Condemn the Gaza massacre: An open letter to Congressman Sander Levin

Dear Congressman Sander Levin,

As one of your constituents, I urge you to condemn the ongoing massacre of civilians by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip. Since March 30 Israel has killed at least 129 Palestinians, including medics, journalists, and children, while wounding over 14,000, leaving many with life-changing injuries. The vast majority of those slain or injured were unarmed, posing no threat to anyone. Should Israel continue its “open fire” policy of using live ammunition against these overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations, more and more innocent people will be hurt, maimed, and killed. We in the United States will be complicit.

For the past 11 years, Israel has laid siege to Gaza, blockading the coastal enclave from air, sea, and land. This blockade is designed to keep Gazans just barely alive, their heads only an inch above water. Several years ago, the Israeli human rights organization Gisha forced the Israeli military to revealhow it literally keeps the people of Gaza on a diet, counting the exact number of calories allowed into the Strip. As a result of this cruel blockade and repeated Israeli bombardment, Gaza’s 1.9 million Palestinian residents have almost no clean drinking water, access to only 4 hours of electricity per day, and staggeringly high unemployment. The residents of this 141 square mile strip of land (roughly the size of Detroit) cannot leave their open-air prison, where the prospects of a fruitful and meaningful life are dim. Hence, in 2015, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict called on the Government of Israel “to lift, immediately and unconditionally, the blockade on Gaza,” demanding a swift end to this act of collective punishment (my emphasis).

You and I, Mr. Levin, can especially empathize with the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and dignity because we can recall a time not too long ago when our people faced similar oppression. From the pogroms in czarist Russia to the Warsaw Ghetto, we remember well the pain and horror of racist confinement and massive state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against Jews. Consequently, we recognize the inalienable right of all people to resist such inhuman treatment.

It breaks my heart when I hear genocidal rhetoric coming from the mouths of others Jews, such as Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who recently said, “There are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip.” On the other hand, I’m inspired when I witness our coreligionists in Israel and the United States standing up against this injustice. A prime example is the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem which has calledon Israeli soldiers to disobey their superiors’ orders to shoot unarmed Palestinians. We have a choice here to throw in our lot with the likes of Lieberman or B’Tselem. Let us choose wisely.

Congressman, you are deeply committed to the well being of the State of Israel and want to ensure that Israel and the United States remain close allies for decades to come. I want you to know, though, that denouncing this massacre in no way violates that commitment. As Senator Bernie Sanders has said, “As friends – long term friends with Israel – we are obligated to speak the truth as we see it. That is what real friendship demands, especially in difficult times.” The siege and the massacre constitute ongoing catastrophes for the people of Gaza; but, in the long run, blowback from these crimes will spell disaster for Israelis as well. Earlier this year, senior IDF officers warned that Gaza’s humanitarian crisis also threatens Israel’s security. They pointed out that the conditions in Gaza could devolve to the point where order in the Strip totally collapses, precipitating an all-out war between and among various factions in Gaza and Israel. So beside the fact that standing up for the people of Gaza does not disagree with your pro-Israel agenda, ultimately a truly pro-Israeli agenda requires that one condemn the massacre and the siege.

Mr. Levin, you, the longest-serving current Jewish member of Congress, have a unique and powerful voice to speak the uncomfortable truth here and to demand that Israel end this senseless killing. Join me and the rest of the world in insisting that Israel abide by international law and respect the Palestinians’ right to free speech, movement, and, most basically, to life.

At this point, US history, Jewish history, and Palestinian history have all become inextricably intertwined. Jewish liberation now necessitates Palestinian liberation. Let us stand steadfastly for both.

About the Author
Zak Witus is a writer, whose work has appeared in The Forward, +972 Magazine, and Truthout. He is also community organizer with IfNotNow, a movement seeking to end Jewish-American support for Israeli apartheid. Zak earned a master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago (2020).