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The question is: How did I eat until now?

Maybe we’re asking ourselves the wrong questions. Maybe we’re not fully understanding the choice we’re meant to be making.

I’m making a strange choice today. I’m choosing to end the year 5782 with a hunger strike that starts today.

What do you think you’re going to accomplish? Do you think anything will change just because you stopped eating? Do you think anyone cares?

These are fine questions, but they’re the wrong ones. The first question that I need to ask myself is: do I care?

On the simplest level, I’m choosing not to eat because I can’t stomach the fact that there are millions of people starving to death in Ethiopia today, because of a war that has nothing to do with me, but that I support against my will and without my consent.

The question that I ask myself is: how have you been eating for the last two years, as this has been going on? How have you been silent and complacent while human rights atrocities have been committed (let’s say allegedly, just to be formal) by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces that have received arms and training from Israel.

Since November 2020, a brutal civil war has been waged in the Tigray region in Ethiopia, with estimates that 500,000 people have been killed on account of the war, from fighting, starvation, and lack of medical attention, and millions of people who are currently in danger of starvation. There is ample evidence of war crimes committed by both sides in the conflict, horrific stories of massacres and rape used as a weapon of war against women of all ages, from 8 to 72. The Ethiopian forces committing atrocities have been joined by forces from neighboring Eritrea. Both countries are known to have extensive “security ties” with Israel, meaning that Israel has long authorized the sale of weapons and training, despite deeply problematic human rights records.

Has Israel halted these sales in the past two years? The tight Israeli censorship over everything having to do with international weapons sales (Israel was marked as one of the 5 least transparent countries, along with China, North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia in the 2021 small arms survey) means that we’re not allowed to know. For some, that invites an easy jump of blind faith to the conclusion that Israel must have stopped its arms sales to these countries, and that we have no connection to the conflict. But those of us who have been paying attention in recent years, as Israeli arms sales continued despite genocide in Myanmar and ethnic cleansing in South Sudan, to cite two of the more extreme recent examples, can make no such leap.

The first question to ask myself is: do I care? And the first choice I’m faced with: what do I do about it?

Today I have two answers. First, I join 35 other rabbinic and communal leaders calling on all parties to commit to ending Israeli arms sales to murderous regimes, and to bringing the remaining members of the Tigrayan Jewish community to Israel, and voicing that call today in Jerusalem.

What does this choice have to do with the fundamental choice we’re faced with during this election season? And this High Holidays season? We’ll speak about that today (live stream at 17:00), and I’ll write about it in the next installment.

First in a series.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is one of the founders of Yanshoof (www.yanshoof.org), an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.