Controversy rages on our Island and around the world over the Israel-Gaza war. Some Island residents, myself included, have publicly expressed outrage over the Israeli military’s assault on Gaza, which we, along with millions of others, characterize as genocidal. Our group of like-minded Islanders has coalesced into an informal organization called Ceasefire MV, also known as MV For Palestine. We have demonstrated in Vineyard Haven in support of an immediate and permanent ceasefire; our first such demonstration on Nov. 19 was covered in an article in The MV Times. A few days earlier, the newspaper published my letter to the editor in which I called for a ceasefire in Gaza.
In response, a number of readers denounced Ceasefire MV as anti-Semitic, and defended the actions of the Israeli military as necessary and appropriate. Ceasefire MV welcomes a vigorous debate on the extremely sensitive issues around the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My purpose here is to clarify our position, and answer some of the criticisms that have been raised.
On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a horrific attack on Israel, and Israeli forces responded with extensive and brutal airstrikes on Gaza. By all reports, Hamas’s actions were heinous: mass murder, kidnapping, and torture, involving some 1,400 victims. One criticism is that Ceasefire MV’s demonstrations are insensitive to the suffering of those victims, because we carried no signs demanding the return of the hostages, and expressed no support for the Israeli state.
We condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas. Our position is that war crimes are war crimes, regardless of who commits them, or for what ostensible reason. Nobody, ever, anywhere, should have to endure the unspeakable horror of having family members kidnapped, tortured, murdered; no one should have to pick through the rubble looking for family members’ body parts: never again for anyone.
Another frequently heard criticism is that any support for Palestinians and for a ceasefire is de facto, if not consciously, anti-Semitic, because any ceasefire will allow Hamas to regroup and kill more Jews. Any demonstration calling for a ceasefire is therefore pro-Hamas.
One of the several flaws in this line of thinking is that genocide is not only wrong and immoral; it is illegal under international law, which provides no exception based on how legitimate the perpetrators say their motives and objectives are. The right to self-defense does not extend to bombing hospitals and refugee camps, even when the enemy is hiding there using people as human shields.
Another objection is amoral but pragmatic: The war of annihilation is unlikely to achieve its stated objective of obliterating Hamas, according to expert analysts cited by the New York Times. And by failing to “eliminate” and “crush” Hamas, the Israeli strategy will ensure that Hamas recovers and strikes again. Military violence and systematic oppression all but guarantee a new generation of terrorists obsessed with revenge. Thus the cycle is perpetuated.
Even the pro-Israel pundit Thomas Friedman has argued that the disproportionate Israeli military response is a bad idea because of the damage to Israel’s international reputation, and that a more restrained approach would over the long run be more beneficial to Israel’s security interests.
Moreover, concern for the fate of the hostages militates in favor of a ceasefire, not against it. Netanyahu initially declared that there would be no ceasefire until the hostages were returned. Faced with overwhelming pressure from the families of those hostages, including demands to do whatever it takes to get the hostages back, the Israeli government has now agreed to a temporary ceasefire as part of a deal to swap hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
Some courageous rabbis have formed Rabbis for Ceasefire, which now has some 200 members. This group includes the Vineyard’s own Rabbi Brian Walt. Speaking to the Boston Globe, he condemns the Oct. 7 attack; referring to the Israeli assault, Walt also says, “The horrifying images from Gaza violate the most sacred values of Jewish tradition.” Are these rabbis, Friedman, and Netanyahu himself anti-Semites?
The U.N.’s’ Commission of Inquiry is currently collecting evidence of war crimes on both sides. Five countries have petitioned the International Criminal Court to investigate recent Israeli war crimes in Gaza. It is absurd to attribute every criticism of the Israeli government to some global anti-Semitic conspiracy. With more than enough real anti-Semitism in the world, there is no need to exaggerate and weaponize it.
The reader may nevertheless ask, Why do we not wave Israeli flags at our demonstrations? Why not protest both Hamas’s as well as Israeli atrocities?
Political demonstrations by nature are one-sided. One would not expect pro-life demonstrators to carry pro-choice signs out of sensitivity to the opposition’s feelings.
Another important distinction involves the arrow of time. The perpetrators must be held accountable, but Hamas’s murder victims of Oct. 7 cannot be saved. The onslaught on Gaza, however, is on a temporary pause; the Israeli government makes no secret of its intention to resume. The immediate mortal danger is to the inhabitants of Gaza.
There is also a question of scale and proportionality. Whatever the exact body count, it is clear that the number of noncombatants killed by the Israeli reprisal is vastly greater than those killed by Hamas: over 12,000 civilians, including over 4,000 children who cannot possibly pose any threat to Israel. This collective punishment inflicted on Gaza — airstrikes on densely populated residential buildings and hospitals, cutting off supplies of fuel, electricity, and water — is objectively illegal under international law.
Finally, there is the question of who pays for the slaughter. While Hamas may be getting money from Iranian sources, Israel is the U.S.’s largest recipient of military aid, collecting over $3 billion in both 2021 and 2022. We believe we have not only a right but an obligation to protest the use of our tax dollars to fund mass murder. If you want peace, you have to stop killing people.