"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Mother’s Choice

Here is a story from Gaza contributed by Barbara Lubin, the well-respected humanitarian leader of the Middle East Children's Alliance, a non-profit organization working for the rights and the well being of children in the Middle East by sending s shipments of aid to Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, and supporting projects that make life better for the children.

"There are so many stories to tell from our first day in Gaza. So much pain and destruction. But there is one story in particular that I think the world needs to hear. I met a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children to 'give as a gift to Israel.' As she screamed in horror they repeated the demand and told her she could choose or they would choose for her. Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her." - Barbara Lubin, "Notes from Palestine", Jan. 22, 2009.

Perhaps those of us who have children can put ourselves in that woman's shoes and contemplate the choice she was forced to make. Though there are no words for what was done to this woman and any words that I may offer here will be painfully short of what needs to be said and done, I'll briefly explore the struggle that lies behind acts that only Jesus can forgive.

For sixty years, Americans have been systematically shielded from the reality of Palestine. No doubt those who truly cared could discover the truth. Today such discovery can be made with elementary online inquiries, but the mainstream news media on which most Americans rely fundamentally distorts Palestinian reality. Pandering to Israeli sensitivities, they have portrayed Palestinians not as human beings with needs and desires and moral values similar to our own, but as a species of semi-humans driven by sheer fanaticism. Every suicide bombing is transformed into a brutalizing spectacle which evokes no reflection on the historical context, but mindless gaping at the sheer irrationality of the act. Those who could perform such acts must belong to a totally different species from the "civilized" members of the world which Benjamin Netanyahu invoked before the Gaza massacre.

The forbidden question is always "What would drive ordinary human beings to such acts?" For the Palestinians that carry out these acts and voted Hamas into power in the fairest elections in the Arab Middle East were as ordinary as a teenager at the local Burger King. Most Palestinians are not hypnotized by sinister mullahs, but they face daily choices that can and do kill them and their families and they have no choice but to respond to their political and military surroundings.

The Israelis did not conceal their military strategy toward the native Palestinian population either at the founding of the state of Israel or during the latest massacre. Consider the words of Israel's most prominent military analyst, Ze’ev Schiff in 1978, "... the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously ... the Army, he said, has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets ... [but] purposely attacked civilian targets even when Israeli settlements had not been struck." (Haaretz, May 15, 1978). The political reasons are explained by distinguished statesman Abba Eban, "’there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that affected populations would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities.’ The effect, as Eban well understood, would be to allow Israel to implement, undisturbed, its programs of illegal expansion and harsh repression. Eban was commenting on a review of Labor government attacks against civilians by Prime Minister Begin, presenting a picture, Eban said, ‘of an Israel wantonly inflicting every possible measure of death and anguish on civilian populations in a mood reminiscent of regimes which neither Mr.Begin nor I would dare to mention by name.’" – Noam Chomsky, "Gaza 2009", Jan. 20, 2009. The regime that dare not speak its name evokes memories of Sophies’ Choice. In this movie, a Polish woman arrives at a Nazi concentration camp and is ordered by the Nazis to choose which of her children will live and which will die. Unlike yesterday's Palestinian mother, she makes the choice.

A cursory examination of Israeli words and actions quickly demonstrates that the recent attacks on civilians were carefully foreseen and meticulously prepared. But this is merely one element in much larger strategic objective. "Israelis would mostly breathe a sigh of relief if Palestinians were to disappear. And it is no secret that the policies that have taken shape accord well with the recommendations of Moshe Dayan right after the 1967 war: Palestinians will ‘continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave.’ More extreme recommendations have been made by highly regarded left humanists in the United States, for example Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton and editor of the democratic socialist journal Dissent, who advised 35 years ago that since Palestinians are ‘marginal to the nation,’ they should be ‘helped to leave.'" – Frank Barat, "On the Future of Israel and Palestine", June 6, 2008.

To highlight the existential Palestinian reality, Michael Neumann recently described their situation as follows: "But suppose a bunch of thugs install themselves, with their families, all around your farm. They have taken most of your land and resources; they're out for more. If this keeps up, you will starve, perhaps die. They are armed to the teeth and abundantly willing to use those arms. The only way you can defend yourself is to make them pay as heavy a price as possible for their siege and their constant encroachment on your living space. You're critically low on food and medical supplies, and the thugs cut off those supplies whenever they please. What's more, the only weapons available to you are indiscriminate, and will harm their families as well as the thugs themselves. You can use those weapons, even knowing they will kill innocents. You don't have to let the thugs destroy you, thereby sacrificing your innocents (including yourself) to spare theirs. Since innocents are under mortal threat in either case, you needn't prefer the attackers' to your own." Michael Neumann, "Hamas and Gaza", Jan. 13, 2009.

"I believed, and to this day still believe, in our people's eternal and historic right to this entire land," Prime Minister Olmert informed a joint session of Congress in May 2006 to rousing applause. As a Catholic, I must ask myself, "Do these people not have the right to defend themselves?" If it was my family that was threatened, would I not do everything in my power to make the oppressor feel pain until they relented? If I was given Sophies’choice, what would be my response? Even though the recent atrocities have forced literal Sophies’ choices on helpless mothers, Palestinians have faced a national Sophies’ choice for the last sixty years. They can live like dogs, as Moshe Dayan suggested, risking their own and their childrens' lives from attacks by settlers or the IDF or they can do as the Israeli’s wish them to do and run from their homeland, saving their families’ lives, but condemning them to the shame of having abandoned the life they had every right to lead. This latter choice is not a literal death, but a spiritual one that is in many ways worse. What would you choose?

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