On Wednesday I was one of over 50 British Jews gathered in Parliament Square to mourn the loss of life in Gaza. This was never going to be simple or easy. Even among ourselves there was a range of attitudes towards Israel. Beyond our group we faced the disapproval of friends and in some cases, family. The confusions, difficulties and emotional intricacies that arise among members of the Jewish community as a result of the conflict in Israel-Palestine are many and complex. But we all agreed that – as Jews – we could not condone this loss of life, and that we rejected the Israeli government’s justification of the killings.
Stripping away our differences we found that we could unify over the Jewish principle of the sanctity of life, and over our grief that the right to life had been taken away from dozens of young people. Taken by other young people from the other side of a fence. There was no silver lining from the loss of life incurred in Gaza. Detainment of the protesting Gazans would have been both more effective and would have allowed the judicial process to have been followed. I do not accept that the IDF acted in self-defence. Firing live ammunition at these unarmed protesters was not justifiable. By Jewishly mourning the lives lost, we were not condoning terrorism, Hamas or violence of any form. Rather, we were facing up to the ugly reality of what the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by the State of Israel results in time and time again.
Hamas is no partner for peace. I am not suggesting that only Israel is at fault for the violence of recent events, or that it is only Israel that must push for peace. Both sides have committed crimes and both sides have contributed to the mess we now confront. However, events such as these, in which parents lose their teenage children, and children lose their siblings and friends, only serve to radicalise the two sides, and push them further away from coming to any future agreement. Who these people were – or what group they were affiliated to – is an insignificant issue compared to the reality of their murder.
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On Seder night we dip our fingers in red wine while reciting the ten plagues to commemorate the Egyptian deaths that resulted from the Exodus. As diaspora Jews, who whether rightly or wrongly are associated with and questioned about the acts of the State of Israel, we have a right and a responsibility to confront the reality of the devastation caused this week, and to come together to promote freedom and dignity for all. By saying Kaddish (Jewish prayer traditionally recited in memory of the dead) we were showing that our Judaism acknowledges the humanity we share with others; that it’s roots lie in justice and equality.
As a diaspora Jew, I will not allow myself to become immune or apathetic to the violence committed by the State of Israel. I believe that, if Israel is to continue to be a Jewish homeland, it must redirect it’s intellectual capacities to make peace rather than war. I will never accept Israel’s violence as inevitable and I hope that it will become impossible for Israel to retain support from the diaspora as evidence of its cruelty grows. I remain desperately optimistic that, eventually, the current regime will come to an end. But I cannot sustain this hope indefinitely. I love and support the state of Israel. But I cannot continue to love an Israel that sees the political expediency of the occupation as more important than the essential Jewish value of Justice; an Israel that does not value human life.