A Death That Knocks First

[Moments after I wrote this blog, I received word that Egypt was working to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine. The first deadline for that ceasefire passed as of this morning, July 15. I am sharing this blog as originally written with the undying hope the violence will end. At this point the word to me is that Hamas is reluctant to agree without guarantees of the opening of the Rafah gate between Gaza and Egypt (which seals them off from the world) and the release of the more than 500 Palestinian men arrested in the past three weeks.]

. . .

God speaking, Isaiah 55:3 – Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.

The third slaughter of Gazans in under five years is happening now. The total number killed in Operation Cast Lead – what the Arab world calls the Gaza Massacre – in the first days of 2009 was around 1400, the majority of them women and children. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

The number of Gazans killed between November 14-21, 2012 in Operation Pillar of Defense was 168, the majority of them women and children. Six Israelis were killed.

The last total I saw for the number of Gazans killed so far in Operation Protective Edge is more than 170 (plus another 1000+ injured), the majority of them women and children. Netanyahu says that with “this kind of enemy” Israel will take any means it needs to defend itself. So far no Israelis have been killed. If they do a ground assault, there will be Israelis killed. It is a guarantee. Everyone is crazy.

Thanks to Facebook I have seen things – body parts, emptied faces and skulls, spilling guts – that will never leave my mind. Ever. I do not regret it, I want to see it, but so far I have not reposted these realities of death as an explosion that tears your body into pieces on FB, and I will not here.

Seeing these things – the redness of blood, the same redness of everyone’s blood, flowing over the grey of concrete reduced to a powder that covers even the body that still bleeds – I am shocked to see my immediate world look the same as always. There are birds in my garden, photos of loved ones on my desk. I have a piano, it is intact and can be played.

People walk by, eat in restaurants, laugh. The world has become surreal, a stage of normalcy while on the other side of the scrim people kill each other. It is not just in Israel and Palestinian, it is many places, but this is the barbarism that has delivered itself to me in video after video at my door.

The IDF and Israeli citizens – the majority judging by what I see – say: “We warn Gazans where we will strike, we give a “knock” ahead of time with a warning shot. We are humane. Hamas is not humane, they don’t warn us where the missile will come” This is posted in varying ways as though it makes sense.

NOTE 1: the IDF only gives warning “knocks” sometimes, and when they do, it provides only a teeny window of time for everyone to evacuate that building before it is destroyed. A “knock” is a smaller, presumably non-lethal bomb launched to a rooftop. That is, the occupants hear of the impending destruction of their home, if not members of their family or themselves, a minute or two in advance.

In one video I saw the “knock” hit one building but the real-deal bomb landed next to that building where the people would have evacuated. Deliberate? I don’t think so. I think the IDF really thinks they are humanitarian by sending warning “knocks” – and pamphlets telling people to flee before the ground invasion. They even occasionally call residents in a building and tell them in Hebrew (huh?) that they have five minutes to flee. Of course, this method of protecting people is not fail safe. Extended families are being wiped off the map.

NOTE 2: Hamas cannot give warnings because they cannot pinpoint their missiles. Hamas launches missiles that go more or less willy-nilly, which along with the effectiveness of Israel’s anti-missile system, Iron Dome, is why to date not a single Hamas missile has killed an Israeli or seriously injured one. Iron Dome has been 90% or more effective, fortunately, in shooting down any missiles coming to populated areas inside Israel.

I am not saying Hamas operatives are, or are not, humane. I am furious that they used funds and time and energy and intent to obtain missiles instead of strengthening the infrastructure, health care, facilities, and education inside Gaza. I understand the boycott on materials, but they got missiles in. I understand the isolation, containment, limitations, and humiliation. Or maybe I don’t. No, of course, I cannot, I have no idea. But to use what little you have to bring in missiles is, as I see it, wrong-headed, even unconscionable.

I think the people launching missiles from Gaza would kill many Israelis if they could. Yet, I do not believe it is sufficient grounds to kill someone – and the innocents near them – on the theory that they would kill you if they could when, in fact, they cannot. There have to be more clever, not to mention more ethical, ways to disarm someone’s desire to kill you. Being a good neighbor for one.

The underlying fault line of the “right to protect yourself” argument is that, when you apply it equally to Palestinians as well as Israeli, the whole premise is exposed as absurd. It is an invitation to cyclical slaughter. It has no applicability towards peace. It shows no inclination towards the creativity, healing, and courage needed to achieve mutual beneficial peace. (It is, bottom line, why most women are better peace builders than the many men who believe bigger and harder is the answer to everything.)

NOTE 3: There are demonstrations against the assault in the UK, Belgium, Australia and elsewhere, and even inside Israel. Haven’t seen anything much in the US.

I have been inundated emotionally and psychologically. I have precious friends – Palestinian and Israeli – who are too close to danger, including Rula Salameh, whose article as a Palestinian mother living in East Jerusalem was in the New York Times last week.

I have read article after article documenting in detail the sequence that set off this opportunity for Netanyahu to continue to destroy the peace process (even Kerry placed the blame at his feet), to destroy a unity government that would have brought Hamas into a moderate coalition with Fatah and the West Bank, and to further weaken Gaza.

For one thing, the Israeli authorities knew within hours that the three kidnapped settlers were dead. They had a phone tape of the shooting and the boys’ blood was found in the kidnappers’ abandoned car. Yet for a week, even without telling the parents, they used the excuse that they were searching for the youth to arrest and imprison more than 500 Palestinian men, demolish and invade homes, have confrontations that led to several Palestinian being killed, and to stir up – unleash? – hatred against Palestinians. It didn’t take much.

Among the things I will never forget are the videos of young Israeli males in the streets of Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs” and stopping taxis looking for Palestinian drivers or passengers to beat up. My friend Rula told me by phone that she is scared. This is a woman who has maneuvered me in the West Bank, without bothering to comment, around IDF gun shooting and tear gas. She has a television program on which she sometimes calls Palestinian Authority ministers on camera to help out people in need immediately. She has nerves of steel and decades of experience.

Now she is scared. She lives with her parents and son in Beit Hanina in Arab East Jerusalem only two minutes from the home of the Palestinian boy who was kidnapped and burned to death. Her son is the same age. She told me Israelis are beating shopkeepers.

What can one say? How does one say it? If bombs don’t bring peace – they don’t – then can words?

This crisis has taken me to the Bible, a place I have not visited since I was in high school.

God speaking, Isaiah 55:11-

. . . so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

He’s speaking presumably to the Jews, and He states that He desires a place that will: bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater.

He – I’m ceding to the masculine just to be super-nice – says: Isaiah 55:9 –

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Are we not to emulate God’s ways, to take the high road?

The hatred I am seeing on Facebook, from people on both sides, is essentially telling God to go to hell. There is a valiant minority – and oh the courage and oh the grief – that calls for an immediate ceasefire and for listening to each other, for tending, for examining one’s own culpability.

We must watch our words so that they are as free as possible of self-delusion, so that they recognize that we are equally human, and so that they have the intent of peace.

I don’t think a “knock” before you bomb people is Yahweh speaking. I don’t think Hamas launching missiles into Israel is Allah speaking.

If our words truly were emulating God, they would be for peace and caring and forgiving and getting our facts rights and not deluding ourselves about our favored status and not denying harm we have done.

Then God says, if you are good boys and girls: Isaiah 55:12 –

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

I read this as that to deliberately kill someone else is to deny the God you profess to worship.

And, yes, I know that both the Koran and the Torah can be interpreted from select verses to encourage you either to fight or to reach out in peace. Shouldn’t we choose the verses that bring good to the world – ourselves and others?








8 thoughts on “A Death That Knocks First

  1. Thank you, Patricia, for this heart touching blog. Your words describe the insanity of Israel’s killing women and children – and men – so well.

  2. Thank you, Patricia! You’re right on, as usual.

    Re Note 3: Code Pink has been staging demonstrations, & Jewish Voice for Justice is engaging people creatively. Aside from that, as you say, not much here. WashPo made me scream with the caption on a big inside photo over the weekend – Palestinian mother & siblings mourning “an extremist” or some such dehumanizing label. Israelis got the front page, as usual. Post did at least run a story & table pointing out the vast & continuing disproportion in fatalities.

    • Yes, Mary, the media coverage is maddening. There is a watchdog group called TIME WARP that follows the immense slant in the NYTimes towards Israel and makes corrections, but taking on the NYTimes is a tad like shouting in the dark — but we must keep on keeping on. Some day. . . pray.

      My new favorite question to people (men, that is) who nit pick what I write as though to find a footnote wrong brings down the fundament truth, is: If you were a Palestinian, what would you do? …. usually there is a pause, and then they say “I would fight.” Well, duh?

      But the other “well, duh” of it is that if they were really in that situation, they might not. Only a minority of people come out of the cauldron as violent fighters. Overwhelmingly the Palestinians I know work daily for non-violent ways to achieve beneficial lives and opportunities and justice.

  3. We are dealing with two “brothers” of a diaspora. Both numbers are minuscule and on the edge of extinctinction. Perhaps about 12-15,000 million Jews, 5 million in Israel. 12 or so million Palestinians. Both believe home is the strip of land the size of New Jersey.

    Israel has at times been brutal. Extremists on both sides fight, not listen. But, Jews have the Holocaust, which we so soon forget. Will I think the Jews will ever meekly go to gas chambers again? I doubt it. Total annihilation for all is an achingly etched possibility. You tell me the solution? Patricia you see to know more about how to solve these issues than I do.

    I am struck that with all the vast embassy space available in DC, the brothers under the skin have chosen to stay territorially near. They are family. They need each other. But, they are a dysfunctional family, so close, yet far apart.

    And Africa? Why bother with acknowledging genocide? It’s an inconvenient truth.
    Besides, they are the wrong color. And others around the world?

    No, I don’t know how to stop extremists. Most people want to live in peace or simply to live.

  4. Patricia,

    I stand corrected about something I said. While I believe you and I may share closer spiritual beliefs than we’ve ever discussed, I don’t really think you have any more major practical solutions than I do. I gather you have a stronger sense of the injustice of it all and who may be more right or wrong. I fall more into the murky grey abyss. I think that’s what I loved about my work for so long. I knew I could make a difference. It was tangible. In the greater scheme of things, though sometimes anger unwillingly trumps forgiveness, the greater truth is that the issues are mammoth and the God of love does not exist for extremists. Thus, I too often feel helpless to do much.

    Interestingly, among some of the papers I read, (not the news channels) the Palestinians are more often portrayed as the victims and the Israelis the aggressors. I suppose that is one truth. The Israelis certainly have more weapons.
    When I shift the prism though, how does one deal with a promised or holy land for all? Is Jerusalem holy? One can feel it’s unique vibrations if one cares to remain open.

    If you have concrete answers, share them please.

    Thoughtfully and with concern,


  5. Thank you, Patricia, for your impassioned, perceptive, and movingly written blog “A Death that Knocks First” that provokes both heart and mind. I share your frustration and I feel terribly helpless. I do want to appeal to both sides to stop destruction and TALK. How can we best help bring this about?
    Perhaps age and experience have made me more cynical than I’d like to be, but I see no effective, immediate way. A recent example. Remember how many people were “gassed” in Syria. Where were we, the potential protesters then? Where are we now vis a vis Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and far too many other places? I implicate myself but remain eager to learn of practical steps we could take.

  6. Another beautifully written piece. I had a discussion yesterday with an Israeli friend of mine. I had to tread lightly while still holding firm to convictions regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but in the end – no matter how much I inform myself of the history of this conflict and try to empathize with both sides – I feel inadequate to debate certain points because of her emphatic belief that Israel has the write to use such force and treatment and because I am basically on the side lines of this. I need to share this with her.

    • Robert, I just saw your comment. Thank you for writing. Yes, you are in a common situation, unfortunately. Not only is this a deeply held belief by many if not most Israelis, but they are protected from the truth of the damage. According to some of my Israeli sources, the television news there has only been showing some photos of the destruction in the past couple days. There is both on-going willful denial and governmental and media self-censoring. It is not easy to accept that you occupy and “pen in” your neighbors – and then bomb them. Yes, there have been hundreds and hundreds of missiles into Israel, but they lack the capacity of Israel to devastate. The count now something like 1700 dead. It is at baseline a question of 1) if you have a right to kill huge numbers of people because a small number of people try to kill you but can’t and 2) if you have the imagination and will to break the cycle of destruction, fear, and hate.

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