As the suffering gets worse, Jewish silence gets louder

At what point do the overwhelming majority of Jewish community leaders in the UK say ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to suffering in Gaza? Do they think there is any depth to which the situation there cannot sink? When does the Gaza crisis warrant attention? Or do they just not care? These are questions that I, as a non-Jew feeling my way around in the Jewish world, find myself asking, as Gaza’s already-desperate situation gets worse. So I ask you.

I’d like to think that, on the whole, I get the bigger picture: that there’s no goodwill on either side, that they fire rockets and Israel fires back, that they glory in killing Israelis and Israelis celebrate killing, say, a Hamas commander. I get the idea behind deterrence. I even subscribe to it. They’re laws I grew up with. If someone hits you, hit them back 10 times harder. Then they’ll think twice about doing it again.

My point is this: most of Gaza’s two million people never did anything wrong, and now live in conditions most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy: no power, no fuel, critical services shutting down, hospitals forced to close. So my question stands: when, if ever, will Jews stand up and say: ‘Enough.’ When, as surely there will be, a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds just a few miles from the boutiques and bars of Tel Aviv, will Jews be there to add their voice and push Israel to help? Or will they be conspicuous by their absence?

Don’t worry – no-one would be surprised if Jewish people weren’t first in-line to help those who’d sworn to kill them. People would expect them to plug their ears and avert thy gaze. The world may grumble about the blockade being the cause of it all, but in terms of providing the infrastructure needed to live in Gaza, the world would understand Jews not playing a part. It would, at most, ask Israel not to stop others doing so.

Is that enough? To me, that’s not what Jews are all about. Being Jewish is about pulling Muslim migrants out of the water on a Greek island beach. It’s about treating Syrians in a field hospital near the Golan Heights. It’s about trying to avoid the unnecessary pain, misery and suffering of millions of men, women and children, wherever they are, and whatever their leaders have said and done in the past.

Yet there is, to put it mildly, a collective communal apathy towards the mainly young Muslim people living (if one can call it that) in Gaza. The cynic says that that’s how Israel likes it: ‘out of sight, out of mind, except when there’s rockets, at which point they’re two million murderers.’ They say nice simple narratives like that have led to three wars in nine years, Israel bombing Gaza “back to the stone ages”.

Today, hideously, that phrase no longer seems metaphorical. Go online and you’ll see for yourself the rubble that is their home. Across great swathes, there is nothing left to bomb. It is dire. If they could leave, most Gazans would, but they can’t. David Cameron called it a ‘prison’. What else is it when you can’t get out?

Aid workers worried about the unfolding crisis don’t care whose fault it is, but for those who would point a finger at Israel, remember Egypt closed its border too, and fellow Palestinians in the West Bank last month called for Gaza’s electricity to be cut. Four hours’ of electricity a day is their new reality. Four.

Where’s the brotherly love? Among all the Arab states, only Turkey and Qatar offer support, because Hamas are Islamists, not secularists, and for most Arab states, that’s a no-no.

To Israeli military planners, who like nothing more than a divided Arab world, this is great news, but where does it leave the Gaza mother whose nine-year old son has cystic fibrosis and needs a 24/7 oxygen pump?

And anyway, what’s the game-plan? Is this slow death the equivalent of ‘smoking them out of the hole’? It can’t be, because as we’ve just seen, they physically can’t leave the hole. Is it instead designed to make the people of Gaza turn on their leaders and oust the Islamists of Hamas? If so, show me the genius who came up with that one, the guy who thought there’d be a nicer replacement, not a nastier one.

None of it makes sense. All this suffering, all this pain, to me makes not one iota of sense. And, as it gets worse, the silence gets louder.

About the Author
Stephen Oryszczuk is the Jewish News Foreign Editor
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