January 23, 2009
A Gathering to Mourn and to Protest
01.18.2009 | Oasis of Peace
Shulamit Aloni: Disgraced IDF no longer Israel’s “Defense Forces”
January 17, 2009 – Jaffa: A standing-room-only audience of three hundred Israelis overflowed the auditorium at the Association for Jaffa Arabs on downtown Yefet Street yesterday, and loudspeakers were hastily set up for latecomers standing outside in the cold. Billed as “A Gathering to Protest and to Mourn,” the event came in response to the massive civilian deaths in the assault on Gaza that began December 27, 2008. The program opened with a brief shared ritual of grieving – poetry read aloud and the music of an oud and a violin.
Displayed in the lobby of Rabita Auditorium was a list – inscribed in white ink against a black background – of the names of the civilians killed in the war, Arabs and Jews, alongside memorial candles lit in their memory. Most of the afternoon was devoted to workshops addressing themes like “From Mourning to Protest” and “The Sacredness of Life as a Shared Value.”
Shulamit Aloni, the keynote speaker, minced no words. “Given the terrible actions taken in this war,” said the former Member of Israel’s Knesset and longtime civil rights champion, “the IDF can no longer be known as the ’Israel Defense Forces.’ When I fought in Israel’s War of Independence, we thought we were creating an exemplary society, but our army today is no longer an army of defense. It is a brutal and hedonistic army of conquest.
“I’ve heard people saying that ’we gave them Gaza and look how they behaved.’ But we did not give them Gaza, to our disgrace; instead, we turned Gaza into a giant detention camp with a million and a half inmates, with no way in or out. Those leaving at three o’clock in the morning on their way to work were scrutinized as if they were slaves. People who are incarcerated in a detention camp have the right to respond. The IDF… spares no thought for families, old people, women and children. The [Israeli] public unashamedly celebrates the killing and the destruction. They rejoice that we have a large, strong army, but meanwhile Israel has abandoned its values and the values of its Declaration of Independence.”
Aloni was also harshly critical of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who withdrew permission to hold the event at the Jewish-Arab Community Center in Jaffa, its planned location. “I thought Huldai believed in freedom of expression. How disgraceful for Tel Aviv’s mayor that the city did not provide a venue for this civic gathering of people working for Jewish-Arab partnership and dialogue and peace.
“There is another voice discernible here,” Aloni said, “but they silence it. I am sure that people will wake up now, and that this disgrace will be expunged. It will be expunged if Israel opens the gates and helps rehabilitate the terrible destruction it has caused, if it builds hospitals and rebuilds schools and helps rebuild the homes destroyed in this ghastly festival of destruction.”
Psychology Professor Ariella Friedman of Tel Aviv University: “I am dumbstruck that such a large percentage of the nation thinks this campaign [in Gaza] is legitimate. I don’t think the Jewish people is the worst nation on earth, nor, sadly, is it the best nation on earth. But the circumstances here have turned us into people who perpetrate atrocities – and are then silent. I’ve heard people say that this was a ’successful war’ – what cynicism, what spiritual numbness. There is a model here: they begin a war with a grand display of arrogant posturing but without any idea how they want to end it, and people enthusiastically embrace that decision. And afterwards they say ’there was no choice’ – since when did we have no choice?
“In Israel,” continued Prof. Friedman, “some people want to hang on to their faith in [their] morality at any price while waging war by any means. The price is an extreme separation between us and them. In Israel, the people weep over every citizen killed and there is a tremendous sense of togetherness. Yet how do people respond to the death of a mother and her five children, as happened one night in Gaza? Supposedly we are an enlightened army seeking only peace, doing what we do because we have no other option, whereas the killing that the other side perpetrates is intentional and evil. These are superficial statements that help people to deal with the intolerable situation and not to face the fact that they are committing atrocities against people under their control. That is the only way they can commit evil acts and still feel moral.”
Dr. Ahmad Abu-Tuahina, director of the GCMHP-Gaza Community Mental Health Center, talked with the gathering by telephone: “The children of the Intifadas have undergone dreadful traumas. In the first Intifada, soldiers broke into homes and abused parents in front of their children. These children were traumatized: they discovered that those who are supposed to defend them have no defense, hence they were obliged to take the initiative to defend themselves. Children who felt lost and abandoned sought some figure to identify with, and they identified with the powerful – with members of Hamas who were fighting for their honor. This situation created a wave of extremism among the children and adults of both peoples. The same situation obtains today. In Gaza today there is no safe place – no safety at home nor on the street nor even in UN buildings, and the fact that UN buildings are no longer safe is heavily symbolic. The two children who were trapped for several days under a building with their mother who had been killed – imagine what kind of adults these children will grow up to be, after such an insane experience. With this war, Israel has nurtured its own enemies and obliterated the prospects for coexistence and peace.”
Lieutenant Col. (Res.) Yoel Peterburg, among the founders of the Apache helicopter unit in the Israeli Air Force and a conscientious objector: “I helped create the Apache unit in the Air Force which today, with its dreadful missiles, so terrifies Palestinians. I commanded the capture of the ship Karine A. My experience is that the Air Force has undergone a steep moral decline, particularly among combat helicopter [pilots]. Until the second Intifada, we were not permitted during a targeted assassination to carry out the mission if within a radius of 500 meters there were ’uninvolved bystanders.’ If we saw a vehicle approaching the village, we aborted the mission. Now they are launching one-ton bombs at houses when the pilot has no idea who is inside. After a bomb of that size hits, there is no way he can know who was there in hindsight, either. Two cornerstones of the IDF code of conduct become irrelevant here – respect for human life and the purity of arms.”
Prof. Ramzi Suleiman, a psychologist from the University of Haifa: “You called for a gathering to mourn, but I refuse to mourn, not for the dead among my people and not for the dead of another people. Mourning helps keep the dead person among us after their spirit has departed. I cannot go forward yet; today I am still alive and in pain and protesting. I still have enough life left in me that I can look straight at the murderers of children and women and men, look them in the eye, or as someone once said, see the whites of their eyes, and tell them: Murderers, you have killed hundreds of children, women, and men, you have destroyed Gaza, a wretched place where a million and a half human beings live.”
Prof. Suleiman enumerated the guilty: the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Foreign Minister, along with the Chief of Staff, and added: “When the day comes that these people stand before a war crimes tribunal, I would like to see on the defendants’ bench not just those who gave the orders and those who fired the weapons. I would also like to see those who ’fired and wept.’ The authors and cultural icons who lent sleazy credibility to this terrible crime.”
Three scheduled participants were unable to attend: Nir Oren, co-chairman of the Bereaved Families Forum, who is currently under arrest, on grounds of “unauthorized assembly,” for participating in a silent protest vigil in Beersheba. The second is his Palestinian co-chairman who could not attend due to the closure enforced on the West Bank. And the last is Dr. Abu-Tuahina, who remains in Gaza with its injured, displaced, exhausted and traumatized residents.
“A Gathering to Mourn and to Protest” was conceived and organized by mental health professionals together with activist organizations that included the School for Peace at Wahat al Salam / Neve Shalom; OSIM-Shalom: Social Workers Make Peace; the Bereaved Families Forum; and PsychoActiv-Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights.
Posters of civilians killed during the offensive were displayed at the event:
Shulamit Aloni (Hebrew only):