It is getting to be a common occurrence at least in the USA that when a synagogue to its shame invites a member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF),the cruel army of occupation in the West Bank, young Jews of Conscience protest. Last Tuesday Greg Williams and Dan Fischer protested at Temple Israel in Westport Connecticut.
What is impressive about the following statement of Williams is that his historical knowledge matches his moral passion. He begins by quoting Dan Berrigan’s famous lines from The Catonsville Nine about the burning children. This is a thinly veiled critique of Jewish theologian Irving Greenberg’s famous line that “No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.” For Greenberg the only burning children were those who perished in the Holocaust.Basically, Williams turns this statement on its head by obliquely referring to the 521 children “burned” in last summer’s IDF massacre in Gaza. And the lies of Israel to justify such a horrific slaughter in light of these children.
A responder to Williams eloquently stated:
This courageous act of conscience should be publicized as widely as possible and emulated throughout the country. These two young men are pointing the way to a new non-violent tactic, in which Jews confront Israeli war crimes wherever their authors are invited to appear. It is particularly fitting that this event occurred at a synagogue which was shamefully involved in welcoming an active war criminal. The brutal response, crude lies and display of panic over two unarmed protesters shows which side possesses moral courage on this issue. To Gregory and Daniel, thank you and all good wishes for your complete exoneration.
Greg Williams Statement
Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children; the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise, for we are sick at heart; our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning children.” – Daniel Berrigan, S.J., 1968
At around 1 pm on Tuesday, 12 May, my colleague, Dan Fischer, and I calmly walked into into Temple Israel, where the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces was holding a lunchtime meeting. So as to appear as non-threatening as possible, we had no bags, no literature – I had even left the small pocketknife I usually carry at home.
We were armed only with a written testimony by Nabila Abu Halima, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Gaza strip, who watched her son be murdered by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead, and who had to flee her home during last year’s Gaza massacre.
Our intention was simple: to read the statement at the FIDF’s meeting, which was hosting a brigadier general in the occupying, colonizing army that is responsible for her suffering, and the suffering of so many other indigenous Palestinian women.
We were there, first and foremost, because we are Jews (additionally, I am a scholar of religious ethics), and we wanted to take responsibility for the racism in our community that fuels Jewish American support for the Zionist Apartheid regime’s continued occupation of Palestinian land.
Growing up, I remember hearing my mother and grandmother telling stories about members of our family who were killed during the Holocaust. One of the lessons that I learned from those stories was the lesson of collective responsibility.
History remembers kindly those Europeans and Americans who took responsibility for the racism in their community which had bred Naziism by protecting Jewish people, by lifting up their voices, and by working to build a political resistance movement to dismantle fascism.
I entered Temple Israel on Tuesday because I feel that, as a Jew living in the United States, the time has come to take responsibility for my community. Zionism is no less racist, no less hateful, and no less violent and threatening to human life and dignity than Naziism. Like Naziism, Zionism seeks to build a nation upon an ethnocentric vision which erases the lives of people it considers “undesirable.”
When Dan and I reached the second floor of the synagogue, we told staff exactly why we were there. We said that we had come to read a statement from a Palestinian woman at the FIDF event, and that we would leave voluntarily when we were done, or when we were ordered to do so by a police officer.The staff immediately assaulted us, and tackled us to the ground. We did not take any physical action against them. Instead, we started to read the statement that we had come to deliver and, since we were still outside the door of the meeting room, we did so loudly so that as many people would hear us as possible. The staff kicked our phones away, we began to say “Free, Free Palestine!”
Even though we had told the staff what we were doing, and had made clear that this was a nonviolent political demonstration, they turned around and, over the phone and in our hearing, filed a false police report, claiming that we were armed. “We’re unarmed!” we said, “Tell them we are unarmed! We are Jews coming to a synagogue!”
Because the staff (and apparently several others) filed this false police report, we are told that several schools were put on lockdown – this is one of the dangers of filing a false report or making a frivolous 911 call.
Since then, people from senators to judges to newspaper reporters have called us “violent,” “criminals,” even “terrorists.” I ask you, who is the terrorist? Someone who reads a statement from a Palestinian woman, or the general who helps murder that woman’s child?
What is violent, to protest that general, or to hold a public event to support her and the illegitimate armed force that she serves? There are those who say that they felt threatened by our action. I ask, what does it say about your community that you feel threatened by two nonviolent protesters testifying to the violence of that racist hate-ideology called Zionism?
Could this mean that your community is committed to racism and hatred? There are those who say that they felt threatened by our volume. I respectfully submit that there are times, especially times when children are being murdered by a colonial regime and a racist ideology, when it is an act of violence not to yell and scream.