Last week, Israeli soldiers murdered 30 Palestinians and injured thousands more as they protested peacefully in Gaza for justice, dignity and a return to their homeland. Their protest was part of the #GreatReturnMarch, a six-week mobilization along the Gaza/Israel border for the right to return to their lands and an end to the open-air prison which currently characterizes life in Gaza. Palestinians in Gaza live under the abject conditions of military siege. Israel controls the air, sea and land. Palestinians face surveillance and restriction of movement, electricity and water in addition to an ongoing blockade of medical supplies, building materials and other goods. They cannot taste the olives from the trees of a fertile home now denied to them with concrete walls, checkpoints and barbed wire.
Their resistance should be an inspiration to us all. And yet, at the #GreatReturnMarch last week, protesters were met with tanks, tear gas and snipers. Ironically, the massacre occurred over Passover, the Jewish festival of liberation celebrating freedom from bondage and suffering. To Israeli forces, the very existence of Palestinians represents a threat to the project of establishing a Jewish majority on Palestinian land. Palestinian protesters were picnicking, praying and singing, and still the Israeli state met them with live fire.
This massacre is not occurring in a vacuum, but in the wake of decades of Israeli state violence and bold Palestinian resistance. Next month marks 70 years since the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), which refers to the violent displacement and ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948. We will not stay quiet as artists, activists, journalists and teenagers are gunned down while standing up for equality and freedom.
As we mourn for Gaza, we also reject Zionism. We honor the homes that Jews have made in the diaspora and do not believe that an ethno-nationalist state will lead to freedom for Jewish people. While many liberal Zionists will say that this wave of Israeli violence is new, we view this current moment with the understanding that it follows decades of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism and that it serves as an urgent call to speak up against what is unjust.
Mainstream media has falsely framed the Israeli military and Palestinian civilians as equal powers and is portraying this latest wave of Zionist violence as a two-sided clash along the border. But this is far from the truth. Videos have shown Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed protesters as they sprinted away and as they prayed. For accurate coverage of the ongoing #GreatReturnMarch, you can follow the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
Congress continues to send $3.8 billion a year to Israel — its biggest recipient of military aid — but only a few of its members have spoken out against the recent massacre in Gaza. On April 1, the U.S. blocked the United Nations Security Council’s resolution calling for an investigation of Israel’s use of violence against peaceful protesters. Where are Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Dianne Feinstein? Their silence is blood on their hands. U.S. support of Israel perpetuates this violence.
Although the story of Passover ends with the Jews crossing the sea of reeds into the land of freedom, what if this story were not so linear, so final? The ritual of the Passover seder proves that we must circuitously and generationally retell this tale. Our remembering is an iterative process, as we re-learn how to honor the stories of all oppressed peoples. There is no one sea of reeds, there is no one leap of faith. Instead, we each must cross the boundary waters within ourselves, between us and others, again and again, for our freedom cannot be complete until we all reach the land of liberation.
As we approach the 70th anniversary of the Nakba in May, and as we witness the violence in Gaza, we call on the Williams community to honor Palestinian lives and struggles and to break the silence around Israeli apartheid. The #GreatReturnMarch is something that should be honored and elevated by people everywhere, and especially by Jewish people on Passover. That Israeli soldiers are gunning down peaceful protesters striving for dignity and freedom is an outrage. Can you feel this fury and heartbreak? What will it move you to do?
Lili Bierer ’19 is a women’s, gender and sexuality studies major from Cambridge, Mass. Hattie Schapiro ’18.5 is an American studies major from Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.