A witness to an Israeli whitewash of Gaza

Recently I attended a presentation on the effects of the Gaza invasion on Israel’s future.
It was given by a well-known rabbi from Israel at a synagogue near Annapolis, Maryland. The rabbi who spoke is the founder of a wonderful organization called “Rabbis for Human Rights” which does excellent work in the occupied territories. They defend against further Palestinian land seizures and the destruction of Palestinian-owned olive groves and orchards by militant Israeli settlers in the Occupied West Bank.

I was not sure what to expect. The presentation was entitled “The Implications of Gaza”.
The audience of about eighty people was composed of mainly members of the congregation, as there were very few outsiders like me in attendance.

I listened intently to the rabbi’s expose of the reasons for the Israeli invasion and its so-called moral justification. Knowing of the work of his organization in Palestine, I held out some hope that it would be a candid and honest recounting of the immorality of what the Israeli government had done. I expected to hear accounts of the brutality of the invasion and the wanton Israeli destruction of homes, schools and even a U.N. food distribution center, and the murder of over 1400 Palestinians, the majority of whom were non-combatant civilians who had no place to take safe refuge from the indiscriminate Israeli military’s shooting and bombing. The rabbi mentioned none of those details.
I was sorely disappointed indeed.

This articulate and intelligent man, with intimate knowledge of the daily humiliation and harassment that has become routine for Palestinians under occupation, proceeded to offer a white-washing justification. His rationale was that Israelis acted in an ethical way. The asymmetry of the number of deaths on each side was dismissed because of what the rabbi called the balance of the threat posed to neighboring Israeli towns who suffered under the threat of Hamas rocket fire. His audience frequently nodded their heads in approving affirmation of what seemed to them obvious and correct moral justification.

Make no mistake. I do not condone the indiscriminate use of the crude, home-made rockets by Hamas militants to terrorize Israelis living near Gaza. These rockets weaken the moral legitimacy of the Palestinian position in the eyes of most of the world’s witnesses to Israeli terror and oppression. Palestinians would be better served by peaceful resistance that garners the support of other nations who can attempt to compel Israel to change its immoral policies.

It was excruciating for me to sit through this myopic and very one-sided vision of recent history. As an Arab-American who has read too many gut-wrenching, eyewitness accounts, and looked at too many heart breaking photos of bleeding and burning flesh in Gaza, I was bursting with the urge to stand up and interrupt the rabbi. To sit silently and politely in such a gathering and just listen to this testimony was like torture for me. Because the images of slaughter of so many Palestinians were so skillfully blocked from any mainstream American television viewers’ eyes, I knew that I must be measured in my responses. Anything too graphic that I might describe during the ensuing question and answer period could easily seem, to this audience of mostly liberal Jewish Americans, like just hysterical Arab hyperbole and exaggeration.

When the rabbi finally concluded and invited the audience to pose questions, I took my time. I waited for a few supportive questioners to take their turns first. Then I raised my hand, and after being acknowledged by him, I stood and said: “Rabbi, I am a guest in this synagogue, and I am an Arab-American. I want you to know that I respect you as a rabbi,
and I respect you more for the noble work of the organization that you founded to assist Palestinians to regain their rights. But I must say that your presentation avoided much of the truth of what happened in Gaza last January”.

He allowed me to make some statements of fact and list the gruesome statistics of Palestinian casualties. But it was clear that he would not allow me to continue for long, and he cut off my questions by acknowledging other raised hands. It was so frustrating to have my voice silenced, but I promised myself that I would remain courteous and respectful in this Jewish house of worship. My goal was to somehow spark some interest among the audience to hear an alternative narrative to what this rabbi had described.

As the session ended some congregants thanked me for attending and expressed an interest in meeting some other time to talk about Gaza. Then the real payoff came. The resident rabbi from this synagogue approached me at the rear of the temple and thanked me for coming. He said that he would be glad to meet with me sometime privately to talk after Passover.

I welcomed that opportunity. I told him that I had several Israeli friends who were active in their peace movement, including some who have refused to serve in the Israeli military inside the occupied territories. I suggested that his congregation deserved to hear their voices as well. He said he would discuss that with me later.

Hopefully, this is just the first chapter of this story. I will report chapter two to you if and when it occurs. My hope is to enlighten the members of this synagogue with a very different narrative soon. It will be presented by a panel of witnesses whom they will consider very credible, i.e. Jewish-American and Israeli activists who will bear witness to the immorality of the actions of the Israeli military. Stay tuned for more….InShallah.

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About George Gorayeb

George is a long-time political activist, former Peace Corps Volunteer, and US State Dept. foreign service officer. He was born in New Jersey and lives near Annapolis, Maryland. George is currently the Vice Chair of the National Board of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee(ADC) in Washington, DC., and former board chair of the Nat. Association of Arab-Americans (NAAA). He has published columns on the Mideast conflict and Arab-Jewish dialogue groups. George co-founded the Mideast Peace Project.

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