Letter on Gaza

Palestine Loss of Land click to enlarge

By Dottie Zellner

EDITORS’ NOTE: Dottie Zellner was active in the 1960s in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF). Below is a post she made to the SNCC listserve on July 28, 2014, reprinted with permission.


Hello, all:

I get the weekly SNCC listserve and just saw the threads about Gaza. A few points: 

1. I’ve been to Gaza twice–the first time in the winter of 2002/2003 and the second in the winter of 2003/2004. I’ve been to Israel/Palestine 10 times since 2002.

2. There are five entrances/exits in Gaza. That’s it, for 1.8 million people in an area that is 139 square miles, the sixth most densely populated area on earth. Four of the exits are controlled by Israel, the fifth by Egypt (in Rafah). The Israeli entrances/exits allow practically nobody to go in or out and severely limit all goods from getting in or out. The Mediterranean Sea, which borders Gaza, is patrolled by the Israeli navy, which shoots at anyone if they pass the 3-mile limit, rather than the internationally-established 12-mile limit. Flotillas have tried to get into Gaza from the Mediterranean for years; the Israeli navy has forcibly stopped them and killed eight Turks and a Turkish American on a Turkish aid ship in 2010. The sole non-Israeli entrance/exit, controlled by Egypt, is unpredictable–it can be closed or open depending on the relationship between Egypt and Israel (and the US) at any given time. Recently, under the current Egyptian government, it has been mostly closed. In other words, some 1.8 million Gazans are trapped.

3. It would be hard for anyone depending on information about this situation via mass media to fully comprehend the following facts: the Palestinians in Gaza have no army, no navy, no air force, no helicopters, no airplanes, no airport, no drones, no heavy military machinery like tanks, and no sophisticated surveillance apparatus. The Israeli government controls the electricity (4 hours a day this week), water delivery, airspace, all goods and people coming in and out (except for the Rafah crossing).

This is what is meant by the siege and may be the key in understanding the Palestinians’ motivation: they are desperate and many of them are apparently ready to die rather than go back to what they call the “slow death” of the siege.

4. This siege has been going on a lot longer than 2007. Just one example about the difficulty of getting into Gaza: when I and a group of (mostly Jewish) travelers got to the border crossing at Erez in 2003/4, it took the personal intervention of an MK (Member of Knesset, the parliament), an Arab by the way, to get us in–after three hours of urging and pleading on the phone with the crossing personnel.

5. Israel is a multi-cultural state, not a “Jewish state.” Twenty percent of the population are Palestinian citizens of Israel (albeit second-class citizens). Some observers believe the non-Jewish percentage is even higher, probably nearer 30 percent, if you add the resident foreign workers (about 60,000) and the non-Jewish spouses and family members of the Russian Jews who came in large numbers to Israel in the 1980s and 90s. (The percentage of African Americans in the U.S. when SNCC worked in the South was approximately 12 percent.)

6. Beloved Community aside (and I did experience it and it was wonderful), the civil rights movement was about people having power–yes, I said power–to control their lives. This is what people living under occupation do not have. 

7. I have gone on this listserve before to urge that anyone planning to go to the Holy Land/Israel/Palestine for religious or recreational reasons insist on visiting the West Bank to see for themselves how Palestinians are forced to live. I do so again. Furthermore, I would urge everyone to participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) wherever they live.

8. SNCC was the determining force in my life and it was SNCC that told white people to work in their communities. After many decades, I am thankful that I have the opportunity to do what SNCC asked me to do, and thus I am working as a Jew in my community against the policies of the Israeli government. I consider this work a commitment to SNCC’s legacy and a restoration of the time-honored Jewish tradition of social justice, which has been eroded by Israeli policies. This thread of social justice, which is one of many in Jewish life, accounts in my opinion for the disproportionate numbers of Jews who flocked to the civil rights movement, and that is why it is important, for me at least, to restore and maintain it, so that we as a people can continue to struggle on behalf of the human race.

9. There are a growing number of prominent African Americans who have gone to Palestine in the past couple of years and have spoken out about conditions there. These include our beloved Vincent Harding, Robin Kelley, Alice Walker, Bill Fletcher and many others. (As you may know, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has excoriated this situation, calling it “worse than apartheid.”) I expect these numbers to increase and I expect the Black community ultimately to be a great source of support for a solution in the Middle East that is based on equality and justice.

10. If you want further information about Gaza, one of the best pieces I have read recently, by a law professor at George Mason University, appeared in a recent issue of The Nation. It includes such striking information as the fact that Israel, as an occupying power, has certain international obligations, which it has been violating for decades.

11. To make the situation even more complicated, although Israel certainly has the right to self-defense, so do the Palestinians (see Article 51 of the UN Charter).

12. Unlike some critics, I believe that it is the U.S. that is mainly responsible for this situation by making Israel its surrogate in the Middle East decades ago in order to protect–you guessed it–the availability of oil. This is the U.S. part of the quid pro quo arrangement–we will protect you and give you arms and you will go to bat for us to protect our oil supplies. That is the reason, I think, for the 100 percent idiotic blind loyalty to Israel and is not, as some people think, evidence that the Jews control the world (an insidious anti-Semitic myth). 

13. And some people will have to confront the ugly fact that, according to Ha’aretz newspaper in Israel (the country’s most prestigious daily newspaper and the liberal one), there are now extreme right-wing bands of (Jewish) thugs roaming the major cities of Israel beating up Palestinian citizens and leftists while the police stand by and watch. This in the so-called “greatest democracy in the Middle East.” I heard a former commander of the IDF recently report from Jerusalem in a phone conversation with dozens of people that he and his comrades physically prevented a lynching of a Palestinian citizen of Israel in Jerusalem just three weeks ago.

14. Some Israelis understood 47 years ago that this horrible situation was bound to happen. On September 29, 1967, about 3 months after the Six Day War, Haaretz published the following op-ed:

“Our right to defend ourselves from annihilation does not give us the right to oppress others. Foreign occupation results in foreign rule, foreign rule results in resistance, resistance results in suppression, suppression results in terrorism and counter-terrorism. Victims of terrorism are usually innocents. Holding on to the Territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims. Let us get out of the Occupied Territories now!” 

15, Finally, our taxes, yes, our taxes, purchased the weaponry that Israel is using to crush the Palestinians in Gaza. Isn’t it time for you and me to stop paying for it? Please do the drill of calling and writing the necessary people to end what is going on now.

Best to all,

Dottie Zellner


P.S. Sorry this e-mail is long, but I need to say one more thing: On this issue I wear three hats: 1) I am a founding member of the board of the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, a cultural institution in the refugee camp in Jenin, Palestine; 2) I am a founding member of Jews Say No!, a local NYC group; and 3) I volunteer for Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization that now has a mailing list of 170,000.


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