More From Alder's Ledge

July 16, 2014

The Right To Resist

(part of A Bridge Too Far series)

(Jewish Partisans in Croatia During WW2)

This message is not to Palestinians or Muslims. This message is to those who claim to practice Judaism. This message is to those who claim to support the cause of a homeland for the Jewish people. This is a message to my brothers and sisters as well as those who support Israel. It is not a polite suggestion. It is not a message of condemnation. This is a reminder of where we came from. This is a reminder of why we, the Jewish people, should have more empathy than anyone else for the plight of the citizens of Gaza. For their present situation greatly mirrors the tragedies through which our ancestors lived. This is a reminder of our faith, our heritage, and our history.
When my ancestors watched their country be devoured by the barbarism the world called fascism there was little time to react. Yugoslavia was breaking apart. Croatia had made a pact with Hitler to help his armies take the Balkans. Everywhere my ancestors looked all they could see was a world gone mad. For them... the hope of a better life for their children was rapidly disappearing. The belief that the next generation would live in a better world than they did was all but shattered. Yet the will to fight for that hope, the will to sacrifice for that dream, had not been taken from them. 

The fascist began their assault with mass executions and gathering survivors into camps and ghettos. Among those who had fled the massacres were people like my great grandmother. These were people who either were prepared to fight for their homes, their families, or just mere survival. Ahead of them was a long war that looked hopeless. They were ready to fight with no ability to resupply their ammunition, no ability to find food, and no chance for reinforcements. Yet the will to fight was still there. Like a fire deep inside their bones, that will to resist could not be extinguished. 

What the Nazis and Ustase did to my ancestors was beyond barbaric. They took them into the mountains and found ledges upon which to execute them. Others were sent strung up publicly so as to tell their countrymen what awaited all of Yugoslavia's Jews. While others were sent to camps to work for their captors till the release of death overcame them. And yet for those who survived there was a deep seeded desire to resist. The desire to live free, to have their lives back, could not be beaten out of them. Despite all the fascists bestowed upon us in their savage desire to destroy us, we resisted. We fought back. 

During the war against the fascists my ancestors were not granted the rights given to soldiers if they were captured. All those rules made in Geneva were useless to them. If the Ustase or Germans captured them they knew that only torture and death awaited them. They also realized that in defending their families through combat meant that they were endangering entire villages. Anyone that dared to help them (or simply not give up information on them) was fair game to the tyrannical Ustase thugs and Nazi soldiers. To the ruling factions, my ancestors were terrorist. And much like today, their resistance to the oppressive rule of fascism was punishable with actions well beyond the rule of law. 

Today we are proud of our ancestors and what they did to make sure we could be here today, alive and free. We look back on their struggle with pride that can not be taken from us. It is a legacy that has endured even the worst intentions of our enemies. The price they paid in blood has not and will not be forgotten. 

Yet today there are double standards that come with remembering the price our ancestors paid for our freedoms. We tend not to think of their struggle when we look at the plight of the oppressed today. This is especially true when it comes to how many Jews look at the struggle that the Palestinians face. And it is distinctly evident when it comes to the pain inflicted upon the citizens of Gaza.

We as a people have had to fight to survive countless tragedies in our past. As Tisha B'av approaches we will find ourselves reflecting upon the countless times our ancestors were persecuted. During this time we will fast and offer up prayers as we mourn those tragedies. We will also have the opportunity to recall how our G-d delivered us to this day. We will recall how even in our darkest hours He allowed us to reach a time when our people are safe and secure. And yet there is another aspect of our heritage that we should focus upon as Israel carries out Operation Protective Edge... the long history of resistance that has enabled us to reach this day. 

To our oppressors we were once the terrorists. In their eyes we were supposed to accept our fate and go silently into history, never to be remembered. We were painted as sheep to the slaughter by even our friends. Those who had watched us suffer offered us little more than tears as they whispered "oh the poor Jews". To some we had been cast as the meek and suffering oppressed. But for those who wanted us dead, to those we resisted by fighting tooth and nail, we were dangerous terrorists who needed to be slaughtered. 

History has shown how we fought back. History has remembered the millions who perished as the survivors resisted. History has not labeled us as either sheep to slaughter or savage terrorists. It has recorded our suffering and our desire to live. As it will do so for the oppressed that suffer today. 

It is the nature of all mankind to want to live free and full lives. When that is taken from us, we as a species do not lay down and await death silently. While some may accept that life as they knew it is over, most of us will bare our teeth and bristle our manes just like any other animal that has been cornered. We are not timid when we are oppressed. We are not silent when we are tormented. And we are not easily trained to accept our suffering. 

So why have so many of us accepted the suffering of Gaza?

Gaza today rest upon a thin strip of the land allotted to it by the mandate which created Palestine and Israel. The Palestinians living there were once allowed the opportunity to leave the strip and travel elsewhere. They were oppressed in other ways then, but at very least they weren't behind a wall. Since the construction of the "separation barrier" the citizens of Gaza have been virtually stuck in a ghetto. Like our ancestors in Warsaw, they were stuck behind a wall and kept out of sight of the rest of society.

Conditions in Gaza have only deteriorated as Israel has further restricted movement of the citizens of Gaza. Palestinians in Gaza have considerably less rights than those of Israeli citizens right on the other side of the wall. They are not permitted the right to move freely but are rather kept confined like animals in a cage. Like our ancestors in the ghettos of Europe who had to seek Nazi permission, the citizens of Gaza have to seek permission from Israel to leave Gaza (or Egypt when the crossing there is open). Checkpoints are meant to "protect" Israeli citizens from danger while at the same time stripping Palestinians of their basic human rights.

Health conditions also have drastically deteriorated after Israel has repeatedly bombed hospitals and health care centers. Doctors and nursing staff are far less prevalent in Gaza than in Israel. And the numbers of refugees puts a strain on any health care that remains. This does not account for the psychological trauma that goes untreated as Palestinians continue to live under constant siege (well documented at causing severe emotional and psychological trauma). In the ghettos of Europe all of these factors caused an increase in death and even depression and suicide amongst our ancestors.

Sanitation is crippled as Israel has launched aerial assaults and missile attacks on infrastructure across Gaza. Water is at times untrustworthy as treatment of it is not viable at all times. The source of life, the one thing all mankind needs, is denied to the Palestinians of Gaza by the siege Israel has placed them under. The diseases that come with such conditions were well known killers of our ancestors in the ghettos of Europe.

So at what point is it a right of the oppressed population in Gaza to resist the oppression they have been placed under? When does it become acceptable to us to see Palestinians firing rockets back at the nation who is bombing them daily? When do we stop labeling them as terrorists and start realizing that they are resisting in much the same manner as our ancestors did?

In every culture across the globe the death of a child, especially our own, is something that will provoke unmeasurable anger and retaliation. Israel has predicated this latest attack upon the death of three Israeli children. Yet when do we realize that Gaza has sacrificed countless numbers of it's own children to the siege Israel is and has placed upon it in the past? If it was your child that had taken a soldier's bullet or shrapnel from another country's missile would you remain silent?

For me personally the living conditions would have definitely made me defiant. I would obviously take every non-violent step toward dismantling my oppressor and shedding such wretched living conditions as those. But the death of my child, the death of any child, is enough to make me become the most wretched savage my enemy could ever meet. There is no form of punishment fitting for those who would slaughter the innocent for their own personal goals and desires. And for the most part, this reaction is as human as any other emotion. It is ingrained in all mankind to defend their offspring with every ounce of blood that flows through their veins.

Hamas may be far from decent in their politics and the way they fight their wars. But if it were your children being targeted by a ruthless enemy... would you not side with the devil himself if it meant your children could live?

The right to resist tyranny is as natural to man as any of the rest of our "human rights". The right to resist oppression is what led to our people out of Egypt, saved us from the pogroms, and kept us alive through the Holocaust. It is what has created the heritage of which we are so stubbornly proud. And it is the very essence of why Gaza remains defiant in the face of Israel's brutal war.

As we go through The Three Weeks and Tisha B'av let us remember the tragedies through which our people have overcome tyrants. Let us reflect upon the path our ancestors took to get us here today. And let us offer our thanks to G-d for His mercy upon us and our ancestors. But let us also take a critical look at Israel and it's actions in Gaza. Let us offer up our prayers for the suffering people of Gaza.

Most importantly, during this time of mourning...

Let us cry out for the citizens of Gaza. Let us stand with our suffering brothers and sisters. Let us defend them with our voices as we tell the world that what Israel is doing is wrong. And let us make that cry heard by our leaders and our people in Israel. Scream so loud that your voice reverberates across the distance between us and stirs up the hearts and souls of Israel.

We are here today because great men and women resisted those who would have wiped our heritage from the face of the earth. They stood up against tyranny during the darkest hours of our peoples' history. When nobody else would listen, when it seemed that nobody else even cared, they stood up and fought back. It is through their blood, their suffering, and their resilience that we were even given the chance to do the same.

Pray for Gaza.

Then scream for Gaza. 

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