Published in Ha’aretz, May 18, 2018
Dear Rabbi Yoffie,
Regarding your column, If You Call The Gaza Death Toll ‘Disproportionate’, [Ha’aretz, May 16] we agree that language counts.
The deaths arising from Gaza’s protests are one-sided: the IDF has killed more than one hundred Gazans. They have injured more protestors than Gaza has hospital beds. Medecins Sans Frontieres has noted an alarming pattern among the gunshot wounds, indicating a particularly harmful choice of ammunition. No Israeli has been injured or killed.
You ask whether a person who observes these facts would like to see “a hundred Jewish bodies… strewn across the desert”.
No, I would not. I am simply observing a fact. I am not seeking more deaths; I am seeking fewer. I am calling attention to avoidable killing. If I may not note the factual distribution of death, then what am I allowed to say?
We think in proportions, and International Humanitarian Law is based partly on the pillar of proportionality. During the 2014 onslaught in Gaza, 18,000 Gazans homes and one Israeli home were severely damaged or destroyed. 550 Gazan children and one Israeli child died. Those ratios indicate that terms like “war” poorly describe the nature of the violence that Gazans experience. “War” suggests a reciprocal violence, tempered by mutual mortal risk. In Gaza, the violence, the mortal risk, and the damage are so one-sided that different language is needed to convey it.
The actual ratios of loss convey that one side holds overwhelming power, and the other side lives with overwhelming threat.
You suggest that commentators would better understand the appropriateness of these arrangements if they could imagine being a “resident of a town near Gaza”.
Hmm. Maybe they are imagining being a resident of Gaza.
From America, you find persistent observations of disproportion “infuriating”. In Gaza, disproportion is death, and that may be what infuriates the commentators.
You write that the IDF’s “shoot-to-kill [instruction] was… an absolute last resort”.
No, Rabbi, the Gaza protests are the last resort. After eleven years of blockade, throwing a rock toward lethally-armed soldiers is a last resort.
On the field of protest, you are confusing Gaza and Hamas. Behind Gaza’s blockade wall, a community of two million people live in conditions you would not accept for yourself. Each time you slip in “Hamas” as a proxy for the community or the crowd of protestors, you militarize the space and excuse Israel’s violent, collective response to the people in that space, aged eight months and older.
I would not expect you to passively submit to the life behind Gaza’s blockade walls, and I know you would not be content to raise your children in Gaza’s conditions. You would protest.
Your column invokes the “prayers of [American] civil rights leaders that their children not be harmed”. Why is it hard for you to see that Gazan parents say the same prayer? This very prayer is driving people to risk being killed for the crime of Walking While Gazan.
I am mystified than you are unable to see political agency, or human desperation, in these protests.
When I lived in Gaza, I used to imagine two million unarmed Gazans, walking out. This season, I shared those hopes with others who have advocated mass non-violent protest. I skyped with Gazan friends about their hopes – and then I saw the scores of killings alongside the spectacle of Trump’s triumphal Israel.
As a Jew, this week of Jewish nationalism has left me in despair.
I have never written in support of Hamas. I have observed that the blockade walls feed the rage that feeds the militants. But Hamas is not Gaza. The existence of Hamas does not give Israel pretext for shooting and killing unarmed demonstrators.
Rabbi, no language can make the blockade of Gaza legal or ethically tolerable. Language cannot not alter the grossly disproportionate suffering, which is caused primarily by Israel’s policy choices. No language can erase the visible fact of Israeli soldiers, drones, an air force and a blockade slowly choking the breath out of a community of two million people.
Eventually, every Jew will have to ask themselves, ‘What am I going to believe, this language or the world in front of my eyes?’
May this week prompt more of us to reject the language that dehumanizes Gaza and props up the blockade walls.