Since Israel’s assault on Gaza, I’ve been awash in grief, rage, and horror at the brutal genocide of people in Gaza and the bland lies Israel (and our governments) offer to justify the slaughter. A close Palestinian friend told me her cousin in Gaza got his legs and one arm blown off. Her family here in Canada is reeling with grief and fear. Others have lost entire families. In less than three weeks, Israel has destroyed 40% of already crowded Gaza and bombed hospitals and UN shelters, and tightened the siege. So people in Gaza feel (are) like fish in a barrel with nowhere safe to run, without electricity, safe water, or food, and constantly expecting a bomb to land on them.
Last night, I went to a vigil for the (at that moment) 1,400 dead attended by over 100 mostly Palestinian people and a few of us allies, including me and one other Jew. We stood at the Human Rights Monument under a large sculpture engraved with the opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” On the monument steps, 12 Palestinian children held large display posters carrying photos of other beautiful children, all killed—some of them, their own family members. One child holding a poster, about 3 years old, was so short, I could only see the top of her head.
A woman standing next to me in the crowd told me she’s a refugee from Gaza. Thankfully, she said, she had just gotten a call from her cousins saying, so far, they are all safe. A boy about 10 years old, went to the microphone to say through tears that seven of his cousins had been killed yesterday. As a Jew, I was invited to speak and my words were respectfully received. After the short speeches, subdued with dignified grief, young Palestinians took turns reading the names, ages, and home cities of the 1,400 dead. It took well over an hour to read all those names, as we stood silently, many holding candles, all grieving. Even the youngsters holding the posters stood patiently. One little girl finally sat down, but continued to hold her sign steady. Many the victims named were infants or small children. I felt overwhelmed by horror. It felt like I was attending a gruesome high school graduation, with the endless litany of names. But this time it wasn’t to celebrate launching young lives, but to grieve and honor what they will never become. I found myself thinking, “The organizers shouldn’t traumatize these children by making them witness all these deaths.” But then I realized that, of course, these children and their parents and grand-parents have grown up with the trauma of expulsion and death imposed by my Jewish people. The living children stood behind the posters of the dead children, dry-eyed and dignified, familiar with the fragility of life. They understand that these dead needed to be named, to affirm that they were not faceless enemies, but people with families and friends who cherished them, that their lives had had value, and that their deaths were unjustified murders.
I thought about the beloved children in my family—Emily, Leela, Ria, Teegan, Jamie, Cameron, Isobel, Maggie, Molly, even my grown son, David and his cousins, Tanya, Heather, and Jason (who will always be “my kids” to me). I couldn’t bear for any of them to be subjected to these atrocities. Why would I condone my people subjecting other people’s children to demonization, terror, destruction, maiming, and death? My father was an international lawyer, who worked on creating a system of universal international law which was intended to prevent this sort of genocide from happening to anyone? He had also celebrated the creation of a Jewish state, which was, we were told, going to be moral light unto the nations. I think he would be rolling in his grave if he could see to what moral depths Israel has sunk. In fact, I have since learned, from its inception, Israel was founded on expelling and killing Palestinian people. We were all sold a pack of pretty lies and made complicit in a slow and violent genocide of another people. It’s time for Jews to wean ourselves from the false belief that oppressing and killing others will protect us. It’s time for us to stand with our Palestinian sisters and brothers and children for justice—an end to the occupation and the siege of Gaza.