live peaceably,hopefully over time the Israeli public will relax and relent their harsh control .best of all with a peaceful quiet covering the area,the Israeli liberals will come to power.after that maybe peace can be achieved.heck it’s worth a least nobody gets killed with my plan

    1. Birch Burghardt

      Dan Webber–I wonder if you know what kinds of incitement and violence really come from Palestinians and what they do to warrant the violence that is done to them? It appears to me that they have done what you ask for in spades, but without much credit for what they do. Their peaceful protests are met with violence by the IDF again and again. And then, we hear a great deal about the very few actions toward Israel and Israelis that Palestinians (perhaps) have brought about and not much about the much, much more active and aggressive actions by the Israelis toward people who are often clearly innocent. This makes me incredibly grateful for the brave and truthful reports and analysis that a few of our leaders, like Brant, have offered.

      1. Dan webber

        Birch…the problems the Palestinians are facing did not happen overnight,there has been almost 100 yrs of riots murders and turmoil ..while folks can argue who is the most at fault..we are in the moment,my point is that if ALL the protests,even the so called peaceful ones,a complete stop to official incitement .hopefully the Israelis would react in kind..there can be no question that the Palestinians have legitimate concerns.what I would like to think that if a sort of quiet took place,over some years the more liberal elements in Israel would then come to power and help alleviate those concerns…I big order indeed

  3. gwpj

    Reblogged this on Musings by George Polley and commented:
    The root causes, as Rabbi Rosen says, are foundational in resolving these murderous conflicts that occur on a daily basis throughout Israel/Palestine. I consider this article basic to understanding the situation, and presenting a viable way to resolve it.

  4. gwpj

    Thank you, Rabbi Rosen, for writing and posting this. Perhaps someone in the White House or the State Department will read it and hear what you have to say. (That’s a long shot, but worth a hope at lease.)

  5. 2skipper

    Thank Brant for posting this. in the last days my wall on facebook was completely out of control. I looked like a press realeas for some time as people seemed to be frustated frightened and my wall became a news alert. what the thing that I hoped fro most was that everyone especially those who have total support toward Israel no matter what could see the damage in more human form. unfortunately outside of a few from both sides most were ver yhate filled with death as the calling card. I grieve for all that has been lost to those who try to live a life of peace and not get caught in the web of hate. I know this is so complicated and I sure do not know all the answers but I fro one do not want to look at another dead child or be told everyone in Israel are vermin and need to die.

  6. John

    Your comments neglect to address the basic issue of the double standard. Nowhere do I hear you talk of the 40 million refugees from India/Pakistan, or the refugees from World War II; you hear little of any other refugee groups except the “Palestinians,” who receive as no one else does a disproportionate amount of aid from other countries and the UN. Why? Well, maybe it’s because their “brethren,” have refused to allow them to be resettled with other descendants of the Arabian peninsula, and so they suffer and swelter in refugee camps throughout the Middle East. Nowhere are they allowed to become citizens; in many countries their educations and livelihoods are severely restricted. There are far more Syrian refugees now than there were ever “Palestinian” refugees, and that’s a place you can start to cry over if you like. Then move to Jordan, an artificial entity if there ever was one, and attempt to broach a discussion about its “legitimacy.” Perhaps after that you can bemoan the fate of Lebanese Christians, or perhaps all Christians in Arab lands….

  7. Dan webber

    After reading the Palestinian press. …it seems that the Palestinians are taking quite a bit of pride in the depth and scope of the Hamas rocket attacks..considering the lack of damage,and the pounding and deaths they are getting in return..could it be that to them losing is winning?

    1. John

      Absolutely. They take pride in “victimhood,” and relish the fact that cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face actually works for them, and pocket the aid (in billions) that was to go to their people in the meantime.

  8. Pingback: Did he who made the lamb make thee? | Neil's Commonplace Book

  9. Mary Villanueva

    I read about you on facebook & I read some of your thoughts here on your blog. I just want to say, thank you!!!! Thank you so much for being human first….religion (I feel) should never make any human being blind to the injustices committed around the world against our fellow human beings for reasons that are not actually religiously motivated. It is a much bigger & longer story.

  10. Navaid

    sir, I Heard About You in trib. I am from Chicago and I say the stance you have taken gives me hope about humanity. I know it must be incredibly heard, and many voices of anger and insults hurled at you, many of which may be from people you know and respect. It takes a lot of moral courage. You should know you have my deepest respect.


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