When discussing the war in Gaza, we must ask the question about genocide

Ken Sehested

Invocation. “Schindler’s List.” —violin solo by Braimah Kanneh-Mason

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Following Hamas’ brutal execution of nearly 1,200 Israelis on 7 October 2023, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s words have become infamous: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”

But this present atrocity did not begin last October. In the days following the 14 May 1948 founding of the nation of Israel, some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled by Jewish militias from their homes or fled in fear for their lives. That infamy is designated as al-Nakba (“the catastrophe”), commemorated every 15 May by Palestinians. Then, in 2007, Israel put in place a complete blockade on Gaza and its 2+ million residents, tightly controlling access by land, air, and sea. Human Rights Watch refers to Gaza’s status as the world’s largest open-air prison.

To date some 36,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed during the Israeli Defense Force’s invasion. For up to date information on casualties in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, see “Israel-Gaza war in maps and charts: Live tracker.”

For more historical summary and commentary, see “Gaza, Israel, history” and “al-Nakba: Meditation on Israel, Palestine, and the calculus of power.”

Artwork below: “Women of Gaza” by Palestinian artist Rawan Anani

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Hymn of lament. “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” —“How long, Lord?” translated lyrics from “Eela Mata Ya Rabbou,” hymn adapted from Psalm 13, a lament over the Israeli massacres of Palestinian protestors in the Gaza Strip, performed by Fairouz

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This is very significant

Fareed Zakaria, host of GPS, interviewing Human Rights Watch co-founder Aryeh Neier, who fled the Nazis as a child, tells Fareed why he has come to the conclusion that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. (9:55 minutes) You can read Neier’s “Is Israel Committing Genocide?” in the New York Review of Books  (You can read it at no cost if you’re willing to provide your name and email address.)

Also: See Rodney Kennedy’s historical survey of the land known as “Palestine”—“Yes, ‘Palestine’ is a place despite what Facebook memes may have told you.”

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“If you are neutral in a situation of injustice,
you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
If an elephant has his foot on the tail of a
mouse, and you say you are neutral, the
mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.””
—Desmond Tutu, former Anglican bishop of South Africa

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Did God sanction genocide?

Jews and Christians have troubling texts which pose grim questions, particularly the apparent sanctioning of genocide in Holy Writ.

Announcing Israel’s commencement of its ground invasion on 28 October 2023, Prime Minister Netanyahu referenced God’s instruction to the biblical King Saul to destroy the Amalekites, Israel’s most bitter ancient enemy. Afterwards, the Prime Minister’s office added a textual reference behind his comment, Deuteronomy 15:17-19, which ends with the prophet and priest Samuel delivering instructions to Saul from God: “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”

The same story, told in 1 Samuel, fills in the brutal details: “Samuel said to Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. . . . Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (15:1-3).

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Then there’s this:
Puritans identify Amaleks in the New World

“We’ve seen throughout history the bloody impact of people setting off to kill some new group of ‘Amalekites.’ Puritan leaders justified the genocide of Native Americans in the colonial period of what is now the U.S. by comparing the Native Americans to the Amalekites. As John Winthrop gave his sermon on ‘a model of Christian charity’ to Puritans heading to the new land, he invoked the command for Saul to kill Amalek. That’s the same sermon famous for his line about the new land being ‘a city upon a hill.’ The speech frequently quoted by politicians today to cast the U.S. as a divine city on a hill (instead of what Jesus said about the city being his followers) also includes the theological foundation for genocide against Native Americans. It’s not so shining of a speech after all.” —Brian Kaylor, “A Call for ‘Biblical’ Genocide,” A Public Witness

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Overlooked quotes

  • “We shall try to spirit the penniless [non-Jewish] population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country… expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), considered the “father” of modern political Zionism, in an 1895 entry in his personal diary
  • “Our thought is that the colonisation of Palestine has to go in two directions: Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel [“Land of Israel,” a somewhat flexible description of the area which the biblical Israelite tribes had their settlements] and the resettlement of the Arabs of Eretz Israel in areas outside the country.” early Zionist leader Leo Motzkin (1867-1933)
  • “[I]n 1956, the Israeli chief of staff Moshe Dayan made a famous speech at the funeral of an Israeli commander killed on the border with Gaza. What, Dayan wondered, explained the Palestinians’ ‘terrible hatred of us’? Then he answered his own question: ‘For eight years now they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home.’” —Patrick Cockburn, in a review of Joe Sacco’s “Footnotes in Gaza,” New York Times Book Review, 27 December 2009

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I have a dream?
Scripture’s hint at our destined future

“This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, old and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac [born to Sarah, the first of Abraham’s wives and concubines] and Ishmael [born to Hagar, Sarah’s slave] buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites.” —Genesis 25: 7-10

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Benediction. “From the north to the south / from the west to the east / hear the prayer of the mothers / bring them peace.” —“Prayer of the Mothers,” Yael Deckelbaum, who created an alliance of a group of Israeli and Palestinian women for a “March of Hope” in 2016

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