As I sit and view the reports, photos and live videos streaming in from Gaza I find it impossible to make sense of it all. As a boy growing up in Israel and attending a regular public school, I remember being taught the story of Abraham, the patriarch arguing with God over the decision to destroy the city of Sodom. “And Abraham stood before the Lord. And Abraham drew near, and said: wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked, perhaps there be 50 righteous within the city, wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the righteous that are therein? … and the Lord said, if I find in Sodom 50 just men within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Genesis, 18, 23-26). One has to admire Abraham for his tenacity, arguing with God Almighty for the sake of 50 men! Today I heard the claim made that “only” 50 innocent people were killed in this attack and I thought: even if the number of civilians killed were so low (and it is much higher) God would have spared Gaza for those 50, but not Ehud Barak.
One has to admire the idea that no matter what, the life of innocent civilians is sacred and must never be compromised. There can be no doubt that among the 1.5 million people residing in Gaza there are more than 50 righteous men and women, but more importantly, there are 800,000 children in Gaza. According to reports in the Israeli newspapers hundreds of thousands of children were on their way to and from school at the time that 50 Israeli warplanes began a nine-hour attack during which they dropped more than one hundred tons of bombs.
With Israeli elections scheduled for February, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is hoping to once again become prime minister, has once again unleashed the Israeli military on the civilian population of Gaza. Barak, who has earned the dubious distinction of being Israel’s most decorated soldier, is guaranteeing that Israelis and Palestinians will see more violence and more loss of innocent lives. With columns of tanks, and brigades of infantry ready to attack already destroyed Gaza, Barak hopes to prove that he is a candidate who can deliver. But unlike the biblical story, there is no one willing to stand up to General Barak and argue for the lives of even 50 righteous men, not to mention, 800,000 children.
The 800,000 children of Gaza were the reason that Nader Elbanna and I in our capacity as co chairs of the Elbanna-Peled Foundation, decided to travel to Gaza to deliver essential medical equipment to Ahli hospital in Gaza City. We flew from San Diego in mid-November, passing through Europe, Israel and Jordan to Cairo; then traveling overland we crossed the Suez Canal, stopping at endless Egyptian security checkpoints along the way to reach the gates of Gaza at Rafah. It was there that we were told that the border to Gaza is closed. We spent three days trying to get in, with Nader arguing, negotiating passionately, setting aside the excruciating pain from his ear and throat infection. In the end, standing merely 50 yards from our destination the truth came out of the mouth of one intelligence officer at the Rafah crossing who exclaimed: “but we can’t let you cross, the Israelis are watching.”
We knew that an Israeli-Egyptian-American agreement was keeping the people of Gaza imprisoned, impoverished and malnourished but we hoped that with support and assistance we secured from Rotary in Egypt and other connections we could outsmart the system. The help we received was tremendous, but we had underestimated the system. Interestingly, the toughest part for us was not being denied entry, but rather it was calling Dr. Suheila Tarazi, of the Ahli hospital in Gaza and telling her that we would not be able to enter and deliver the equipment to the hospital. Dr. Tarazi thanked us for our efforts, described the intolerable conditions in Gaza and told us that with God’s help we will all have peace one day. But the optimism and good wishes could not mask the grim reality evident in her voice. If the problems a doctor or a hospital administrator in Gaza had to face were insurmountable until a few days ago, now they are pure hell. As Israel shut off the electricity and shut down the supply of fuel, there is no refrigeration and medicines go bad and have to be discarded. Machines that need power to help people breath; dialysis and other life support machines stop working. Now with hundreds of casualties and little equipment or medicine one cannot imagine what it must be like for Dr. Tarazi and others who are entrusted with the lives of the sick and the injured.
The Elbanna-Peled Foundation was founded in memory of two little girls who were victims of the Palestinian-Israel war: Smadar Elhanan, killed in 1997 at the age of 13 when two Palestinians blew themselves up in Jerusalem, and Abir Aramin, killed at the age of 10 by an Israeli sniper in January 2007. The Gaza project was a third of its kind initiated by Nader Elbanna and me. Having met in a living room dialogue group in San Diego in the year 2001, our work together is done in an effort to demonstrate two points: Palestinians and Israelis are bound together by their ties to a mutual homeland and this bond can bring them together as allies; the second point is that an Israeli-Palestinian alliance is a powerful tool that can transform the region and stop the bloodshed.
The question has been raised of whether or not the Israeli attack on Gaza is disproportionate to the threat that Gaza presents to Israel. The answer to that lies not in numbers, not in comparing how many rockets were fired or how many of the dead are actually Hamas people and how many were bystanders. The answer lies in the biblical Abraham’s admonition towards God in Genesis 18: “Far be it from thee to slay the righteous with the wicked.”
Looking beyond the grim reality of today, I remember something that was written by another doctor from Gaza, Dr. Mona El Farra. In a piece published in the US about a year ago she wrote: “This may seem an unlikely time to discuss the prospect of one state with equal rights for all, but the fighting in Gaza makes clear that a cordoned-off Gaza Bantustan is no solution.” In response to this I wrote the following: the question that Dr. El Farra raises it monumental — why is it right to speak of equal rights everywhere except for Israel and Palestine? Indeed, it may be an unlikely time but it is never less the right time to discuss the establishment of a secular, democratic state in Israel/Palestine in which human and civil rights are guaranteed to all its citizens.
Miko Peled is an Israeli peace activist and writer living in San Diego. For comments or contact please go to mikopeled.wordpress.com.