For half a century I have been haunted by the Holocaust. I was especially troubled by the fact that the Nazis’ grotesque cruelty originated in Germany, a civilized and supposedly Christian country. Where were those Christians, those “good Germans,” I wondered, and why didn’t they confront the evil that took over their society?
There were, of course, Germans who resisted the Nazis. They hid Jews in their homes or helped them escape. Some, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, dared to speak out and plot to overthrow the evil regime. They died for their courage.
I often wondered whether I would have been that brave. Would I have risked death to speak against evil? Or would I have looked the other way?
Today, such questions are no longer hypothetical. We Americans have become the good Germans of our time and place. Our country is engaged in a great, chaotic and multi-faceted misadventure in the Middle East, sleepwalking toward a widening conflict.
We are aligned with an ally, Israel, whose policies and actions look increasingly Nazi-like. A country created by the United Nations in the aftermath of the Holocaust, amid an outpouring of sympathy for survivors, Israel has taken a dark path — and is taking America with it. What irony. What tragedy.
Who can look at the Israeli snipers firing live bullets at unarmed Gaza protesters and not see a war crime? While most of the Gaza protesters were weaponless and peaceful, Israelis justified using live ammunition because some of the protesters were throwing rocks at the well-protected soldiers and flying fire kites.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between March 30 and May 14 in Gaza, Israelis killed 104 Palestinians and injured more than 12,600, many severely. Among the casualties were children, women, medics and journalists. A more recent report from the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza raised the death toll to 112, including 13 children. One Israeli soldier was reported injured by a stone.
Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself. But with disproportionate and lethal force?
The Israeli-American indifference to even the public relations aspect of what happened in Gaza was on display last week as Ivanka Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others partied at the controversial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. On split screens around the world, images of the Jerusalem festivities were juxtaposed with images of the simultaneous massacre in Gaza.
Massacre is an accurate word for what took place last week in Gaza, although Israelis see things differently. “Our soldiers had no other means,” American-born Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy prime minister, told National Public Radio after the bloodiest day, May 14, when snipers killed 60 people. He blamed Palestinian deaths on Hamas, considered terrorists by Israel and the U.S. He also blamed Hamas for the poverty, infrastructure destruction and hopelessness that has pervaded Gaza since Israel blockaded the territory by land, sea and air 10 years ago. When asked about Israel’s periodic assaults on Gaza, Oren said calmly, “Every once in a while we have to do what is in our interest.”
Americans should take note. Isn’t it finally time that Americans do what is in our interest? Our interests derive from our core values— that all humans are “created equal” and have “unalienable” rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The longer we stand with Israel no matter what it does, the more we betray our own American values. We currently support Israeli policies that effectively mean only some people are equal. The rest need to move on.
Americans do not share Israel’s values — not as long as Israel continues to assert the right to massacre Palestinians, turn them into refugees, appropriate their land, demolish their homes and demand their submission as the price of peace. Israel’s right-wing government is drunk with power, partly because it knows the most powerful nation in the world stands with them, no matter what they do. America needs to stand down. That is what is in our interest.
President Donald Trump has certainly taken America’s cosseting of Israel to a new level, but the truth is that leaders in both major parties have long collaborated with Israel and ignored the just demands of Palestinians. With the rare exception of those like Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., national leaders avoid showing any understanding of Palestinian grievances, let alone criticizing Israel. Their cowardice is understandable — they fear being unfairly accused of anti-Semitism and being targeted in the next election by Israel’s well-organized and well-financed supporters.
As citizens, Americans have to take responsibility for what our elected officials do in our names. Either we turn our government around on the Israel/Palestine issue, or we avert our eyes from the recent atrocities in Gaza, and the next one, and the one after that.
Mary Christine Bader is a writer in Wayzata.