Bahbah: An Open Letter to My Jewish Friend
Featured Arab American columnist, Dr. Bishara A. Bahbah, writes on the Israel-Palestine conflict from the nuanced perspective of a colleague writing a letter to their Jewish friend. From the tumultuous history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the current state of affairs, Dr. Bahbah’s letter encompasses all of the generational trauma and present implications of the conflict. Delve into Dr. Bahbah’s emotional yet powerful statement through his letter to his fictional Jewish peer and colleague, David.
By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist
You and I have been friends and colleagues for more than three decades.
Your messages to me lately have been full of agony.
You keep asking me to please understand the rationale behind Israel’s non-stop attacks on Gaza’s 2.2 million civilians.
You want me to condemn Hamas before I take my next breath.
You want me to believe that in this ongoing tragic episode of Israeli-Palestinian history, there is a clear distinction between the “terrorists,” meaning Hamas, and the Palestinian people.
You would like me to think that Palestinians, as well as Israelis, are both Hamas’ victims.
You want me to understand the Jewish people’s fears and be sympathetic to the Jewish people’s past suffering.
You want me to understand badly the “rationale” behind Israeli actions in Gaza. Yet, you want me to “tone down” my criticism of Israel’s vicious, constant attacks on Gaza.
I share your pain and agony about the horrific events that have transpired since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th.
I know that your children are married to Israelis and live in Israel/Palestine in harm’s way.
I sympathize with what Jews have gone through being persecuted and later subjected to a holocaust, the magnitude and savagery of which the world has not seen. It was Nazi Germany, with the collaboration of many European countries, that have perpetrated the holocaust.
Palestinians have become victims of the holocaust because they ended up paying for the sins of Europe. Jews fled to Palestine, where they decided to establish a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine.
I know that you attend synagogue diligently. Those synagogue services are productive for networking and camaraderie. Temples are critical in the thriving of Jewish life and in supporting Israel.
I know you are aware of the disproportionate influence that you, as a prominent person in your community and your fellow American Jews, have on U.S. political life!
As a religious and ethnic community, you have wealth. You have the power to significantly influence the media, government, finance, and entertainment, especially in the United States.
As a community, you have succeeded, and you have become the envy of most ethnic and religious groups in the United States.
David, allow me to please ask you a few questions.
- Are Palestinians human beings or “human animals?”
Western media and politicians claim that when Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, referred to “human animals,” they wanted the world to believe that he was referring only to Hamas and not the Palestinian people.
- Do Palestinians have the right to live in dignity and freedom in their ancestral homeland?
- Was Palestine, as Golda Meir used to claim, “a land without a people, for a people without a land?”
- Israel has become the refuge of Jews worldwide. Yet, Israel’s creation has caused the flight and dispossession of over 750,000 Palestinians, who became refugees and now number in the millions.
- Is today’s Israel an apartheid state?
Israeli Jews live under one set of preferential laws in historic Palestine. Palestinians live under Israel’s military rule devoid of fundamental rights.
There are more Palestinians today who live in historic Palestine than there are Jews. If Israel wants to be a “Jewish” state, it must either separate physically and politically from the Palestinian inhabitants or Palestinians must be given equal rights as Jewish Israelis.
- Do people have the right to rise and resist an oppressive government or ruler?
The U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, states:
… Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …
- If Ukrainians have the right to defend their homeland against Russia’s invasion, why don’t Palestinians have the same right to fight Israel as an occupying power?
Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine War, the United States and Europe have poured close to $100 billion in military aid to Ukraine. During the current Israel-Gaza war, Palestinians, by comparison, are being offered a pittance in “humanitarian relief.”
- What has the West done for the Palestinians?
While air-lifting billions of dollars in munitions and military hardware aid to Israel, the Palestinians were offered $100 million and $23 million by the United States and England, respectively, for humanitarian assistance. Ironically, even the West cannot convince Israel to allow humanitarian aid to Gaza!
How is that conscionable?
- Is it humane to seal the Gaza Strip and prevent the entrance of food, medicine, water, and fuel to its 2.2 million civilians – 70% of whom are women and children?
Israel has claimed that it has turned on the water to the southern Gaza Strip, yet it refuses to allow the entrance of fuel to run the generators and desalination plants to pull and purify the water.
- Isn’t it in contravention of basic rules of conduct during the war to demand Palestinians to relocate? Isn’t it a crime to bomb the areas to which Palestinians were supposed to flee?
Israel ordered more than a million people of Gaza’s population to move from the northern half to the southern half of Gaza, presumably in preparation for a massive ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli troops.
- Who gives Israel the right to determine what goes into Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah crossing?
Israel has blocked the entrance of hundreds of trucks loaded with humanitarian aid waiting on the Egyptian side of the crossing.
- Where was your denunciation of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood recently before the UN General Assembly and held a map of Israel/Palestine – from the river to the sea – all of it was designated as Israel?
If Palestinians held the same map and replaced Israel with Palestine, many would immediately point out that Palestinians want to put an end to the State of Israel.
- Do you agree with President Joe Biden’s statement, “There’s no going back to the status quo as it stood on Oct. 6?” According to Biden, “When the crisis is over, there has to be a vision of what comes next, and in our view, it has to be a two-state solution.”
- Do you support an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas? Sadly, neither Israel nor the United States supports current calls for a truce in the Israel-Gaza conflict. The United States supports “humanitarian pauses” to allow the entry of some humanitarian relief into Gaza during a limited amount of time.
- Do you support Israel’s current strategy of wiping out civilians in Gaza in the name of pursuing Hamas fighters?
My dear friend, I can continue with an endless list of questions to demonstrate the double standard of Israel, the West, and many Jews around the world.
But, by now, I hope that you have gotten my message.
Unless there is a just and equitable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Israel can never have peace. Israel cannot occupy other people’s land, take away their freedom and their rights, and expect them to behave submissively like a defeated people.
You and I agree that the bloodshed must end. We agree that the status quo in Israel/Palestine is untenable. We agree on the need for peace. We agree that violence, especially violence against unarmed and innocent civilians, represents the breakdown of reason and civility.
We need a ceasefire now. Israel needs to permit humanitarian aid to enter Gaza unconditionally but with the supervision of UN observers.
It is much harder to work for peace than to support war.
Let us choose the path of peace by working hand in hand.
About the Author: Bishara A Bahbah is Arab America’s featured columnist. He is the former vice president of the US Palestine Council. Bahbah was the associate director of Harvard’s Middle East Institute. He taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was a teaching fellow at Harvard’s Departments of Government and Economics.
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