In 1966 while visiting my mothers family in Connecticut my Italian grandfather took me into the dining room and opened a chest of drawers. He took a bag from the chest and handed it to me and said, "These have been in the family for generations. I want you to have them." Inside the bag were a bunch of old hand-knitted yarmulkes. It was then that I learned that his family, back in Italy, had been Jewish. At some point the family had hidden this fact and become "Northern Baptists" as a way to fit into American culture.
You can imagine my surprise at 14 years-old to learn this story. No one had ever spoken a word about this to me or anyone else. My grandfather said nothing else about the subject. My mother would not even comment on the matter until she was near death just this past year when she finally admitted the truth. Somewhere along the way she had taken the bag of yarmulkes and hidden or destroyed them. I've never seen them since about 1970.
When the 1967 Arab-Israeli six-day war began I wanted to go fight for Israel. I began to read everything I could about the history of the Jewish people. I wanted to make up for lost time.
While going to school at the University of Florida some years later I got a part-time job working for a disabled woman. She was writing a book on the many forms of genocide and one day she had me go to the library and copy a page from a book. This particular page was a table called "The Caloric Reduction Intake Schedule," one of Hitler's occupation Army documents from the Warsaw, Poland Jewish ghetto. Hitler had a plan to reduce the amount of food that the Jews inside the ghetto would eat over a period of time knowing it would cause their premature death. Another form of genocide. I was stunned as I copied the page. Pure evil it was.
In the 1990's, while coordinating the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice, at that time based in Orlando, I got a phone call from the Jewish Federation Board of Directors asking me to come to their next meeting. I had no clue what they wanted. When I arrived they had me stand at a podium in front of about a dozen board members sitting behind the dais. The chairman began to yell at me telling me that the federation would never donate to the Florida Coalition again because I ran an article in the last edition of our newsletter, Just Peace, that was sympathetic to the cause of the Palestinian people. I let him rave on and didn't say a word until he was finished. Then I calmly told him that in fact the Jewish Federation had never given the Florida Coalition a single penny and that we had always furnished the newsletter to them as a courtesy. I also told him that many of our members across the state wanted peace in the Middle East and were committed to fair treatment and justice for the Palestinian people and that position was not going to change. At that point I was escorted out of the room to shouts from the chair.
As I look at the news I see that 370 Palestinians have been killed during the last few days of Israeli bombing, unknown hundreds have been wounded. I also heard that six Israeli citizens have been killed by rockets fired by Palestinians.
I also see that recent Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney is aboard the 60-foot, pleasure boat called Dignity that was rammed earlier today by Israeli naval vessels. The Dignity was attempting to bring medical volunteers and supplies to Gaza. Those on the boat included the crew and 16 passengers -- physicians from Britain, Germany and Cyprus and human rights activists. The Dignity was severely damaged in the attack.
"I would call it ramming. Let's just call it as it is," McKinney told CNN. "Our boat was rammed three times, twice in the front and one on the side. Our mission was a peaceful mission to deliver medical supplies and our mission was thwarted by the Israelis -- the aggressiveness of the Israeli military," she said.
Throughout my years as a peace activist there has always been pressure excerpted on our movement to stay away from the Palestinian issue. While many Jewish Americans in the peace movement show great courage and work to oppose Israel's heavy-hand against the Palestinians, many influential Jewish citizens make it their job to block any real organizing to criticize Israel and to stop efforts by the peace movement to show any solidarity with the Palestinian people or to cut U.S. military aid to Israel.
I have come to believe that Israel's Palestinian policy is genocidal. When we see Israel blocking food and medical shipments into Gaza it is clear that they know this will lead to the premature deaths of many people who live there. The constant state of war on the Palestinian people is an attempt to destroy their culture and shorten the life spans of the people. When I see the pain and suffering in the eyes of the Palestinian people I see the American Indians. Gaza is an Indian reservation. The Indians had bows and arrows to stand up against the U.S. cavalry's cannons and repeating rifles. The people in Gaza fire wayward rockets and Israel uses state-of-the-art U.S. military high-tech weapons systems. It's David vs Goliath.
The Israeli military has created a two-mile war cordon along the Gaza border and their commanders say that a ground force invasion is now a distinct possibility. The international media reports their access to Gaza is being closed off.
We know Bush will remain silent. In her CNN interview Cynthia McKinney calls on Obama to make a statement. But he is playing golf and body surfing in Hawaii and will likely also remain silent. Most American people remain silent as well because they know that to speak out on behalf of the Palestinian people means they will often be accused of being anti-Semitic.
But it is not anti-Semitic to say Israel has lost its soul. It is not wrong to stand up and say stop the genocide of the Palestinian people.