On April 27th, actress/activist Mia Farrow began fasting in solidarity with the people of Darfur, who face even worse suffering since Sudanese President al-Bashir expelled numberous aid organizations from the country. Since then, numerous elected officials, activists, and celebrities from over 35 countries have joined the fast. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC) and Newsweek Magazine's most influential American Rabbi, will be undertaking a three day fast to spotlight the grave humanitarian situation in Darfur. This week, the RAC sent out an Action Alert for its members to ask their Rabbis to join Rabbi Saperstein on the last day of his fast, Thursday June 18th.
As a Jewish person who is supportive of equal and just treatment for all peoples, I commend Rabbi Saperstein and his fellow Rabbis for their concern towards the people of Darfur. However, I feel that there is a hypocritical nature to their altruistic actions. In my opinion, these Rabbis have a religious, moral, and ethical obligation to focus an equal, if not larger, amount of energy on improving the humanitarian crisis of the people of Gaza.
Since the Palestinian elections of 2006, which saw Hamas win a majority of seats and the international response of sanctions, there had been a significant reduction in supplies and aid sent into Gaza. The recent War In/On Gaza has greatly worsened this situation. Since the end of the War, there has been an inadequate response by the Israeli government in allowing appropriate amounts of humanitarian and reconstructive aid into Gaza. As a result of these actions, many religious figures, political leaders, and ordinary citizens have asked the Israeli government to increase the amount of products allowed in and open up the borders for aid delivery.
I have recently written to Rabbi Saperstein asking him to take time during his upcoming fast to highlight the humanitarian conditions affecting the people of Gaza. (Please note that all emphasis in the letter are mine.)
June 12, 2009
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Arthur and Sara Jo Kobacker Building
2027 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Dear Rabbi Saperstein:
It has been announced that you will be undertaking a fast for the people of Darfur from June 15-18, 2009 in order to hightlight the grave humanitarian situation and to urge Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to return aid organizations to his country. Also, according to a recent Action Alert from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), there is a request for RAC members to contact their Rabbis to have them join your fast on its final day, the 18th. As a religious Jewish person who is concerned for the equal and just treatment of all of God's children, I applaud your actions to bring assistance to the suffering people of Darfur. However, I feel that you should also show empathy, concern, and direct action for the suffering Palestinians of Gaza.
After the Palestinian elections of 2006, in which Hamas won a majority of seats, many nations sanctioned this democratically elected Palestinian government. As a result, vital supplies and materials for Gazans were greatly decreased leading to a humanitarian crisis. The recent War moved a humanitarian crisis into a catastrophe. Whether one believes that the actions of the Israeli government and military were just or not, the end result was the significant destruction of life, land, and infrastructure.
Following the War, many nations, including the United States, pledged humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the people of Gaza. Senator Kerry, Secretary Clinton, and Envoy Mitchell noted during their February and March trips to the Middle East that there has been a unacceptable limitation in the types and amounts of aid material allowed into Gaza by the Israeli government.
In March, Dan Sadowsky of Mercy Corps, stated that "Hospitals and power plants are functioning at reduced levels, but basic needs - including food, shelter, and access to clean water and sanitation - remains at critical levels. The recovery and rehabilitation process in Gaza has been slowed by a lack of access for the kinds of humanitarian and commercial goods needed to rebuild."
Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his serious concern over the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip. Said the Secretary General, "Nearly five months after the end of hostilities, nothing beyond basic needs such as food and medicine is allowed in. I call on Israel to allow in the fuel, funds, and materials that are urgently required to repair destroyed and damaged schools, clinics, sanitation networks, and shelters and to restore a functioning market."
And on June 10th, the Israeli human rights organization GISHA: Legal Center For Freedom Of Movement released a report titled "Two Years Of Gaza Closure By The Numbers". These are their findings:
June 2007- June 2009: Crossings Closed;
*Percentage of goods permitted to enter Gaza, relative to demand: 25% (approximately 2,500 truckloads/month instead of 10,400/month prior to June 2007).
*Supplies of industrial diesel permitted to enter Gaza, relative to need: 63% (2.2 million liters/week rather than the 3.5 million liters/week needed to generate electricity).
*Average length of power outages in Gaza: five hours per day.
*Current number of people without access to running water in Gaza: 28,000.
Compare and Contrast:
*Number of food items Israel's Cabinet Resolution promised to permit to enter Gaza: Unlimited.
*Number of food items actually permitted into Gaza: 18.
*Amount of money pledged for reconstruction aid at the March 2009 Donors Conference: $4.5 billion.
*Quantity of building materials permitted to enter Gaza: Zero.
*Unemployment rate in Gaza in 2007, the year the closure was imposed: 30%.
*Unemployment ratein Gaza in 2008: 40%.
No development, no prosperity, only "minimum humanitarian" items allowed:
*The Israeli military permits margarine in individual packets to enter Gaza, but margarine in buckets is banned, because it could be used for industry (i.e. by factories producing food and providing jobs).
*The Israeli government clarified that its March 22, 2009 Cabinet decision authorizing the "unrestricted" supply of food into Gaza "has been given a restrictive interpretation" and that the government "did not intend to remove the restrictions, which were imposed in the past, on the entrance of food and supplies into Gaza". Translation: Food supply continues to be restricted.
*Among the food items banned from entering Gaza: Halva, tea, juice powder.
*Among the nonfood items banned from entering Gaza: soccer balls (footballs), guitars, paper, ink.
*Number of days Rafah Crossing has been open for regular traffic: Zero.
*Number of people unable to travel through Rafah each month: 39,000.
*Criteria for passage through Erez Crossing: exceptional humanitarian cases.
Rabbi, it is my concern that the RAC's lack of public outcry and advocacy regarding this crisis removes your legitimacy to discuss humanitarian concers elsewhere in the world. If you, the RAC, and the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious movement in North America), cannot, or will not, use your power and significant influence with the Israeli government to alleviate the suffering that they have assisted in creating and maintaining, why would citizens or international leaders consider listening to your requests with respect to the behavior of other govenments.
In the most recent edition of Moment Magazine, Rabbi Haim O. Rechnitzer, Assistant Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew Union College (the main Reform Judaism seminary), responded to the question: "How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?" Rabbi Rechnitzer stated:
The sages recall that redemption comes only for "He who walks righteously, speaks uprightly, and who despises the gain of oppression..."(Isa. 33). For "what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic. 6). I do not know of any more fundamental imperative than this, especially as Israeli Jews consider the Palestinian "other."
I respectfully ask you, Rabbi, to look into your heart and soul, and help people who are "others". I am requesting that you and any additional Reform Rabbis (via an updated Action Alert statement), undertake next week's fast in solidarity of the people of Darfur and Gaza, to spotlight the present lack of humanitarian aid for both peoples, and the need for President al-Bahir and Prime Minister Netanyahu to open up their borders for the resumption of necessary quantities and qualities of aid. Then, you will truly be following the adage found in Psalms 34:15, "Seek Peace And Pursue It".
b'shalom (with peace),
I am asking all those that desire to show solidarity with the people of Gaza, as well as the people of Darfur, to:
- Write to Rabbi Saperstein about this issue at email@example.com. Place Attn: Rabbi Saperstein- Darfur and Gaza Fast Request in the Subject Line. You can also call him at the the RAC, (202)387-2800. (You can use or modify my letter if you would like.)
- Ask your clergy to take part in the fast, all three days or just on the 18th.
- Contact your elected official and ask them to take part in the fast. You can e-mail them through their offical websites (which can be found at the House and Senate websites.) You can also call them via the Toll-Free Captiol Switchboard, (877)762-8762 or (800)828-0498.
- Undertake your own fast from the 15th through the 18th or just the 18th. The fast can be water only or a refugee rations fast (information from the Darfur Fast For Life Organization), which consists of 7 oz. of cracked wheat, 1.17 oz of farina wheat cereal, 1/6 cup of yellow split peas, 2.4 tsp. of oil, 2 tsp. of sugar, and 1/10 tsp. of salt.