Gaza deaths demand action

At least 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire Monday and more than 2,700 injured during protests that coincided with the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem — the deadliest day in Gaza since 2014. This is on top of at least 40 Palestinians already killed and 7,900 injured since March 30, when 45 days of protest began leading up to today: Nakba Day, which commemorates the day in 1948 — 70 years ago — when 750,000 Palestinians were forcefully displaced from their homes and made refugees practically overnight with the creation of the state of Israel.

By contrast, it appears no Israeli soldiers were wounded, let alone killed, by the Gaza actions.

Now is the time for citizens of conscience to stand up for the rights of those killed to ensure that their deaths will not have been in vain.

For any progressive Jewish American like myself, we must fight for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes — as codified in U.N. Resolution 194 — or receive due compensation, for we too were refugees once. We must oppose the use of U.S. tax dollars in the gross violation of Palestinian human rights. And we must support international pressure on Israel to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories at this dire moment.

In July, the United Nations reported that the Gaza Strip had long ago become unlivable for its population of 2 million people. “When you’re down to two hours of power a day and you have 60 percent youth unemployment rates, that unlivability threshold has been passed,” Robert Piper, the U.N. Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said at the time. “Every indicator, from energy to water to health care to employment to poverty to food insecurity is declining.”

So it is no wonder that the Palestinian people are now marching to the Israeli border wall: The people of Gaza have been forced into a catastrophe — the literal translation of the Arabic word nakba — in which they have nothing to lose and no way to leave.

So what is America’s recourse? Congress passed the Department of Defense Leahy Law as part of its annual appropriations act of 1999. Under the law, the U.S. government is prohibited from using funds “for assistance to foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating those forces in the commission of gross violations of human rights.” Last month, a video went viral of Israeli soldiers laughing and cheering after one of them shot an apparently unarmed individual in Gaza. In response to the news, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said “The sniper deserves a medal and the photographer deserves a demotion” and that the Israel Defence Forces “is the most moral army in the world.”

Surely such a statement in light of the recent killings deserves a second glance.

This is why I call on our very own Sen. Ben Cardin, as former ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, to withdraw the Israel Anti-Boycott Act he co-sponsored and begin a public investigation into the usage of U.S. foreign aid to Israel. According to the Congressional Research Service, $3.1 billion in foreign military financing is given by the U.S. to Israel every year. If the aforementioned activities represent gross violations of human rights, then this foreign aid is illegal and must be withdrawn until full accountability for these actions is attained.

Unfortunately, in our political system, very rarely do the centers of power take action without immense outside pressure from grassroots activists. This is why we as citizens of conscience must make our voices heard in local publications, in demonstrations, and in calls to our elected officials. In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Now is the time to speak out.

Nathan Feldman is an organizer with Freedom to Boycott MD and can be reached at nfeldma1@terpmail.umd.edu.

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