“I’m From that Hell Called Gaza”

by James M. WallPalestinian girls walk past buildings in Gaza Thomas Coex AFP Getty

Former President Jimmy Carter has concluded his trip to the West Bank area of Palestine. He “deeply regretted” that he was unable to visit the Gaza enclave of Palestine.

President Carter traveled with former Norway Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. It was their fourth Elders’ mission to Israel and Palestine since 2009.

The two Elders were prevented for security reasons from seeing for themselves, in Carter’s words, “Gaza’s 1.8 million people [who] are besieged, isolated and desperate”.

As the occupying military power controlling both Gaza and the West Bank, Israel offered no explanation as to why it could not provide adequate security for Carter and Brundtland.

Had the Elders gone into Gaza, they would have spoken directly to Gaza mothers like the one who wrote to British author Stuart Littlewood:

I’m from that hell called Gaza. Extreme poverty, unemployment and insecurity destroy life and future of people who can hardly survive…. It is difficult for us to live or to leave. Gaza, my beloved home, is like a curse!

The injustice in Gaza and the West Bank is, indeed, a curse. It is a curse President Carter knows all too well. He grew up in the segregated state of Georgia, the same state that Martin Luther King, Jr., called home.

Dr. King lived and died confronting the curse of segregation in the American South.

His letter from the Birmingham jail is a vivid witness of his frustration and grief over the failure of white southern clergy leaders to give support to peaceful street demonstrations against that curse.

The evil of injustice in Gaza is an especially insidious evil because it is largely ignored by those in a position to confront it. It was the injustice in Gaza that brought Carter and Brundtland to Israel and Palestine.

It was the injustice and brutality of segregation in Georgia that led to King’s presence in a Birmingham jail cell.

The letter he wrote from jail on April 16, 1963, was addressed to seven southern white clergy leaders who had signed a joint letter to ask him to reduce his agitation against segregation.

The report Jimmy Carter wrote after his trip to Israel/Palestine echoes that letter, for it too, was written in sadness and barely concealed anger. 

Carter’s report, like King’s letter, tells a story of how one nation, Israel, with the support of the American government, degrades the humanity of an entire population.

King had gone to Birmingham, Alabama to demonstrate against the evil of segregation. In his letter he wrote:

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

President Carter’s own report, written 52 years later, laments his inability to enter Gaza to personally witness its devastation and suffering. Carter begins:Jimmy-Carter-Israeli-Palestine-Gaza-newsletter_600

Gro Harlem Brundtland and I have just returned from Jerusalem, where we undertook our fourth Elders’ mission to Israel and Palestine since 2009.

Our focus on this trip was on peace and reconciliation – not just between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between Fatah and Hamas to secure viable and lasting Palestinian unity.

We also wanted to draw attention to the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza eight months after the devastating war of summer 2014.

We deeply regretted not being able to visit Gaza to see the situation at first hand, but what we heard from independent experts and UN officials confirmed our worst expectations.

What we saw and heard only strengthened our determination to work for peace and the lifting of the blockade.

The situation in Gaza is intolerable. Eight months after a devastating war, not one destroyed house has been rebuilt and people cannot live with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Gaza’s 1.8 million people are besieged, isolated and desperate. They cannot enjoy any of the aspects of normal life, from trade and travel to health and education, that people in my country – and indeed in Israel – take for granted. (To read the full report, click here.)

How did the western world respond to Israel’s blocking a Gaza visit by the Elders? The U.S. mainstream media played its usual role as guardian of Israel’s public image.  

Mainstream media ignored the story of the Elders’ inability to witness for themselves what Carter terms, “Gaza’s 1.8 million people [who] are besieged, isolated and desperate”.

Shame on these media leaders, and shame on all who remain silent. Shame on U.S. secular and religious leaders who debate the issue as a way of avoiding its reality

Israel is more than just aware that the Elders, an organization of world leaders, initially called together by Nelson Mandela, investigate world problem areas like Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel hates any and all exposure of its conduct.  

When a former U.S. president joins a former Norway prime minister to travel to the region to call attention to the imprisonment of an entire population, Israel knows its American benefactors are always there, standing by to help.

“Attention should be paid”, as Arthur Miller once wrote, by American church leaders, American media leaders, and money-hungry American politicians. 

This summer, starting in late June, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. will assemble for  national leadership policy making.

On its agenda will be a resolution for delegates to  discuss a proposal on how their corner of God’s moral army should  respond to Israel’s decades-long occupation.

A half century after mainstream American churches remained racially divided in their organizational structure, here come the Episcopalians, still debating  oppression.

Check out this non-mainstream secular media story on the upcoming discussions. In one of its resolutions to be considered on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) are these words:

Fundamentally, we believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a U.S. civil rights issue for our time. It is an American issue because Washington repeatedly vetoes United Nations resolutions criticizing Israeli settlement building and other violations of international law; it conveys billions of dollars annually to Israel in unrestricted foreign military aid, requiring no accountability as required by law for the use of U.S.-supplied weapons and munitions to enforce the Occupation; and because publicly-traded U.S. corporations profit from the Occupation.

Well-stated, but will it pass or will it be watered down? 

Delegates who address this resolution must decide: Will they join the seven southern clergy who, 52 years ago, told Martin Luther King Jr., to “go slow” on racial segregation?

Or will they stand with Martin Luther King, Jr., and former President Jimmy Carter, and say the time for debate is over?

If they vote their consciences, they know it is well past the time to drag down the curtain of invisibility our religious and secular leaders have placed around “that hell called Gaza”.

I call the question, Bishop. 

The picture above of two young girls walking through the ruins of Gaza, is by Thomas Coex /AFP/Getty Images  It is from the NPR website..

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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11 Responses to “I’m From that Hell Called Gaza”

  1. Roy's Blog says:

    Thanks for this essay, Jim. I’ll be circulating it to my mailing list tomorroiw. Ii have an extensive initernational list. There are people on my mailing list who have mailing lists at least as extensive as my own. I’m trying to promote The Elders, too. Cheers, Peace, Roy

  2. oldkahuna says:

    Thank you for another of your informative and humane articles! I especially want to thank you for the hyperlinks. I hope others will follow these and find additional long-term resources!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jim. An inevitable question occurs to me: Were the eminent Carter and Brundtland able to establish the urgency of the crucial realization by the quisling Abbas administration that some spine in that quarter — toward full, resolute solidarity of all Palestinians against the Zionist-regime persecutor — may, just may, be the “tipping point” toward finally confronting, cornering, and bringing to closure this beastly/devilish specter of illegal occupation and its attendant terrorization of a defenseless, captive population? Or — horrors — does that segment of the Palestinian polity remain intent on “going slow”? I know that I, in my minor position as a passionate-cum-desperate activist for justice, dignity, freedom, and peace for all Palestinians, would be immeasurably heartened and energized by such a development of solidarity….

    Viva Filistina!

  4. Robert says:

    Thanks Jim for keeping a spotlight on both Gaza and Israel’s cover-up of it.
    On the pessimistic side, I note that the great strides that MLK initiated seem to have been a dozen steps forward, a dozen back given the racial issues again thankfully bubbling to the surface. As a Southerner, I know it looks different, but I write as a (Great White) Northerner.
    Also, Israel’s new justice minister is she who called for virtual genocide just prior to last summer’s Gaza massacres.
    Finally, on my tribe, the Episcopalians, …..
    I add a link to my own Gaza report of a couple of months ago. I wish Carter would have been able to have a similar experience.
    http://necefsabeel.ca/?page_id=1801

  5. J. Martin Bailey says:

    A motion to end debate and proceed to a vote does not require a “second.” But I’m with Jim Wall all the way on this.

    When Israel not only thumbs its diplomatic nose at a sitting U.S. President but refuses common courtesy to a former President who has invested his life in the cause of Middle East Peace, it shouts to the world that it is not a “reliable friend.” It is time for the United States to end its UN Security Council vetoes of any action criticizing Israel.

    We can prove our real friendship by helping Israel see the costs of ignoring the wisdom of the rest of the civilized world.

  6. alexawad46 says:

    Thanks Jim!
    I am the director a charitable organization that serves in Bethlehem and in Gaza. I applied last December to get a permit to go to Gaza and I am still waiting. No reasons are given for the delay. I guess the Israeli authorities are waiting for me to give up.

    Reverend Alex Awad
    Bethlehem Bible College

  7. Fred says:

    Gaza is indeed a hell. But, sorry to say, Christians can’t seem to compete with Jews in political clout in the mainstream media and Congress. It is the Israel Firsters who have politicians bowing and scraping for their money, in what passes for democracy in this country.

    Our elections are about who will do more for the apartheid state, who will give Israel more billions of our tax dollars, as our own people go hungry and without many basics. This is the harsh reality. Unless we can match the Adelson et al’s $$$$, and the influence of the NY Times and Wash. Post., Israel will rule in our Congress and halls of government.

  8. Newland Smith says:

    Thanks, Jim for this excellent piece including your challenge to the Bishops and Deputies who will be meeting at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention as well as for the link to the Mondoweiss article with the paper and resolution. There are three other resolutions coming from dioceses two of which call for the Church to divest from specific companies doing business in the Occupied Territories. Two of the authors of the paper including myself are on the legislative committee that will be debating these resolutions. PIN is doing good organizing work but we know it will be an uphill struggle especially given the membership of the House of Bishops.

    Newland Smith
    Lay Deputy, Diocese of Chicago

  9. Will Thomas, NH VFP says:

    Excellent Blog and Information, and comments that expose the perfidy and callousness of the Israeli government. One ray of sunshine is the growing student movement on college campuses that challenge the propaganda of the “only democratic and Jewish state” in the ME. The Students for Justice in Palestine and the expanding Open Hillel movement and the endorsement of the Palestinian-inspired BDS campaign by many young and older people in the US and in Europe, is causing fits among the Israeli ruling elite. Each one of us must decide which side we will support — as a non-Jew but with Jewish friends, I know that the Israeli rulers do not honor the Torah, the precepts of Judaism which support inclusion, equality, fairness, and justice — for all people.

  10. Ruth Zalph says:

    I was in the West Bank and Jerusalem the last 2 weeks of May 2014 and it is painful to learn that nothing has been done to help the thousands without housing, health care and clean water and adequate food.

  11. sassybugcat says:

    I signed up for your blog in 2010 and have enjoyed receiving it ever since,
    but for some reason WordPress seems to have dropped me from the list and I’m having trouble being re-instated. Can you help? Thank you. Not receiving your blog is a big loss!

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