It's time for Berkeley to Speak Out About Gaza, and Barbara Lee Should Speak With and for Us

Becky O'Malley
Saturday July 26, 2014 - 11:23:00 AM

This week we have been deluged with anguished letters about the seemingly endless tragedies which are being enacted around the world. We’re still trying to provide news and opinion about “greater Berkeley”—not only what happens within our borders, but what Berkeleyans are concerned about.

We’ve gotten a typical volume of communications from regular and occasional contributors about local matters: homelessness, revenues etc. But we’re also heard from local people who view with alarm the state of the world. Top topics: Gaza, child refugees at the U.S. border, the Middle East, Nigerian girls, botched executions in the United States, armed conflict between Russians and Ukrainians which led to a planeload of bystanders being shot down… and more.

On Friday, many thought the news from Gaza still was the most appalling on a horrendous list. Among people I talk to regularly, many of them Jewish by heritage and including some Israeli expatriates, one reason for this could be expressed as “they ought to know better.” Israel has always in my lifetime been portrayed in the U.S. media as a progressive, modern and humane country, so it’s deeply shocking to see its army bombing sites where killing innocent people is completely predictable. 

This sort of thing might have happened in the past, but we didn’t know about it, most of us. Now, the coverage has changed. For the first time, candid representations of what’s going on are widely available, even in the much-derided mainstream media. The stories about the boys killed as they played ball on the beach are one example—there have been many more. We can read Haaretz ourselves online. 

And where does Israel get those spokespeople? On some NPR program yesterday I heard a professor, possibly employed at the University of Utah but speaking from Israel, who said in all seriousness that the Israelis were morally superior because they gave three minutes warning before they destroyed a building and all the people in it, whereas the Gaza rocketeers only gave ninety seconds warning. His fair and balanced Palestinian counterpart (I think it must have been PBS Newshour, which always believes there are just “two” sides to every question) pointed out, as do some of our Planet Public Commenters today, that Israel can give earlier warnings because their weaponry is much fancier, but that’s not the point. 

People, people, people: it’s ALWAYS wrong to kill civilians. For that matter, I happen to think that killing soldiers is wrong too, but I realize that everyone doesn’t agree. But when you know, thanks to excellent intelligence, that there are innocents in your target area, there’s no justification at all for going ahead with your strike. None. In my mind, that includes the Gaza rockets, but since they seldom hit anyone the crime is much less. 

I deeply appreciate the leadership which some Jewish people around the world have taken in speaking truth to Israeli government power. Jewish Voice for Peace stands out particularly in this country. In Britain it’s academics and intellectuals, people like Naomi Klein, whose bylines are appearing in the press now as they speak up for, yes, boycott, divestment, sanctions—whatever it takes to communicate with the intransigent. 

Many within Israel are also speaking up, a difficult and painful task. My closest Israeli ex-pat friend tells great stories about meeting his old Socialist classmates at demonstrations when he goes home to see his mother, so I know there are still some impressive backbones in that country, but they’re getting harder and harder to find. 

One remarkable analyst who is speaking out is Yuval Diskin, former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security force. His withering comments on his government’s role in the Gaza situation appeared on his Facebook page in Hebrew, and can be read in translation in J.J. Goldberg’s column on the Jewish Daily Forward site. 

An excerpt: “This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let’s frighten the public over everything that’s happening around us in the Middle East, let’s prove that there’s no Palestinian partner, let’s build more and more settlements and create a reality that can’t be changed, let’s continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let’s continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society.” 

As Americans, we have a responsibility to support courageous people like Yuval Diskin and groups like Breaking the Silence, former members of the Israel Defense Force who have been speaking out about what they saw during their term of service. 

Now Barbara Lee, who represents our district in Congress, needs to break her own silence about how the $30 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel from 2009 to 2018 is being used. 

I’ve gotten dozens of emails announcing petitions, marches, demonstrations of all kinds from groups trying to communicate their concern about the deaths in Gaza. One opportunity to talk to Barbara about what’s happening takes place today in Alameda. 

Forwarded to me by the Wellstone Democratic Club, this invitation: 

Barbara Lee Birthday Party 

Saturday, July 26 

It’s going to be a night filled with fun, food and fellowship, and I really hope you can attend!

And of course, it’s not just about me. We’ll also be celebrating our shared legacy of progressive values and achievements. Standing against the AUMF, pushing for a higher minimum wage, promoting civil rights – I couldn’t do any of it without you.

You can reserve your ticket below. I can’t wait to meet you!

-- Barbara

Saturday, July 26, 2014
4:00pm to 7:00pm
Rock Wall Wines
2301 Monarch Street, #300
Alameda, CA 94501

Individual Tickets
$50 - Individual
$25 - Student, Senior, or Disabled

Please RSVP to events@barbaraleeforcongress.org by July 22th with guest name(s). 

In parallel, I also got this call to action from Jim Harris, someone I know only as an occasional writer of op-eds or letters to the editor: 

What: Protest at Barbara Lee fundraiser. 

Where: Rock Wall Wine Company, 2301 Monarch Street, #300, Alameda, CA 

When: 3:30 pm Saturday, July 26th 

Why: Barbara Lee still supports “robust military aid to Israel”. A blank check for Israeli aggression. 

For a person that rightfully opposes “blank checks for war” ( http://tinyurl.com/pzuxzkr ) we must remind folks she has pledged to J Street PAC that she will support “robust military aid to Israel”- aid that makes possible Israel’s wars of aggression against Palestinians. Not that she does not have “concerns” http://tinyurl.com/now2woy , but we know Israel does not listen to concerns of a handful of congressmembers. As long as the weapons flow with Lee’s support, she remains tragically complicit in their use. We will not be silent. This is not a time for another decade of “constructive engagement” with an apartheid state. Now is the time for real action. 

If you have not already done so, please sign the petition to Barbara Lee -- www.tinyurl.com/LeeStopMilitaryAid -- and spread the word. 


Of course, Barbara Lee alone can’t save Gaza, though many of us who have admired her over the years wish she could. But as long as Americans, even progressive Americans, remain silent in the face of the manifest injustice now being committed there, we are implicated in the deaths of more than 1000 of our fellow humans, many of them children. 

It’s time for all of us, including Barbara Lee, to speak out.