GAZA O GAZA
(This is a Position Paper issued by Indo Palestine Solidarity Network, India, a network of like- minded people drawn from all parts of India committed to solidarity with the Palestinians in their struggle for justice and liberation.)
IPSN expresses appreciation to its author, Rev. Roger Gaekwad, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of India. Mizoram Synod. He has served in Aizawl Theological College, Mizoram and was eventually Principal of the College. Gaekwad also served as Director of the Senate Centre for Extension & Pastoral Theological Research of the Senate of Serampore College for over 6 years. He was later elected as General Secretary of National Council of Churches in India for 8 years. He currently serves as Mentor, Dinbandhu Ministries, Nagpur.)
Lives of the Palestinians in Gaza do not seem to matter! Buildings (whether they housed families, hospitals, educational institutions, or any other facilities), the flora and fauna and the land of Gaza are being razed to the ground, reduced to rubble and dust in the ongoing war! Gaza O Gaza!
As Fr. David Neuhaus, S.J., a Jesuit priest, and an Israeli citizen, has stated, “The belief that victory is attainable by defeating the enemy in pitiless warfare is at the heart of the rhetoric of war. This is perhaps the most venomous myth in any conflict.” Gaza, along with the West Bank, is bearing the brunt of this inhuman ideology. The promotors and perpetuators of such cruel violence have not learnt from the lessons of history, or from the teachings on love, justice and peace of their scriptures.
- Apartheidic Injustice and Violence
Gaza is experiencing yet another devastating round of the ongoing apartheid in their land since 1948, when Israel was made a nation state by the powers of that time. Apartheid, as Dr. Jerry Pillay said in 2016 in an article on apartheid in the Holy Land, comes from an Afrikaans word meaning ‘apartness’ or ‘separateness’. “It is a policy or practice of separating or segregating groups. This policy separated white and non-white people in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Black people had to carry special papers or have permission to live and work in particular areas. Many laws were made that prevented mixed marriages, and black people could not own land in white areas, vote or use the same public facilities as white people. Public toilets, parks, beaches and recreational facilities were restricted in certain areas for white people only; black people would be arrested if they tried to use these facilities.”
While there are differences in the South African and the Israel-Palestinian contexts, by and large, we see similar expressions of disrespect and disregard for human dignity and rights, the same use of the law to demonize and brand others as ‘terrorists’, and the same denial of people’s rights to adequate economic and educational opportunities.
Since the past 75 years:
Whether it’s a child imprisoned by a military court or shot unjustifiably, or a house demolished for lack of an elusive permit, or checkpoints where only settlers are allowed to pass, few Palestinians have escaped serious rights abuses, and have been subject to humiliation and psychological, political and economic oppression.
During these past 75 years,
The erection of the Wall in the name of securityfor Israelis has ultimatelystolen land, and separated Israelis and Palestinians from each other.
During the past 75 years,
Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are in direct violation of international law, depriving Palestinians of land, natural resources and freedom.,
During the past 75 years,
the economic impact of the occupation is seen in the following: businesses abandoned because of the wall and blockages, the doors of shops wielded and closed, olive fields destroyed, restrictions on movement and the emergence of ghost towns in what used to be thriving communities.
II During the past 75 years,
Gaza has been subject to unimaginable torment:
(i) During the Nakba (“catastrophe”) of 1948 which witnessed the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians at the hands of the marauding Israelites, tens of thousands of Palestinians took refuge in Gaza. The invading Egyptian army seized a narrow coastal strip 25 miles (40 km) long, which ran from the Sinai to just south of Ashkelon. The influx of refugees saw Gaza’s population triple to around 200,000.Gaza O Gaza!
(ii) In the Six-Day War of June 1967, the Gaza Strip was again taken by Israel, which occupied the region for the next quarter century. In December 1987, rioting and violent street clashes between Gaza’s Palestinians and occupying Israeli troops marked the birth of an uprising that came to be known as the intifada (“shaking off”).Gaza O Gaza!
(iii) In autumn 2007, Israel declared the Gaza Strip under Hamas, a hostile entity, and approved a series of sanctions that included power cuts, heavily restricted imports, and border closures. Gaza O Gaza!
(iv) In January 2008, facing sustained rocket assaults into its southern settlements, Israel broadened its sanctions, completely sealing its border with the Gaza Strip and temporarily preventing fuel imports.Gaza O Gaza!
(v) Beginning on November 14, 2012, Israel launched a series of air strikes in Gaza, in response to, what the Israeli government said, an increase in the number of rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli territory over the previous nine months.Gaza O Gaza!
(vi) In June 2014 three Israeli teenagers were allegedly kidnapped; Israel conducted a massive crackdown in the West Bank and increased air strikes in the Gaza Strip, prompting retaliatory rocket fire from Hamas. As fighting continued to escalate, Israel launched a 50-day offensive into the Gaza Strip on July 8. Some 2,100 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis were killed in the ensuing conflict, with about 5,000 targets hit in the Gaza Strip.Gaza O Gaza!
(vii) In the spring of 2018 a series of protests along the border with Israel, which included attempts to cross the border and flying flaming kites, was met with a violent response from Israel. Both the protests and the violence reached a peak on May 14 when about 40,000 Gazans attended the protests. When many of them tried to cross the border at once, Israeli troops opened fire, killing about 60 people and wounding 2,700 others. The violence escalated into military strikes from Israel and rocket fire from Hamas and continued for several months. Gaza O Gaza!
(viii) In May 2021, in response to the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah of Palestinian families, protesting against Israel’s plan to forcibly evict them from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. thousands of Palestinians across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) held their own protests in support of the families. Confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators prompted Hamas to launch rockets into Jerusalem and parts of southern Israel; Israel responded with air strikes in the Gaza Strip.Gaza O Gaza!
(ix) And now we behold this year, a full-scale war, through which the Israeli government has vowed to exterminate Hamas, and in fact all Palestinians, from Gaza. Gaza o Gaza!
- The Elephant and the Ants
There is this story of a lost baby elephant, which was transported by its sympathizers to asmall enclosure in a national park, where it could grow in safety. Several ant colonies also resided in that enclosure. As the elephant grew bigger and bigger, he started to drive out the ants from what the elephant called his “space.”Time and again he used to spurtwater on them with his trunk. The sympathizers, who had originally placed the elephant in the enclosure, marveled at his growth and applauded his show of strength.
One day, when a small ant from one ant colony in the southernmost corner of the enclosure, questioned him about what he was doing, the elephant told him to be quiet and threatened to finish him off!Later that night, the ant crept into the elephant’s trunk and started biting him. He bit it till the elephant experienced intense pain. With all the strength he could muster, he blew out the ant from his trunk. Then in his uncontrollable rage, he screamed, “You Terrorist! How dare you attack me! I will finish you off!” and he began stamping on the entire southernmost ant hill …
Though not a perfect allegory, the story highlights the plight of Gaza. Gaza O Gaza!
- One can hear a 21st Century Jeremiah lament over Gaza:
For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken,
I mourn, and horror has seized me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?
O that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people! (Jer. 8:21-9:1)
- So also, one can visualize a 21st century Habakkuk crying out from Gaza,
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack,
and justice never prevails. (Hab.1:2-3)
- Another aggrieved person from Gaza questions God: “Why are people quoting words of judgement against Gaza as the fulfillment of your prophecy in our times?”
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Gaza,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,[a]
because they carried into exile entire communities,
to hand them over to Edom.
So I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza,
and it shall devour its strongholds (Amos 1:6-7)
How quickly such people forget that God the Lord has also declared divine judgement against Judah and Israel as well through the same prophet: Amos 2: 4-11.
Similarly, when some people are quoting Zephaniah 2:4-7 highlighting God’s destructive judgement of Gaza and Ashkelon, claiming that the same is now coming to be fulfilled in 2023, they forget that Zephaniah began with a prophecy against Judah (1:2-2:3). These prophesies of Zephaniah were already fulfilled when countries along the eastern Mediterranean Coast suffered under the military campaigns of the Egyptian and Babylonian armies.
Likewise, the prophesies against Gaza, Ashkelon and other cities, in Zechariah chapter 9, trace Alexander’s march through the eastern Mediterranean coast cities in 332-331 B.C. E.
- Then again, one hears another voice of anguish, “O Lord, why should the Israelites consider themselves to be ‘your chosen people’ exclusively? Did you not say through Amos to the Israelites,
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me,
O people of Israel? says the lord.
Did I not bring Israel from the land of Egypt,
and the Philistines from Caphtor and
the Arameans from Kir (Amos 9:7)?”
God’sWord clearly asserts to the Israelites thatthe Ethiopians, a “people of color”, were equally beloved to God, thereby challenging the exclusionary self-understanding of Israel.Furthermore,in the book of Amos, it is stated quite explicitly that,in history, God engaged actively not only in the liberation of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, but also in the “bringing up”, that is, liberating, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans (Syrians) fromKir.” (Am.9:7)Thesewere two foreign peoples that were at different times Israel’s most threatening enemies, yet God engaged in their liberation.
Indeed, God enacts “Exoduses” for Israel’s enemies. God’s emancipatory power extends to other peoples who are not commonly taken to be “chosen.” God exposes Israel’s claim to the exclusionary love and justice of God, and insists that in universal scope YHWH’s emancipatory reach extends everywhere, at many times, and in many places, bringing emancipation for those not yet liberated.
Then again, in God’s vision of the future of the nations, in Isaiah 19:24-25, it is stated:
On that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my hands and Israel my heritage.”In all three cases the prophet is using titles —God’s people, the work of God’s hands, God’s heritage—which are applied to the “chosen people”.
- Another bereaved Gazan mother cries out in agony, “O Lord how can the government of a people who went through the unforgettable experience of the Holocaust duringWorld War II, be so cruelly malicious to us?”
18,000 people have already been killed in Gaza, most of them being women and children. Over 49,229 are reportedly injured. Many more people are missing, presumably under the rubble, waiting for rescue or recovery. At least 6,000 buildings have been damaged and about a third of them destroyed. Up to 80% of the population may have been forced to flee their homes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 22 hospitals and 36 health facilities have been damaged since the war in Gaza began on October 7, 2023. Among the buildings destroyed or partially destroyed are the main Palestinian court, known as the Justice Palace, the Palestinian Legislative Council complex, 339 education facilities and 167 places of worship.
In Deut. 24: 17-18, God says to the Israelites, “Do not deny justice to a resident alien or fatherless child, and do not take a widow’s garment as security.Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Therefore, I am commanding you to do this.” In the case of the Palestinians, they are not resident aliens but rightful residents of Palestine.
God had also said to the Israelites,“Remember, that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deut.5:15). The implication of this weekly remembrance for the Israelites was that they should recall the hardships they underwent under the reign of the stone-hearted Pharaoh; therefore, they would have to be compassionate to, and just in their relationships with their neighbors.
- The voices of a group of Palestinian Christians articulated through the Kairos Document: A Moment of Truth on 11 December 2009 continue to reverberate again and again
2.3.2 Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other people to the land it lives in. It was an injustice when we were driven out.
2.3.4 Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or a theological question only. It is a matter of life and death. . . We suffer from the occupation of our land because we are Palestinians. And as Christian Palestinians we suffer from the wrong interpretation of some theologians.
2.5 We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God. It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation.
4.2.1 Love is seeing the face of God in every human being. Every person is my brother or my sister. However, seeing the face of God in everyone does not mean accepting evil or aggression on their part. Rather, this love seeks to correct the evil and stop the aggression.
The aggression against the Palestinian people which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted. It is an evil and a sin that must be resisted and removed. Primary responsibility for this rests with the Palestinians themselves suffering occupation.
4.2.4 Christ our Lord has left us an example we must imitate. We must resist evil but he taught us that we cannot resist evil with evil. This is a difficult commandment, particularly when the enemy is determined to impose himself and deny our right to remain here in our land.
5.1 We all face, today, a way that is blocked and a future that promises only woe. . . We place our hope in God, who will grant us relief in His own time. At the same time, we continue to act in concord with God and God’s will, building, resisting evil and bringing closer the day of justice and peace.
May our Palestinian children, sisters and brothers in Gaza be comforted by the concluding words of Dr. Daniel Migliore in his book, Faith Seeking Understanding, “God is present as co-sufferer with all the wretched of the earth, whether in cancer wards or in concentration camps.”
May our Palestinian children, sisters and brothers in Gaza hear words of hope from our Compassionate Just God saying, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Gaza; I have heard their cry on account of their oppressors. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from their oppressors.”
Gaza O Gaza!