Monday, November 19, 2012

Emergency Gaza Rally - A Jewish Perspective

An emergency rally for the people of Gaza was held in Edmonton on November 17. Organized by the Edmonton Coalition Against War & Racism (ECAWAR) and the Palestine Solidarity Network, the rally joined others that have been taking place around the world over the past few days in light of Israeli aggression against Gaza. What else can the world expect - there is an election coming up in Israel, and Netanyahu has to play the big man now, responding with force far times greater than the rockets being fired into Israel. While I certainly don't agree with aggression on either side of this conflict, it is hard for me to understand the concept of Israel's argument of self-defense. When a people who are under an illegal and inhumane blockade rise up in arms against those who put them in that situation, the argument that Israel is defending itself it almost ridiculous.

I was asked to speak on behalf of Independent Jewish Voices as well as sing. Unfortunately, the temperatures were a bit cold to play the guitar outside, so I recited the lyrics to one of my songs about the Middle East conflict called "The Side of Peace." Below is my speech and poem. For a full set of photos from the event, click here. For videos, click here.

Independent Jewish Voices has chapters in eight cities across the country and consists of Canadian Jews from diverse backgrounds who share a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights, to reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights, and social justice. In fact, we believe that the broad spectrum of opinion amongst the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by institutions that claim to represent Jewish communities as a whole. We believe that individuals and groups should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty and we are compelled to speak out because of the lessons we have learned from our own history.

As such, Independent Jewish Voices condemns Israel’s latest attack on the Palestinians trapped in Gaza by Israel’s illegal blockade. Israel has euphemistically dubbed the operation “Pillar of Defense” (alternately Pillar of Cloud).

However, as one IJV Steering Committee member, Dylan Penner, has pointed out, “Israel’s latest attack on Gaza is not a ‘Pillar of Defense.’ It’s a Pillar of War Crimes, which we have a moral obligation to oppose.” He also goes on to say that, “This latest atrocity is compounded by the fact that, thanks to Israel’s illegal and inhumane blockade, for the people who live in Gaza there is no escape.”

Just look at recent history - four years ago, Israel launched its “Operation Cast Lead” on the Gaza Strip. Over 1400 Palestinians were killed — over a third of whom were innocent women and children. Israel claimed moral righteousness while committing this massacre, but the United Nations later found that Israel committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity and that “the assault was designed to humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” Amnesty International concluded that Israel’s aggression amounted to “22 days of death and destruction.”

I am a Canadian-born Jewish woman who believes strongly in the Jewish value of tikkun olam, which means healing or repairing the world. When I see the devastating and inhumane and illegal treatment of the Palestinian people by a government and military supposedly representing my religion and culture, it is with a deeply broken heart.

The actions of the Israeli government and military is antithetical to the true values of Judaism which include compassion, reason, and social justice. It is for these reasons that I cannot support such actions. I find it horribly offensive for any of the brutality in Palestine to be attributed to being in my name – it is not in my name. It tarnishes my religion and culture.

I encourage other Jewish people to really look at the situation objectively and not through the idealized notions of Israel with which many of us were raised. To blindly support a nation and its government because of misplaced nationalistic fervour or perceived ownership based on selective Biblical interpretation is illogical.

Zionism and Judaism are not the same thing. Historically Zionism was opposed by almost all organized branches of Judaism. Even today, not all Jews are Zionists. Actually, Zionism’s strongest cheerleaders today are Christians. So, accusations that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism are very much unfounded and merely a way of stirring up trouble towards those people who are critics of Israel.

In fact, there are many Jewish voices from within Israel and around the world who are opposed to the Israeli colonial settlement policy in the Occupied Territories and those voices are getting stronger. Thank you.

The Side of Peace I’ve marched in Gaza rallies
And sung for Arab crowds
Though some of my relations
Think I should not be allowed.
I’m asked why do I do it?
Or if I’m scared at the very least;
The only answer that I have,
Is I’m on the side of Peace.

I always say I’m Jewish,
It’s part of who I am.
So is speaking out
For human rights as best I can.
This conflict is immoral
I want it all to cease
And that is why I take a stand
On the side of Peace.

When innocent civilians
Are killed day after day
By military massacres
I have the right to say
Collective punishment is wrong
As the death tolls increase.
The only way to save lives
Is on the side of Peace.

Unlike so many others
I can’t support a nation
When it’s so horrific towards
Part of the population
Yes, the leaders are not innocent
But the children are, indeed
So are all the others who
Are on the side of Peace.

It’s easy to be silent
Or toe the party line
Complicity is for cowards
Who are part of the crime.
I will never be accused
Of groveling on my knees
I stand with my conscience
On the side of Peace.

© 2009 Paula E. Kirman

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