By Isaac Sims-Foster
The Gaza Strip — a Palestinian territory adjacent to Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean — was the subject of international news on March 30, when 15 Palestinians lost their lives in a protest against Israel’s blockade of their territory and in support of a safe and fair return to the homes they consider stolen in Israel.
Since its founding in 1948, just after World War II, Israel has been immersed in controversies and often open conflicts with its surrounding territories, especially the State of Palestine, which contains the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Many Palestinian citizens are refugees who were removed from Israel when it was created.
Tension between the two nations has been taut, often breaking into violence. But according to the New York Times, this particular “flare-up, ignited by isolation and economic deprivation, was the worst in years in the small Mediterranean enclave. In recent years, neighboring Egypt has joined Israel in the blockade, and the Palestinian Authority, which administers the West Bank, has imposed sanctions. With the territory’s economy collapsing, fears of an explosive backlash have mounted.
“The protest came at a particularly charged time, as Jews prepared for the start of the Passover holiday on Friday evening, and as Palestinians observed Land Day. The day commemorates the events of March 30, 1976, when Israeli security forces shot and killed six Arab citizens of Israel during protests over the government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel,” The Times continued. Thousands of Palestinians had bused to the protests, which took place just hundreds of yards away from the Israeli Border.
These political, religious, and cultural circumstances resulted in violence on both sides of the border. “As some began hurling stones, tossing Molotov cocktails and rolling burning tires at the fence, the Israelis responded with tear gas and gunfire. The Israelis said they also exchanged fire with two gunmen across the fence and fired at two others who tried to infiltrate into Israel. … After the violence began, the Israelis declared the area surrounding Gaza a closed military zone, and said they had responded with riot-control methods and had fired toward the ‘main instigators,’” according to the New York Times.
“Gaza officials said Israeli troops have killed at least 29 Palestinians since last Friday and wounded hundreds. Palestinians and some rights groups say troops are firing on people even when they are unarmed or pose no immediate threat,” according to National Public Radio coverage from April 7. NPR also reported that Israel has accused Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization that currently governs Gaza, of “fomenting violence under the guise of a civil protest.”
The tumultuous nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict affects people worldwide, especially in the charged global communities of Judaism and Islam. Jewish Americans, in particular, have a complicated relationship with Israel, as expressed by Puget Sound student Morey Lipsett ‘19:
“In the Jewish community, I was raised to see Israel … as a culmination of 2,000 years of oppression, as a state that was founded basically to save us. Because of that, I feel very connected to it, even though I don’t really know that many Israelis. … It’s complicated, but the truth is that Israel, intentionally or not, has decided to occupy this land and oppress these millions of people. As a Jewish American it’s really difficult because we think we’ve learned from 2,000 years of oppression to value justice and liberation and then these people are doing this for us, basically, and I struggle with how to talk about that. People in my parents’ generation really don’t know how to talk about it.”
As a Jewish American, Lipsett is a member of one of the largest spiritual and cultural populations at the University as well as a member of J Street U, a campus branch of the national non-profit organization that “organizes and mobilizes pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people. Working in American politics and the Jewish community, we advocate policies that advance shared US and Israeli interests as well as Jewish and democratic values, leading to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to their website.
“J Street U works on campuses, where there is a very divisive Palestinian solidarity movement that has unfortunately sometimes veered into the realm of anti-semitism, and then there’s a Jewish community that just will not talk about Palestine, a sort of middle ground,” Lipsett said.