I appreciated the opportunity to hear Dr. Mark Braverman speak last night at the WMU College of Health and Human Services. The event, which was sponsored by the Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War (KNOW), was centered around the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Mark, a Jewish American who traveled to Palestine in 2006, has since devoted himself to finding a just peace in Israel and Palestine using an interfaith approach.
As a candidate for office, I could not stop thinking about the political implications If I were to echo the powerful words spoken by Mark. Those who have been critical of the Israel government and Zionism have been called antisemitic and Hamas supporters. But let me tell you this: during the hour and a half discussion, there was not a single sentence degrading the Jewish people or the Jewish faith, and not a single sentence supporting the heinous actions by Hamas.
Mark discussed many things, including what it was like growing up as a Jewish boy born the same year that the country of Israel was created, the historical context behind the areas now known as Palestine and Israel, discussions with Jewish and Christian leaders, the implications of Zionism, and the dynamics of US/Israel relations.
The reality is that I do not view the actions of the Israeli government as indicative of the Jewish people or Judaism. Judaism and its followers have existed for thousands of years. The issues that I have are with Israel, a country that has existed for 75 years. Israel is a country ran by politicians and bureaucrats. Judaism is a religion followed by millions of people across the globe. It’s about politics, not religion.
What we are seeing is a population that was forcibly removed from their homes, and over decades was crammed into smaller and smaller areas. What we see now is areas like Gaza, with a population of over 2 million people, half of which are children. Gaza is under Israeli military control. Its electricity, water, fuel, and communications are controlled by the Israeli government. Israel controls most borders and all airports and seaports.
In response to the horrific Hamas attacks on October 7th, Israel has commenced a campaign of collective punishment, bombing civilians and shutting off all of their basic resources. The death toll caused by Hamas is around 1,400, while the number caused by Israeli Defense Forces exceeds 9,000. It does not take a historian to understand that what Israel right now is wrong.
Mark described what is happening as “ethnic cleansing”. It is hard to dispute that. A group of people were kicked out of their homes and are being forced out of the area. Israeli officials have called Palestinians “animals” and said that damage is more important than accuracy. They say that they are targeting only Hamas, yet kill almost exclusively civilians. They say they want Israeli hostages returned, then bomb indiscriminately, reportedly killing some of those exact same hostages.
The claim of self defense has expired. Israel has killed over five times more people than Hamas since October 7th. This is not even considering the fact that the death toll from 2008 to 2023 was 6,500 Palestinians compared to 309 Israelis. Yes, you read that right. There have been more Palestinian deaths in one month than the past 15 years. It is time to demand peace.