I am the Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors. I say this to emphasize that Jews do not speak with a single voice. I have spent considerable time studying Zionism (not to be conflated with Judaism) and the history of Israel and Palestine. This history is critical as it relates to the present.

Zionism is a political philosophy that calls for a homeland for Jews. The political movement was begun in the late 1800s by Theodor Herzl and led to the founding of Israel in 1948. Contrary to common perception, this conflict has not been raging for millennia. Jews, Christians and Muslims lived fairly peacefully together for centuries in Ottoman Palestine. The influx of tens of thousands of European Jews, escaping anti-Jewish pogroms, began pushing out the indigenous population. In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in what the Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe) and Israelis call the War for Independence. Tens of thousands fled to Gaza, others to the West Bank or nearby Arab countries.

Gaza has been militarily occupied by Israel since 1967. Israel claims that withdrawal of its army and civilians from Gaza means it is no longer occupied. However, the legal definition of occupation is effective provisional control. Israel has absolute control over Gaza and its population.

Israel controls all of Gaza’s borders except that with Egypt. Israel controls Gaza’s sea and airspace. Palestinians are shot at when fishing more than 3 nautical miles from the coast, although the Oslo Accords allow 20 nautical miles. Israel posts snipers along the fence and maintains a 300-meter buffer area between the wall and Gaza’s land. This farmland lies fallow because Israeli snipers shoot and kill farmers there.

Israel controls all goods into Gaza, and since the siege began in 2007, disallows virtually all exports, thus destroying Gaza’s economy. Gaza has been a humanitarian disaster for years.

A recent Star Tribune editorial (“Hamas cynicism is the biggest threat to Gaza,” July 16) placed the blame of the current conflict solely on Hamas, exactly what the Israeli government wants Americans to believe. In fact, it so parroted the Israeli line that it could have been written by an Israeli government propagandist.

Israel claims (without evidence) that Hamas uses civilians as human shields, though many reports show that Israel uses Palestinian civilians as human shields.

Eighty percent of the victims of this attack have been civilians, and dozens have been children. The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies have accused Israel of war crimes.

Israel claims that it has a right to defend itself. I ask: Do not Palestinians have the right to defend themselves?

Israel has an obligation under international law to protect civilians. It is a violation of the Geneva Conventions to target hospitals and places of worship, yet hospitals and mosques have been destroyed.

This attack on Gaza is an extension of the Zionist project, one to ethnically cleanse Palestinians and replace them with Jews. In this scenario, all Palestinians become the enemy and therefore in Israeli eyes, all Palestinians are legitimate targets, babies and children included.

It is truly a tragedy that most Americans side with the aggressor in this conflict, although not surprising. The American people have been told only one side of this story. Only recently have the Palestinians become more successful at reaching Americans.

Public awareness of the facts is increasing. When Palestinian civil society called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) from Israel until it complies with international law, people all over the world, and increasingly in America, began to see how this nonviolent movement could bring about change. To date, universities and churches have divested from corporations profiting from human-rights abuses. Academic, cultural and consumer boycotts are spreading. These initiatives will pressure Israel to change its policies.

BDS has the potential to create justice in Israel and Palestine. For further information, contact the Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign via http://mn.breakthebonds.org.


Sylvia Schwarz is co-director of Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign.