The Israeli assault on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip has entered its fourth week. This military attack, waged by land, sea and air, has been going on longer than the devastating assault in 2008/2009, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. The death toll in this current attack is at least 1,300, overwhelmingly civilians. As this column was being written, the United Nations confirmed that a U.N. school in Gaza, where thousands of civilians were seeking shelter, was bombed by the Israeli Defense Forces, killing at least 20 people. The United Nations said it reported the exact coordinates of the shelter to the Israeli military 17 times.
Henry Siegman, a venerable dean of American Jewish thought and president of the U.S./Middle East Project, sat down for an interview with the “Democracy Now!” news hour. An ordained rabbi, Siegman is the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and former executive head of the Synagogue Council of America, two of the major, mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States. He says the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories must end.
“There is a Talmudic saying in the ‘Ethics of the Fathers,’” Siegman started, “‘Don’t judge your neighbor until you can imagine yourself in his place.’ So, my first question when I deal with any issue related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue: What if we were in their place?”
He elaborated, “No country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live ... our media rarely ever points out that these are people who have a right to live a decent, normal life, too. And they, too, must think, ‘What can we do to put an end to this?’”
Born in Germany in 1930, Siegman and his family were persecuted by the Nazis. “I lived two years under Nazi occupation, most of it running from place to place and in hiding,” he recalled. His father took his mother and their six children to Belgium, to France, to North Africa, then, after two months at sea, dodging German submarines, they arrived at Ellis Island. He told us: “I always thought that the important lesson of the Holocaust is not that there is evil, that there are evil people in this world who could do the most unimaginably cruel things. That was not the great lesson of the Holocaust. The great lesson of the Holocaust is that decent, cultured people, people we would otherwise consider good people, can allow such evil to prevail, that the German public—these were not monsters, but it was OK with them that the Nazi machine did what it did.”
His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement, which sought a national ...