Lamentation for Gaza and Rabbi Brant Rosen

gaza-destruction-boyGaza Shuja'iyya destroyed

Last Thursday a small group of us gathered at Lakeside Park in Ft. Wayne for a commemorative lamentation for the dead children slaughtered in the latest brutal attack on Gaza by the State of Israel by its Israeli “Defense” Force or I”D”F. [ I think I will put quotes around the “D” of IDF, because it’s not really about “defense ” as the Israeli hasbara, propaganda would have us think.] This public mourning was organized by the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace. Using their abhorrent metaphor, it was time to “mow the grass” again in Gaza, for it’s all about “defense” and “security” in Israel and their goal was to seek “peace and quiet ” in Israel, not a real , just, and lasting peace. Now of course it must be said that firing rockets upon a civilian population, however ineffective they may be, by the military wing of Hamas, is against international law. But a greater violation of such international law is the besieging and continued brutal, oppressive, occupation of the Palestinian people of Gaza and the West Bank. This latest  brutal “mowing of the lawn” (that applies to the Gazan people in the State of Israel’s mindset)  called “Operation Protective Edge” has left over 2,100 Gazans killed, 578 of them children, 11,000 wounded; 70% civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers killed, some by friendly fire, 5 Israeli civilians killed. 17,200 Gazan homes destroyed. The previous destruction of Gaza by the I “D” F in 2008 called “Operation Cast Lead “, was found by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the 2008 Gaza conflict, called the Goldstone Report to be highly critical of the I “D” F’s disproportionate use of overwhelming force, including white phosphorus. It concluded:

 that Israel violated the Fourth Geneva Convention by targeting civilians, which it labeled “a grave breach”. It also claimed that the violations were “systematic and deliberate”, which placed the blame in the first place on those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw the operations.The report recommended, inter alia, that Israel pay reparations to Palestinians living in Gaza for property damage caused during the conflict.

[Note: Jurist Goldstone was pressured by the Israeli’s to amend his report in 2011 and not be so harsh on the State of Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East.”]

This year’s version of the lawn mowing has been even worse.

gaza-destruction-dead-toddler-

As Roger Cohen of the NY Times ( whose Israel/Palestine coverage is headed by self-described Zionist Jodi Rudoren ) recently stated in a column called A War of Choice in Gaza :

Another round of violence is over in the Holy Land. More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians and many of them children, have been killed. More than 70 Israelis are dead. The grass, in that appalling Israeli metaphor, has been mown (and will now start growing again). Hamas, through its resistance, has burnished its reputation among Palestinians. Israel is angrier. Nobody is better off.

And:

Periodic eruptions are intrinsic to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy of maintaining the status quo of rule over millions of Palestinians, expansion of West Bank settlements and maneuver to deflect American mediation. Oppressed people will rise up. Israel’s anemic embrace of a two-state objective is the best possible cover for the evisceration of that aim. Still, the question arises: Was this mini-war necessary? I think not.

You can read the rest of this article through the link above, including several lies the Netanyahu government perpetrated to stir-up Israeli rage to justify the war.

But back to the real purpose of this post, which was our public mourning. We listened , as Arabic music was played softly on a flute , while several mourners read aloud the names of over 300 children , 12 years old and younger, who were killed by the I”D”F this summer. Also stated were the  circumstances of the attacks , how many were killed in the same attack , including attacks in which multiple family members were killed.

IMG_0804It was especially moving to hear Ahmed Abdelmageed, a Muslim pharmacist from Ft.Wayne by way of Qatar, whose family was driven from their home in Palestine by the ethnic cleansing campaign of the Israeli’s in 1948, read the names of these children. Eventually his voice broke, tears came to his eyes, he had to stop. When he resumed the reading of the names on his list, it was for Sunday, July 20; the “massacre” of the densely populated neighborhood of Shuja’iyya, where 72 were killed, 17 children:

In Ben White’s reconstruction of the background,the day after [Israeli] flyers were dropped, Yedioth Ahronoth’s military analyst, Alex Fishman noted that an order had been given to the tank units advancing the assault “to open fire at anything that moved,”and a military spokesman declared that Israel was “taking off the gloves” in Shuja’iyya. [ Don’t the I”D”F use such great metaphors to descibe the murdering of innocent civilians? : my comment]On Saturday night, the Golani Brigade was sent in with armoured battalions into the densely populated heart of Shuja’iyya, and suffered heavy casualties,and only then did Israel decide to increase the intensity of its firepower, resulting in the steep rise in Palestinian civilian casualties, as commanders envisaged a repeat of Dahiya tactics used in Dahieh in Beirut, Lebanon, were resistance to continue.A local Gazan woman, returning to the ruins of her home in the neighbourhood, made the same comparison.

Over and over , Ahmed would read a  murdered child’s name and name the attack of “Shuja’iyya”. In his native Arabic pronunciation I kept hearing “Shuja’iyya…..Shuja’iyya……Shuja’iyya”. In the background , out side of the park pavilion where we had gathered, we saw and heard  the sounds of the kids of the participants in our lamentation, playing. The juxtaposition of names of murdered Gazan kids and the sounds and sights of kids playing peaceably in our park  was very moving and powerful. Isn’t that what all parents want for themselves and their kids: to be able to grow up in a peaceful world, play, love, work , marry and have kids of their own. Instead we get hate of the other and mimetic vengeance and never-ending violence. We concluded our lamentation in silence by spelling out “GAZA” with flowers that we had brought to the park.IMG_0815 - Version 2A few days later we received this moving e-mail that a mother posted on FaceBook. She had brought her kids to this event and this is an account of her 12 year old child’s reaction to this experience. PLEASE READ THIS AND BE PREPARED TO CRY.

 Disclaimer: As many of you know, I use facebook as a way of “scrapbooking/bookmarking” my childrens’ childhood. Whether it be a funny story, a touching moment, or a picture, this is the place where I try to capture them. Having said that, this post is going to be a little lengthy, so read it, skip it, whatever you choose is fine with me.  This is one of those memories I don’t want to forget.
This evening we attended a vigil that the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace was having at the local park. They were holding a vigil to read the names of the children killed in Gaza. Now, I am a firm believer of preparing children, whenever you can, about what they can expect to happen and what the expectations are for their behavior when you go somewhere. So we had talked about how two groups of people were arguing over land and who they thought should own it. We talked about how sometimes adults can get into such bad disagreements that the disagreement turns into something called a war where weapons are used. We also discussed that many times the people that are hurt and killed in these wars are not even the people in the disagreement. Many times children and their Moms are the ones who are killed. I explained that many of these children that were killed were their ages. (I know this is an oversimplification of this situation, but my audience was ages 2-12.)
Fast forward to the actual gathering. After a brief introduction, a few different adults read lists of the names of children and ages of children who had been killed in Gaza. This lasted from somewhere between 20-30 minutes. Of course our older ones were able to stay attentive, but our youngest 3 became interested in other things. Thank goodness we were in a pavilion at the park, so they and a few other kids, with parents attending the same vigil, and I gathered sticks and leaves for them to sit on the sidewalk and play. All the while the names of the children were continuing to be read. It was quite touching and sobering to hear the names and ages of these children who were killed in one ear, while listening to our children and others, the same ages, playing and laughing together in the other.
Following the name reading, the group then went outside to lay flowers in a pattern to make the word “Gaza” as a physical memorial. It was beautiful. The kids loved participating, even if they didn’t completely understand.  As touching as that was to watch the kids laying the flowers down, what really touched my heart and made me catch my breath was our 12 year old son. As the group was coming out of the pavilion to lay flowers,  I noticed I hadn’t seen him for a few minutes. So I looked around and found him, in tears,  standing away from the group. Wow. As I was walking toward him, I looked down on the ground by the big pile of sticks the little kids had gathered and noticed that he had spelled the word “Gaza” out of some of those sticks. I didn’t really say much to him other than hugging him and saying “I know. “ As I wrapped my arms around him, he began to quietly sob.  Of course, this made me tear up.  These names, this experience really touched him. I walked away, knowing that he needed time to process on his own.
After people began dispersing and leaving, we decided to walk over to the park and let the kids play. I walked over to our big guy and said “Hey, we’ll meet you at the park.” As his Mom I had to fight the urge to want to sit down and label what he was feeling and discuss why he was feeling what he was feeling. (Labelling and discussing are important in many cases, but not at that time.) I made the decision that he needed his own time to process this.  I noticed that as we headed over, he lagged behind, but stayed where he could still see us. He walked a couple of the sidewalks as the little kids played, still having tears in his eyes. He slowly walked over to the swings, sat down, and began swinging. When it was time to leave, he still lagged behind, still comprehending what he had heard and experienced.
When we arrived home the little ones began their bedtime routine with my husband, so I took that time to touch base with our oldest. I said “I don’t want to pry or stick my nose in your business, but I was wondering if you would be willing to share with me what you were thinking this evening at the vigil? I noticed you had tears in your eyes. It must have really touch you.” He answered, while holding back tears, “I was just thinking that these children were my age. They were going to school, like I do, and they were killed. “ His next statement though really cut me to the core. He said “And this is happening to children my age in the same world I am living in.” Silence and tears was all I had at that moment. He added “There were children who were going to school and were killed and there were also children going to school who were not killed, but now have friends and family members not here.” Powerful. He also shared with me that he was having a hard time knowing what he wanted to do for his “Peace Poster” for school this year, but after going to this vigil, he now knows.
As a parent, I am always so excited for our children when they are struggling with something and they have the moment of understanding, whether that be in academics, social, or any other area in their life. their “Ah ha moment” is a time for celebration. When he shared his perspective tonight and I saw how it truly touch his soul, I was really honored to be able to witness his humanity, his compassion, his sympathy for others.

Obviously, this is a Mom who has raised her children with love and compassion, because he, by his words and actions , is mirroring that love. And obviously, my wife and I can’t help thinking about our two grandsons, age 7 and 9.

This post title mentions Rabbi Brant Rosen . Just two days before our public lament for Gaza, one of what I call “my Jewish mentors”, Brant Rosen, turned in his resignation to his congregation. Operation Cast Lead in 2008, as referenced above , marked the end of Rabbi Rosen’s love affair with political Zionism and the policies of the State of Israel. Because of the Israeli brutality of that attack on Gaza, Rabbi Rosen came to see the occupation for what it is: a brutal, oppressive, colonial enterprise. And he saw the racist, moral bankruptcy of political  Zionism and how it is completely antithetical to the prophetical, moral values articulated in Torah. And so he has been an out-spoken critic  of the policies of the State of Israel ever since, standing ,as he says it , in solidarity with the Palestinians. [No,he is not a self-hating Jew.] His congregation has been quite supportive all along the way, even though some disagree with his views. But in these times of increasing moral outrage against Israel, the divisiveness and push back his activism and prophetic witness was causing in his congregation caused him to hand in his resignation. It is a sad time. More on Rabbi Rosen in an upcoming post. He is truly one of my heroes.

rosen, brant-

I will end with his most recent post in his blog Shalom Rav posted August 1, 2014 :

This Monday night begins the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av: a day of mourning for the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries. Among other things, the traditional Tisha B’Av liturgy includes the chanting Biblical book of  Lamentations.

Given the profoundly tragic events currently unfolding in Gaza, I offer this reworking of the first chapter of Lamentations.  I share it with the hope that on this day of mourning we might also mourn the mounting dead in Gaza – along with what Israel has become…

A Lamentation for Gaza

Gaza weeps alone.
Bombs falling without end
her cheeks wet with tears.
A widow abandoned
imprisoned on all sides
with none willing to save her.

We who once knew oppression
have become the oppressors.
Those who have been pursued
are now the pursuers.
We have uprooted families
from their homes, we have
driven them deep into
this desolate place,
this narrow strip of exile.

All along the roads there is mourning.
The teeming marketplaces
have been bombed into emptiness.
The only sounds we hear
are cries of pain
sirens blaring
drones buzzing
bitterness echoing
into the black vacuum
of homes destroyed
and dreams denied.

We have become Gaza’s master
leveling neighborhoods
with the mere touch of a button
for her transgression of resistance.
Her children are born into captivity
they know us only as occupiers
enemies to be feared
and hated.

We have lost all
that once was precious to us.
This fatal attachment to our own might
has become our downfall.
This idolatrous veneration of the land
has sent us wandering into
a wilderness of our own making.

We have robbed Gaza of
her deepest dignity
plunged her into sorrow and darkness.
Her people crowd into refugee camps
held captive by fences and buffer zones
gunboats, mortar rounds
and Apache missles.

We sing of Jerusalem,
to “a free people in their own land”
but our song has become a mockery.
How can we sing a song of freedom
imprisoned inside behind walls we have built
with our own fear and dread?

Here we sit clinging to our illusions
of comfort and security
while we unleash hell on earth
on the other side of the border.
We sit on hillsides and cheer
as our explosions light up the sky
while far below, whole neighborhoods
are reduced to rubble.

For these things I weep:
for the toxic fear we have unleashed
from the dark place of our hearts
for the endless grief
we are inflicting
on the people of Gaza.


 

 

 

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