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The Gaza scandal: Are Mennonites listening?

5.21. 2018 Written By: Jonathan Kuttab 1,495 read

On May 14, the day the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem and congratulated itself for advancing the peace process, the U.S.-supported Israeli military massacred more than 60 Palestinians participating in the nonviolent “Great March of Return” campaign. These events in Gaza reveal the scandal of how churches and civil society have been so hoodwinked by “conventional wisdom” that they all but ignored two of the most pressing issues in the Palestinian situation today: the right of return and the siege of Gaza. The demonstrations at the border are specifically intended to bring to our attention these two issues, which we have largely ignored.

More than 70 percent of the residents of Gaza are refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods in 1948, and who have been living on international charity and the hope of a return for 70 years. The Oslo Accords dictated that the issue of the refugees–together with Jerusalem and settlements–should be deferred until “later,” and everyone seems to go along with that.

The fact is that the international community has accepted that Jews have a right to “return” after 2,000 years but has denied that same right to Palestinians who are living in refugee camp misery and statelessness within a few miles of their actual homes, lands and villages from which they were driven 70 years ago.

How have we become so complicit and insensitive to morality and logic that we do not make the right of return a top priority? To say that such a return would undermine the “demographic composition” (in other words, “racial purity”) of Israel is to lay bare the essentially racist and discriminatory nature of the goal of a Jewish state, and to challenge the very basis of political Zionism. Yet this is not a discussion we are willing to have.

The second issue is far more pressing and immediate: In the Gaza Strip today, almost 2 million people live in a congested open-air prison. It is 20 miles long and three to five miles wide, and all its borders are tightly controlled by Israel and, at Israel’s direction, Egypt. Their airspace is abuzz with Israeli drones and planes, and the Israeli navy controls their shoreline. Their fishing rights, fixed at 12 nautical miles by the Oslo Accords, have been shrunk to three to six miles because Israel wants to freely exploit gas fields in the sea off their shores; their water table has been degraded and polluted to the point where 95 percent of their water is undrinkable; their fuel supply is restricted and their electricity is carefully limited to three to four hours a day; even their food supply is restricted to the barest minimum requirements to keep them “on a diet but not make them die of hunger.

When an Israeli official first made this statement a few years back, I thought it was a cruel joke, but it turned out Israel had actually calculated how many calories a day are required to achieve that goal, and that calculation was used to determine how many truckloads of food would be allowed in every day; Israel also controls all exports from Gaza, including agricultural produce. The movement of goods and services in and out of Gaza is subject to Israel’s discretion. All aspects of life in Gaza are strictly controlled and have been for over 10 years, with hardly any response from the international community.

One reason for this is that under the Oslo Agreements, a majority of Gazans voted for Hamas. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, dominated by Fatah, and supported by Israel and the international community, refused to turn power over to them, so Hamas took over power in Gaza. The result was that the entire Gaza Strip and its population became a pariah. The justification was that Hamas is a terrorist group and occasionally dares to resist by shooting  largely ineffective rockets at Israel; it even dares to dig tunnels to break out of its suffocating isolation, while Israel routinely invades its territory and bombs Gazans, mostly civilians, at will.

Now I am no apologist for Hamas, and fully believe that armed resistance, while legitimate under international law, is both ineffective and counterproductive for Palestinians, but this is no excuse for this crippling siege. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is an injustice that calls to the high heavens. Even peaceful attempts, by sea or by land, to break this siege are met with deadly force.

When Palestinians–with or without the encouragement of Hamas, it really does not matter–choose to use nonviolence to protest this outrageous situation, they are ordered to stop, and then methodically killed and maimed by Israeli snipers and drones acting out of safety and impunity against the unarmed protesters.

Since the “Great Return March” began on March 30, no Israelis have been injured, yet at least 111 Palestinians have been killed–including 12 children, the youngest being 8 months old–and more than 12,000 wounded, more than 3,000 of them by live ammunition. The Israeli army uses explosive dumdum bullets that shatter bones and tissues, which leads to amputations and permanent injuries. Yet Palestinians continue to protest and pay a heavy price just to be heard.

Are we listening? Is the church listening? Are Mennonites listening?

Jonathan Kuttab is a Palestinian human rights lawyer and advocate. He is a member of the Steering Committee of Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN). He is co-founder of the human rights group Al-Haq and Nonviolence International, and is on the board of Bethlehem Bible College and Sabeel. He has served as a lawyer for both Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine.

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4 Responses to “The Gaza scandal: Are Mennonites listening?”

  1. Lisa Schirch says:

    Thank you Jonathan Kuttab. I agree with you and I am listening. The Mennonite Church is lucky to have your voice. Last week there was very little media coverage mentioning the Nakba or the reasons why Gazans were protesting. Few Americans know that multiple generations of Palestinians have lived their whole lives in refugee camps or in the prison-like Gazan Strip. Today, many assume that all Palestinian refugees would want to return. But having worked in Lebanon and Jordan and met many Palestinian refugees there, I have heard many say they would likely not return or would prefer citizenship in another country, and/or restitution. There are many possible options. We need solid research to listen to refugees to find out how many refugees want to return, and how many would prefer restitution payment and citizenship in another country so real data can be discussed in official negotiations.

  2. Kathy Shantz says:

    Since this most recent Gaza Israel conflict my Facebook feed has been flooded with two distinct narratives. My cousin and good friend (Mennonite) provides the Palestinian side and another long-time good friend (Jewish) living in Israel provides an Israeli perspective. Needless to say the posts from each of these friends tell very different stories. Each side is blaming the other, each is equally convinced of the truth of their perspective. I am caught in between wondering what it will take to bring these two sides back to peace negotiations. Could deep engagement with the truths and perceived realities of both sides provide a way forward? Lisa Schirch’s opinion piece points in that direction. It will take courageous leadership on both sides for this to happen and sadly this seems to be lacking on both sides.

  3. The protesters were nonviolent???


    “These events in Gaza reveal the scandal of how churches and civil society have been so hoodwinked by “conventional wisdom.” God’s wisdom is not conventional!

    The church is certainly being “hoodwinked” by accepting “conventional and civil society wisdom” and false narratives.

    All Christians (Mennonites included) should be kneeling in common prayer and ask God for his wisdom.

    Why is their never any request for God’s righteous judgment in these conversations? God judges both good and evil.

    Galatians 6:7 NIV “God cannot be mocked”

  4. Mark A.Greene says:

    Dear Mr. Jonathan Kuttab,

    Israel is for the most part is always portrayed as the bad guy in regards to the Palestinians in nearly all of the anti-Israel news media. Not to say the Israelis are not without fault by no means. With that said. Please consider looking more closely to what really happen in the Great March of Return in May of 2018. Make sure you read what was really reported as to what happened on May 14. Of the thousands of Palestinians who protested that day around 60 were killed. Now it seems Hamas is claiming that 50 of the near 60 people killed were there own militant fighters. Another Jihad group is claiming they lost 3 of those killed. These militant Hamas fighters it is seems came at the Israeli guarded border with intent to commits violent acts. So what would you have these Israeli soldiers who were under attack by these militants do, toss water balloons at them? Then our lovely anti-Israel news media makes it look like those 60 people killed were peaceful, non violent loving protesters.

    Mr. Kuttab, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there is no truth in what appears to be what really happened that day. Help me out then. Research carefully the facts of that day and factually educate me to the truth. I welcome it.


    Mr. Greene.

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