Earlier this month, after three Israeli teens and one Palestinian teen were murdered in the occupied West Bank, 500 members of the St. Louis Jewish community came together to mourn the loss of human life. Since those horrible events, more than 40 Palestinian children in Gaza have been killed by the Israeli army from airstrikes and now a ground invasion — and over 200 adults (at the time this was written). Four young Palestinian boys were killed while playing on a beach in Gaza, attempting to run away when an Israeli missile hit them. In the West Bank, in addition to the torturous murder of 15-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdair, who was kidnapped, beaten and burned alive by Jewish settlers, there have been 7 Palestinians killed, mostly youth, and over 320 arrested in the past few weeks.
As Jews, many of us were raised with values of social justice, standing up to oppression and for the “little guy,” and remembering anti-Semitism and pledging to stop it. That is why we are calling on the St. Louis Jewish community to join us and speak out against the Israeli government’s occupation and bombing of Gaza.
When an Israeli dies, the American Jewish community is quick to mourn, to condemn their death, to pray for peace. But where is the American Jewish community when the Israeli government mistreats, invades and kills Palestinian families on a daily basis? Where is the American Jewish community’s commitment to justice when Israel has illegally occupied the West Bank and Gaza for over 47 years?
Our social justice values compel us to speak out against violence against Palestinians just as we mourn violence against Israelis. Once we start to do that, we can see just how one-sided this “conflict” really is — how for decades Palestinians have lived with relentless violence from the ongoing occupation, how Palestinian families constantly face the threat of eviction from their homes, how thousands of Palestinian adults and children have been arrested and detained in the last decade, how a giant wall has ripped families apart and impeded freedom of movement for many going to work. This is not a “war” — it is an assault by a military power with infinite resources on a population held hostage.
The Israeli government’s actions happen far too often in the name of protecting Judaism, thereby conflating Zionism with Judaism. As Jews, we must not let the Israeli government use our heritage to excuse its morally unexcusable actions. Our Jewish values will not let us.
We call on our fellow Jewish leaders here in St. Louis — on Andrew Rehfeld and the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, on Phyllis Markus and Batya Abramson-Goldstein and the Jewish Community Relations Council, on Rabbi Susan Talve and the Central Reform Congregation, on Karen Aroesty and Anti-Defamation League — to join us in speaking out against the Israeli assault on Gaza and occupation of the West Bank. We as Jews can do better than allow oppression and violence to continue in our names.
Arielle Klagsbrun, Hedy Epstein and Maya Harris are members of St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace.