Wednesday (August 19) is the second monthly (sunrise to sunset) Fast for Gaza. It was launched last month by a minyan (a group of ten required for Jewish communal prayer) rabbis, including my own congregation's rabbi and its rabbi emeritus. It quickly was joined by 600 more people (623 in total) -- Jews, but also Christians and Muslims and those who don't identify with a faith.
I joined the first fast on July 16, but when the day was over, I could not stop thinking about what I had heard on conference call for participants in the fast that took place on that day -- and how little the information in that call is covered in the U.S. media.
The statements, first by Mona abu Ramadan and then by Professor Sara Roy, didn't exactly pump up hope that the fast, as courageous a move as it is, especially for the rabbis who have joined it, would make much of a difference in the devastation -- humanitarian, economic, moral -- that they described.
In fact, there were some moments during the call when I wondered about the usefulness of the gesture, and even the political actions that progressive Jews are pushing President Obama to take in his approach to Israel/Palestine.
But I will fast again on Wednesday.
Mona abu Ramadan is with the "Milk for Toddlers" program being operated in Gaza. (Participants in the fast have been encouraged to donate the money they have saved from not eating on the fast day to this program.)
Abu Ramadan spoke, with a steadiness befitting a professional, of children suffering not only from malnutrition -- and the daily diet lacks the nutrients essential for normal body growth -- but also from a psychological trauma difficult to imagine, and which much of the world appears determined to not see.
Six months after the war in Gaza supposedly ended, the rubble of the destroyed houses remains exactly as it is was, with Palestinians living in tents nearby -- or, if they're lucky, in shelters shared by several families: The average Palestinian child, said abu Ramadan, lives with a crowd of 11 or 12 people in a room that doubles as kitchen, living room and bedroom. The same bathroom is shared among three or four families.
About the . . . psychological status of the children, we observed that they do not smile anymore, especially after the war.
Drawings of children always contain different kinds of planes, different kinds of missiles falling from the sky, tanks, demolished houses, [strewn] bodies, and dead people, ambulances, etc. . . . .
And the preschool children often cry and get scared when they see strangers visiting the preschool. They get scared when they hear a plane or when a door [collapses]. The flashback of the war memories keep coming back with each of these stimuli.
Not only have the children experienced the trauma of losing important people in their lives, they are suffering the disorientation that comes from losing everything that represents normal life.
They lost their school bags,and they lost their toys and clothes, everything they once owned. So the children are confused, shy, and oppressed.
A child lives in a home which is not his home. He uses other people's belongings. And the problem is that we still have the rubble of demolished buildings many months now. And the rubble is still in the same place, no chance for reconstruction of the houses or the schools . . . No construction materials are allowed.
She shouldn't need to, but Mona abu Ramadan pointed out that these children, all the children of Gaza, had nothing to do with the rockets fired from Gaza into Sderot, the ones that supposedly were the reason for Israel's invasion last winter.
Now, at this point, the rules of "balance" require that I link to storiesabout the Israeli Jewish children of these border towns who themselves are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from rockets fired from Gaza.
I don't want to downplay the very real pain for both Israeli Jewish children and their parents, who are frantic at their inability to ensure complete safety for their children. I don't want to set up comparisons about whose suffering is "worse."
But I won't turn away from the kids in Gaza.
I'll be there, even though the comments of Dr. Sara Roy, on that conference call last month left me off-balance. Roy has worked for years to bring the reality of the situation in Palestine to light -- both as a Harvard economist and as a committed Jew, the child of Holocaust survivors.
Roy said that, over the past many months, focus on the alarming lack of food, shelter and sanitation in Gaza had also had the effect of turning the image of Palestinians "from a society worthy of pursuing developmental change to an impoverished community seeking relief." Roy quoted a friend as saying that the situation is "engineering Palestinians into perpetual beggars." And "turning Palestinians into charity cases and paupers."
Roy's devastating analysis could be summarized in an answer she gave to a question posed to her by Rabbi Brian Walt after he mentioned the "peace process."
. . . you use the term "peace process." And I would
like to [laughs] emphasize that what is happening between Israel
and the Palestinians today contradicts, in my view, any notion of
peace, let alone a process or a meaningful attempt to achieve it . . . the peace process ended a long time ago. And one can argue over when it ended if it -- and some people argue it never actually really began. But I think it is incorrect, almost illegitimate in a way, to use that term under the present
So where does that leave me/us/ this community of people who have committed to this fast?
Somewhat surprisingly -- at least for me -- Dr. Roy followed her seemingly hopeless report with strong encouragement for the fast and for its goals -- which include not only humanitarian aid but also political action.
Roy expressed confidence (more than I have these days) in the power of simple grassroots action like calling one's representatives in Congress.
I cannot reiterate enough the importance of a principled, Jewish voice that is represented here. It is essential not
only for Palestinians to understand that there are many Jews, and
certainly a growing number of Jews, who do not support Israeli
policies in Gaza and the West Bank, who oppose the occupation,
who want to see a just solution or a more just solution, who want to
see Palestinians living in their own state in peace and security along
Besides, it's what we can do right now.