‘Never Again’ Does Not Mean ‘An Eye For An Eye’
By Lucinda Marshall
My family is Jewish. When I was growing up, we were taught to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly. The lessons of the Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist were drummed into us. Never again, we said.
Today however, we seem paralyzed by an eye-for-an-eye mentality between Israel and its neighbors. The other day I received a very slick multi-media presentation that explained that the deaths of 123 Israeli kids between October, 2000 and January, 2005 as justification for Israel’s current military campaign. Yet more than 300 children have been killed in Lebanon in recent days and 31 children were killed in Gaza during the month of July alone. This line of reasoning bears an uncomfortable similarity to the Bush Administration’s use of the deaths on September 11 as justification for the killing of tens of thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yet the American Jewish community, which provides substantial financial support to Israel, doggedly continues to buy off on Israel’s foreign policy. In a letter to the editor of the Louisville (KY) Courier Journal, David Kaplan, the Chair of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Community Federation of Louisville writes,
“Israel is simply acting as a moral, democratic nation should act when faced with the most difficult wartime circumstances.”
Mercy, justice and “Thou Shalt Not Kill” have sadly become empty platitudes in the Judaism of might makes right that Mr. Kaplan represents.
Let me be very clear about this, I do not support or condone terrorism or human rights violations by any party, and certainly not the killing of innocent civilians, especially children. Nor do I believe that all the blame for the current situation lies with Israel, it does not.
Yet whenever I have the temerity to speak out against violence as a solution in the Middle East, it is patiently explained to me that I do not understand the history behind the current situation. Thousands of years of history that have brought us to the current situation, a history that includes the Holocaust. Surely the genocide committed against our own people should be enough to make us understand?
But none of this is actually to the point. Continuing to rehash a debate that has gone on for this long is not going to lead to peace. What the Jewish community, particularly American Jews who donate so generously to Israel, must do is to acknowledge the reality of the current situation, and that is this:
--As of August 4, 3000 people have been wounded in Lebanon and 900 are dead according to the BBC. One third of those are children. During the same period, 62 Israelis have died, 4 of them civilians.
--Bombing of roads and bridges in Lebanon has made evacuation of civilians and delivery of aid almost impossible. Bombs have landed on a UN post, an ambulance and a refugee convoy holding white flags.
--As many as 1,000,000 have been displaced from their homes, mostly women and children.
--The Mount Naftali Forest in northern Israel has been destroyed by Hezbollah rocket strikes and more than 110,000 barrels of oil have spilled into the Mediterranean in the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of a coastal power plant. The oil slick has covered 1/3 of the Lebanese coast and contains cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene. The magnitude of the spill may rival the Exxon Valdez spill, according to UN experts. Assessment of the damage and cleanup is impossible with continued Israeli bombing, jeopardizing ocean life with damage that may extend to the shores of Greece and Cyprus if immediate action is not taken.
--Human Rights Watch reports that the Israelis are using cluster bombs and there have been numerous reports of phosphorous munitions being used. Both are illegal under international law. More frighteningly, depleted uranium expert Dr. Doug Rokke has confirmed Israel’s use of bunker busters obtained from the United States that have uranium warheads. As Dr. Rokke points out,
"We've got all the Lebanese being effected, all the women and children being affected, all the Israelis being effected, and the areas over there are so small you're going to have the whole region effected and contaminated."
--The hostilities between Israel and Lebanon have not lessened the violence in Gaza where things grow increasingly more desperate. Since June 28, 164 Palestinians have been killed, and over 600 wounded. During the same time period, 25 Israelis have been killed. Palestinians have fired approximately 300 homemade rockets, the Israelis have fired 3000 artillery shells in at least 217 bombings. The problems of malnutrition (affecting more than half of Gaza’s children), limited healthcare access, electrical shortages (affecting 1.5 million people), lack of essential medicines, contaminated water and untreated sewage are unrelenting and growing problems in Gaza, according to the United Nations.
There is nothing moral or democratic about any of this. The Australian Section of the by Women’s International League For Peace And Freedom (WILPF) points out that, “…if past injustices are accepted as sufficient reason to oppress and kill others, then there never can be an end to war and oppression.” And as author and Holocaust survivor Silvia Tennenbaum writes,
“The time is long overdue for Jews to return to their role as the world's conscience, who come to the aid of the dispossessed, the wretched of the earth. Once again, we must join those who demand the end to unjust wars - in Iraq as well as Lebanon - and an unjust occupation in Gaza. We must honor the example of American civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, not that of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein or Yigal Amir, killer of Yitzhak Rabin.”
As Jews we must rethink the meaning of Never Again and realize that it applies not only to our own religion but to all people, even those we see as enemies. We must finally accept that An Eye for an Eye has truly made us blind. Only then can we begin the long road to real peace and security in the Middle East.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including, Counterpunch, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams and Information Clearinghouse. She blogs at WIMN Online.