Thursday, January 22, 2009

MLK Day and Israel in Gaza: "A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal"

On the Celebration of King’s Birth, January 19, 2009
Israel in Gaza: “A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal”

by Michael Ratner
Center For Constitutional Rights

On the celebration of King’s birth I often read or listen
to the anti-war speech that he gave at Riverside Church on
April 4, 1967—A Time to Break the Silence. It was a
powerful statement of his opposition to the Vietnam War.

He spoke of how he was told to not oppose the war because
his opposition would anger President Johnson and harm the
civil rights movement. He was warned that “Peace and Civil
rights don’t mix.” King admitted he held back because of
this possible consequence for too long and failed to speak
out earlier.

I bring this up today when I think about Israel’s recent
invasion of Gaza. While we are celebrating King’s birth
and the inauguration of Barack Obama, Israel invaded Gaza
killing over 1400 people, men women and children, and
injured thousands. It targeted UN buildings, homes,
mosques, police stations, universities and media outlets.

Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed—a ratio of one
hundred Palestinians for each Israeli. The international
law violations have been well documented: disproportionate
military force, attacks on civilian targets, collective
punishment. The killings of the three daughters of a
Palestinian doctor gave a face to those killed in way that
numbers could not. Members of my broader family knew the
doctor, had visited him in Gaza and heard from during the
Israeli onslaught. He was terrified for his family, but
had no way out.

When I heard the news of the murders of the doctor’s
children I was at the Sundance film festival and had just
viewed an amazing and moving film about radical lawyer
Bill Kunstler called Disturbing the Universe. The film
shows Bill in Chicago during the 1969 Chicago 8 trial.

During the time of the trial Black Panther leader Fred
Hampton was murdered by the Chicago police. Bill was
appalled by the murder, but he did not just blame the
Chicago police. He blamed himself and all white Americans.
For it white Americans that for too long had remained
silent and accepted the pervasive racism and the murder of
Blacks in our society.

This brings me to Gaza and role of American Jews and, in
fact, of almost all Americans. For too long, and I do not
exempt myself, most of us have stood silently by or made
only a marginal protests about the massive violations of
Palestinian rights carried out by Israel.

I recall a conversation I had some years ago with the political artist Leon Golub, famous for his outsized oil paintings of torture carried out by American mercenaries in Central America. Leon told me that he had been invited to attend a panel to address what it meant to be a Jewish political artist. He said he had never thought of himself as a “Jewish political artist” but only as a “political

Then he thought some more. Of the works of art
he had made, none concerned Israel’s treatment of the
Palestinians. And then he knew, at least for himself and
probably many others: to be a “Jewish political artist”
was to be an artist who avoided depicting the horrors
inflicted on Palestinians. Of course, that is true for
more than just artists. Many Jews who are very involved in
human rights, ending poverty and war, and fighting for the
underdog avoid criticism of Israel. They wrongly think
that human rights are divisible; or that like ostriches
they can hide their heads and pretend not to see what is
clearly staring them in the face and makes them
uncomfortable: the inhuman treatment of Palestinians.

Some of our willful blindness and refusal to act is a
result of our ambivalence about condemning the actions of
a people that have experienced pervasive anti-Semitism and
the holocaust. Some of our hesitation to act results from
the condemnation and opprobrium anyone, but especially
Jews, encounter with even mild criticisms of Israel.

Organizations that take a position against Israeli actions
subject themselves to a loss of funding from foundations
and individuals. Few can afford to do so. As long as this
silence continues, so will the U.S. billions in aid and
arms that facilitates the killings of Palestinians. As
long as this silence continues, more and more settlements
will be built. As long as this silence continues, there
will be more and more Gazas and more and more children

The lesson here is simple, but difficult to act on. We
are, each of us, responsible for the murders in Gaza. Our
silence is betrayal. Each time we hesitate to speak out;
each time we moderate our condemnation we become
accomplices in killing. The time, if there ever was one,
to show courage is now. Yes it will be difficult for
many. As King said about the reluctance of some to oppose
the Vietnam War:

“Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty
against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s
own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the
issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the
case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge
of being mesmerized by uncertainly; but we must move on.

We must take King’s words to heart. We, each of us, “must
move on.” We must begin somewhere even if it just means saying the issue is not off our agenda. Begin the discussion; begin to act; show that you care. And remember, “A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal.” That time has come.

Michael Ratner
Center for Constitutional RIghts

Visit My Blog:
Visit Our Radio Show:

No comments: