Thoughts (and action) on Gaza from Starhawk

Posted by Dana -

Wed, Dec 31, 2008

Citizen Diplomacy, War is SO over

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Starhawk, writer, earth activist, feminist visionary and all around amazingly Witchy woman, who wrote CODEPINK’s original call to action just sent around her heartsick meditation on her time spent in Palestine and how we can all stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers during this dark time.  Action ideas are from US Campaign to End the Occupation of Palestine- check them out!

From Starhawk:

Dear friends,

All day I’ve been thinking about Gaza, listening to reports on NPR, following the news on the internet when I can spare a moment.  I’ve been thinking about the friends I made there four years ago, and wondering how they are faring, and imagining their terror as the bombs fall on that giant, open-air prison.

The Israeli ambassador speaks movingly of the terror felt by Israeli children as Hamas rockets explode in the night.  I agree with him—that no child should have her sleep menaced by rocket fire, or wake in the night fearing death.

But I can’t help but remember one night on the Rafah border, sleeping in a house close to the line, watching the children dive for cover as bullets thudded into the walls. There was a shell-hole in the back room they liked to jump through into the garden, which at that time still held fruit trees and chickens.  Their mother fed me eggs, and their grandmother stuffed oranges into my pockets with the shy pride every gardener shares.

That house is gone, now, along with all of its neighbors.  Those children wake in the night, every night of their lives, in terror.  I don’t know if they have survived the hunger, the lack of medical supplies, the bombs.  I only know that they are children, too.

I’ve ridden on buses in Israel.  I understand that gnawing fear, the squirrely feeling in the pit or your stomach, how you eye your fellow passengers wondering if any of them are too thick around the middle. Could that portly fellow be wearing a suicide belt, or just too many late night snacks of hummus?  That’s no way to live.

But I’ve also walked the pock-marked streets of Rafah, where every house bears the scars of Israeli snipers, where tanks prowled the border every night, where children played in the rubble, sometimes under fire, and this was all four years ago, when things were much, much better there.

And I just don’t get it.  I mean, I get why suicide bombs and homemade rockets that kill innocent civilians are wrong. I just don’t get why bombs from F16s that kill far more innocent civilians are right.  Why a kid from the ghetto who shoots a cop is a criminal, but a pilot who bombs a police station from the air is a hero.

Is it a distance thing?  Does the air or the altitude confer a purifying effect?  Or is it a matter of scale?  Individual murder is vile, but mass murder, carried out by a state as an aspect of national policy, that’s a fine and noble thing?

I don’t get how my own people can be doing this.  Or rather, I do get it.  I am a Jew, by birth and upbringing, born six years after the Holocaust ended, raised on the myth and hope of Israel.  The myth goes like this:

“For two thousand years we wandered in exile, homeless and persecuted, nearly destroyed utterly by the Nazis.  But out of that suffering was born one good thing—the homeland that we have come back to, our own land at last, where we can be safe, and proud, and strong.”

That’s a powerful story, a moving story.  There’s only one problem with it—it leaves the Palestinians out.  It has to leave them out, for if we were to admit that the homeland belonged to another people, well, that spoils the story.

The result is a kind of psychic blind spot where the Palestinians are concerned.  If you are truly invested in Israel as the Jewish homeland, the Jewish state, then you can’t let the Palestinians be real to you.  It’s like you can’t really focus on them.  Golda Meir said, “The Palestinians, who are they?  They don’t exist.”  We hear, “There is no partner for peace,”  “There is no one to talk to.”

And so Israel, a modern state with high standards of hygiene, a state rooted in a religion that requires washing your hands before you eat and regular, ritual baths, builds settlements that don’t bother to construct sewage treatment plants. They just dump raw sewage onto the Palestinian fields across the fence, somewhat like a spaceship ejecting its wastes into the void.  I am truly not making this up—I’ve seen it, smelled it, and it’s a known though shameful fact.  But if the Palestinians aren’t really real—who are they?  They don’t exist!—then the land they inhabit becomes a kind of void in the psyche, and it isn’t really real, either.  At times, in those border villages, walking the fencelines of settlements, you feel like you have slipped into a science fiction movie, where parallel universes exist in the same space, but in different strands of reality, that never touch.

When I was on the West Bank, during Israeli incursions the Israeli military would often take over a Palestinian house to billet their soldiers.  Many times, they would simply lock the family who owned it into one room, and keep them there, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days—parents, grandparents, kids and all.  I’ve sat with a family, singing to the children while soldiers trashed their house, and I’ve been detained by a group of soldiers playing cards in the kitchen with a family locked in the other room.  (I got out of that one—but that’s another story.)

It’s a kind of uneasy feeling, having something locked away in a room in your house that you can’t look at.  Ever caught a mouse in a glue trap?  And you can’t bear to watch it suffer, so you leave the room and close the door and don’t come back until it’s really, really dead.

Like a horrific fractal, the locked room repeats on different scales.  The Israelis have built a wall to lock away the West Bank.  And Gaza itself is one huge, locked room.  Close the borders, keep food and medical supplies and necessities from getting through, and perhaps they will just quietly fade out of existence and stop spoiling our story.

“All we want is a return to calm,” the Israeli ambassador says.  “All we want is peace.”

One way to get peace is to exterminate what threatens you.  In fact, that may be the prime directive of the last few thousand years.

But attempts to exterminate pests breed resistance, whether you’re dealing with insects or bacteria or people.  The more insecticides you pour on a field, the more pests you have to deal with—because insecticides are always more potent at killing the beneficial bugs than the pesky ones.

The harshness, the crackdowns, the border closings, the checkpoints, the assassinations, the incursions, the building of settlements deep into Palestinian territory, all the daily frustrations and humiliations of occupation, have been breeding the conditions for Hamas, or something like it, to thrive.  If Israel truly wants peace, there’s a more subtle, a more intelligent and more effective strategy to pursue than simply trying to kill the enemy and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity.

It’s this—instead of killing what threatens you, feed what you want to grow.  Consider in what conditions peace can thrive, and create them, just as you would prepare the bed for the crops you want to plant. Find those among your opponents who also want peace, and support them.  Make alliances.  Offer your enemies incentives to change, and reward your friends.

Of course, to follow such a strategy, you must actually see and know your enemy.  If they are nothing to you but cartoon characters of terrorists, you will not be able to tell one from another, to discern the religious fanatic from the guy muttering under his breath, “F-ing Hammas, they closed the cinema again!”

And you must be willing to give something up.  No one gets peace if your basic bargaining position is, “I get everything I want, and you eat my shit.”  You might get a temporary victory, but it will never be a peaceful one.

To know and see the enemy, you must let them into the story.  They must become real to you, nuanced, distinctive as individuals.

But when we let the Palestinians into the story, it changes.  Oh, how painfully it changes!  For there is no way to tell a new story, one that includes both peoples of the land, without starting like this:

“In our yearning for a homeland, in our attempts as a threatened and traumatized people to find safety and power, we have done a great wrong to another people, and now we must atone.”

Just try saying it. If you, like me, were raised on that other story, just try this one out.  Say it three times.  It hurts, yes, but it might also bring a great, liberating sense of relief with it.

And if you’re not Jewish, if you’re American, if you’re white, if you’re German, if you’re a thousand other things, really, if you’re a human being, there’s probably some version of that story that is true for you.

Out of our own great need and fear and pain, we have often done great harm, and we are called to atone.  To atone is to be at one—to stop drawing a circle that includes our tribe and excludes the other, and start drawing a larger circle that takes everyone in.

How do we atone? Open your eyes.  Look into the face of the enemy, and see a human being, flawed, distinct, unique and precious.  Stop killing.  Start talking. Compost the shit and the rot and feed the olive trees.

Act.  Cross the line.  There are Israelis who do it all the time, joining with Palestinians on the West Bank to protest the wall, watching at checkpoints, refusing to serve in the occupying army, standing for peace.  Thousands have demonstrated this week in Tel Aviv.

There are Palestinians who advocate nonviolent resistance, who have organized their villages to protest the wall, who face tear gas, beatings, arrests, rubber bullets and real bullets to make their stand.

There are internationals who have put themselves on the line—like the boatload of human rights activists, journalists and doctors on board the Dignity, the ship from the Free Gaza movement that was rammed and fired on by the Israeli navy yesterday as it attempted to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid.

Maybe we can’t all do that. But we can all write a letter, make a phone call, send an email. We can make the Palestinian people visible to us, and to the world.  When we do so, we make a world that is safer for every child.

Here is a good summary of some of the actions we can take. Please feel free to repost this. In fact, send it to someone you think will disagree with it.


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  • David Ashton

    Dear Code Pink Editor,
    Many thanks indeed for your thoughtful and helpful writing about the Palestinian issues and the tragic conflict we are at present witness to which seems to me to dismiss our own sense of worth as human beings the sense of being powerless to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

    I went to school with many Jewish children whose parents had escaped the gas ovens of Nazi-occupied Europe. Liverpool welcomed them and made them feel at home in time. I am not sure that we lads knew about it or understood it as we mixed freely and happily with boys and girls of all races, religions and creeds. I think it was true that most of us boys had some Welsh in our language – usually some very bad ‘non-chapel’ words but Welsh words of greeting which were in common use or we could at least say Llanfairpwllgwyngllgogerychwyrndrobwllantisyliogoggogoch, the longest word in the Welsh language which means ‘the church of St Mary by the Hollow of white aspen, over the whirlpool, and St Tysilio’s church close to the red cave’.

    So it was with our accepting attitude towards race that we absorbed the cultures of the world without anyone using, or trying to use, culture to frighten us or use it as a social control mechanism. I think it is true to say that Liverpool and Woolton (the much older civic centre) was, is and hopefully always will be a multi-faith, multi- cultural city which stands as a beacon of optimism and hope in a pessimistic world. It was such a place that inspired my childhood mate John Lennon and why the world finds and will hopefully always find hope, love, joy and optimism in all Johns and the Beatles’ songs. Though we cannot speak for John I am certain in view of the childhood memories we both had of being bombed during the 2nd World War which the children of Gaza experience as I write

    MY OWN FIRST recollections of my mother were on the night of a late bombing raid during the 1939-45 war. My sister Pauline and I had gone into our Anderson Bomb Shelter, at the back of our Liverpool home. I was hugging my Golliwog, called Golly who got me through the worst of the blitz krieg, lying on my bunk bed.

    The adults: Mother, (our Dad was on fire watch duty in Liverpool) and our neighbours called Meakin from next door and Miss Newman, stood outside looking up at the sky, watching the searchlights pinpointing the German bombers. The Polish Air force Hurricane Squadron based at Speke Airport defended Liverpool and saved us from the worst of the Nazi onslaught. John and I suffered terribly from the war; we saw dead bodies piled up in the street. My mother put a coat in front of my eyes and for years she denied that it had happened.

    John told me that he’d had similar experiences. It really was the basis of John’s search for peace. John, like me, was very much committed to peace because we had that trauma of war. But when the men came home there was no time to listen to our childhood traumas. As kids we were afraid that if our houses got bombed we wouldn’t be able to get out. Every 20th house saved up and bought a fire mans ladder. When I was five John and I drew pictures of us jumping out of our houses onto the ladder some of these pictures turned up just two years ago, after my Mum died.

    The tragedy for me as a child who witnessed this horror of being bombed and still have the nightmares more than 60 years, latter I cannot help wondering what the parents of the Liverpool Jewish children we had known as children who also had the nightmare’s of escape from the death camps and our horror of being bombed in Liverpool would say to their children about the genocide being committed by Israel and the west politicians who are not demanding they stop. John wrote, “ All we are saying is give peace a chance “. I only wish we could get they message across but then I am certain we will and we must.
    Yours In Peace

    David Ashton
    Agricultural Journalist, Child of Mother Nature, Beekeeper Poet & Thinker

  • Pat

    Excellent, it should be printed in every US paper and read on every US Media outlet.I am speaking for Peace & Justice for the Palestinians everyday.

  • maria mercedes

    Thank you for your amazing , moving , honest writting . The truth shall set us free. Your letter teaches it ..Bless you .
    I am Colombian american .. Colombia is a microworld of the ME where brothers kill themselves ,,narcotrafic is one motive .. PLan Colombia is the weapon .. Uribe and Bush are criminals of war ..
    I am so sad for we are all palestinians .. I/all suffer b/c of this violence .. It is not only very destructive , ALSO , very useless and it doesn’t solve the problem .
    I admire your sincerity in your story .. Your version is the story I believe ! GRACIAS !!

  • jeannie radwan


  • http://CodePink Peggy Boyd

    Thank you

  • Pela Tomasello

    Thank you Starhawk for writing the truth. I also am Jewish by birth and too grew up raising money for trees in Israel. I feel a great shame for Israel and Jews not to recognize all Palestinians as cousins and visa versa. I also understand that part of the problem is that the Jewish state was based on a falsehood. It didn’t grant freedom but created a new ghetto in which the people are now building their own walls.

  • Rachel

    Thank you starhawk!!. Your understanding and depth of grief for the state of mind that turns the agony of persecusion into the evil of mental and physical anihilation of the ‘other’. It is so important that there be another way.

    Thank you PINKTANK for being part of the answers.

  • K.M.Venugopalan

    You put it in apt words; let reason and wisdom prevail over hate and bigotry.

  • http://control013pests.ning.com/profile/JosephVargas Desiree Trac

    Thank you ever so for you blog post.Thanks Again.

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