My friend, Lynn Basler Grassmeyer, just published this editorial in the Sat. Dec. 15 edition of Nashville's daily newspaper, The Tennessean:
“Help! Pray for us. We won’t make it this time!” Fifteen-year-old Raneen, an International School student in Gaza, said as Israeli “Operation Pillar of Defense” began.
The students’ pleas intensified throughout the eight-day assault, with shelling from air and sea. While Israel claimed retaliation for “an unacceptable security threat,” The New York Times called the attack a “lopsided battle between this impoverished, intensely crowded and hemmed-in enclave and its militarily mighty neighbor to the north.”
Gaza war news, like other news, played out on Facebook as Raneen’s classmates held their thread of communication with the world. Their mentor and former teacher Linda Todd Gharib forwarded the messages to us in Nashville. And as we prayed, miraculous updates came: “Bombs dropped around us, but we are not hit!”
Gaza’s other children weren’t so fortunate. The Gaza Health Minister reports 183 Palestinians killed — 50 percent civilians, including 33 children, and 1,400 were injured — 55 elderly, 220 women and 450 children. Six Israelis died; 219 were injured.
Writer Graham Peebles reports that 1,477 Palestinian children have been killed since 2000, a level of carnage that contradicts Israel’s claims of “millimetric accuracy.”
During “Pillar of Defense,” 30 schools were damaged, including Raneen’s. Homes, mosques and a church were demolished. Raneen’s school was bombed back in 2008 as well. Chemical weapons, including white phosphorus, brought death and destruction to Gaza during “Operation Cast Lead.”
Retired Col. Ann Wright and Kathy Kelly, part of an emergency delegation of peace activists visiting Gaza days after the recent invasion, met the parents of 8-year-old Fares, decapitated by shrapnel as he slept. His father told Kelly, “He was the life of the house.”
Col. Wright notes, “We’ve seen the devastating destructiveness of Israel’s high-tech weaponry, most of it supplied by the U.S. at American taxpayers’ expense.”
The U.N. notes that the Israeli Defense Force sends warnings to civilians ahead of bombings, but “civilian losses are massive.” Most Gazans never receive such “courtesy calls.” If they did, where would they run?
Completely isolated, Gazans have no freedom of movement, even in the West Bank, where they have family. Hanna Massad, pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church, had to choose between his congregation in Gaza and his wife in the West Bank. He gave up his church and cannot return. Once bustling with coastal hotels and cafes, this forlorn strip now hosts bombed-out silhouettes.
While weapons smuggling occupies media attention, the notorious tunnels are Gaza’s lifeline to essential goods that Israel prohibits by normal routes. Two-thirds of consumer goods reach Gaza via tunnels, which also provide scarce jobs. Many workers meet injury or death in collapses, bombings and gassings.
Raneen’s story has meaning for us here in Nashville. When Christian leaders, musicians and politicians claim blind loyalty to Israel despite documented human rights abuses and international law violations, they spread ignorance and do great harm. Recently, 15 outstanding church leaders asked Congress to investigate Israel’s abuses and halt military aid.
As we near Christmas, Bethlehem’s beloved Rev. Alex Awad urges Western churches to cultivate peace and pursue justice, recalling that God’s kingdom is neither racial nor territorial: “When the angels in the sky over Bethlehem declared ‘peace on Earth,’ they were not far from Jerusalem or Gaza City. ... When we draw near to these places with compassion and understanding, there will be peace.”
Lynn Grassmeyer is a local realty agent and humanitarian with Semitic roots.