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To the Members of the Eugene Human Rights Commission, by Rich Forer

  On July20, 2010 the Eugene Human Rights Commission (EHRC) approved a request by theal-Nakba Project to write a letter of condemnation of Israel’s lethal attack upon theGaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, 2010.  The letter was to be sent to the EugeneCity Council as well as Congressional leaders. The Jewish Federation of LaneCounty and Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), accusing the al-NakbaProject of being a “virulently anti-Israel” group, strongly objected to thestatement. When I heard about this controversy I looked at the statements thatmembers of the Jewish Federation made to convince the EHRC not to issuethe statement and decided to write to the EHRC myself.

To the Members of the Eugene Human Rights Commission and Concerned Citizens of Eugene, Oregon

I write to you as anAmerican Jew with ultra-Orthodox relatives living in Israel;and as a former member of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), America’slargest pro-Israel lobby. I also write to you as one who, for most of his life,was a blind defender of the Israeli government’s behavior toward thePalestinian people.

Until a few years agoI shared with many of my fellow Jews around the world the fear, the anger andthe mythic stories of the heroic establishment of a Jewish state only a fewyears after the genocide of six million of our people. But then I embarked uponan intensive and daily study of the history of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.My primary sources were all Israeli, including the Israeli Ministries ofDefense, Internal Security and Foreign Affairs. What I discovered precipitateda change in consciousness and a profound compassion for all people, not favoringone group at the expense of the other. I realized that I was as muchPalestinian as Israeli, as much Muslim or Christian as Jew.

I have followed thecontroversy over your decision to draft a statement of reprimand toward Israel for itsillegal and lethal attack upon the Gaza Freedom Flotilla less than one yearago. And I have read the comments of many of Eugene’s Jewish residents, especially thosewho oppose any action on your part. I see my former self in the words of thesefrightened citizens. I know some have admonished you for issuing a statementwhen you “are totally ill-equipped to deal with international issues.” Othershave accused you of being biased, cautioning you to “keep silent . . . or senda letter of honor to Israel,lest you be tagged with the label of anti-Semitism.”

These Jewish citizenswill tell you that their strong and defensive emotions arise out of a beliefthat Israel is being delegitimized, that Israel faces an existential threatfrom a hostile world that has never accepted Jews in its midst. I am painfullyaware of the fear and anger in their words and I do not doubt that they believethat what they are saying is accurate. However, it is because of that awarenessthat I respectfully ask that you exercise your responsibility as people ofconscience by following through on your earlier decision to write thestatement.

Speaking from my ownexperience and from my awakening to the reality that my rationalization of anyIsraeli behavior had contributed to the suffering of millions, the truth isthat none who beseech you to turn a blind eye to these issues, none who makeveiled threats that you will be labeled anti-Semites has ever honestly studiedthe history of the Israel-Palestine struggle. Encountering the documentedhistory, as described in Israel’sown archives and in the statements of Israel’sleaders from David Ben-Gurion to the present, is the real fear, to a fargreater extent than any concern for the state of Israel. For such an encounter wouldbring each individual face to face with his or her lifelong denial that theirfellow Jews could act so inhumanely toward those who compassionately intercedeon behalf of a beleaguered people; that Israel could use premeditated lethalforce, as it did against the Mavi Marmara, and as it has done for more thansixty years against the Palestinian people.

We are all,individually and collectively, interconnected through our attitudes, ourthoughts and our actions. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian peoplecould not take place without the moral and financial support of Jews andChristians around the world, especially from communities throughout the United States, from places like Eugene, Oregon.The Occupation could not take place without the support of American taxpayerswho make the acquisition of powerful weaponry possible for the Israelimilitary. Without this combined support, Israelcould not maintain a blockade against one-and-a-half million people in Gaza, nor would it beable to collectively starve Gazans to the point that eighty percent rely uponfood donations from charitable organizations for their subsistence-levelexistence. That Israel brutally prevented the Freedom Flotilla from bringinghumanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza and has suffered no sanctions by theinternational community; that Israel unnecessarily invaded Gaza less than twoyears earlier in an horrific display of contempt for human life and has beenable to avoid censure despite the universally consistent reports of numeroushuman rights organizations, including the UN Human Rights Council’s GoldstoneReport, is all a consequence of the ability of organized and powerful interestgroups, such as AIPAC, to intimidate politicians at every level of government.And all of that can be understood as a consequence of our unexamined beliefsand our apathy toward the humiliation and subjugation of others who, thoughthey may live far away, are impacted in very concrete ways.

I implore you not to give in to the forces of Us against Them. Ittakes a great deal of courage to stand for fairness and humanity, knowing thatpowerful groups will reflexively accuse you of hating Israel simply because youexpress concern for the lives of all people rather than some people. By takinga stand for human rights and decency, for equality and justice you will becontributing to a more benign legacy for all of humanity. Every thought andevery action that takes into account the well-being of the other leaves itsmark upon the collective consciousness of humanity, reverberating throughouttime. Both the Talmud and the Koran say: “Whoever destroys a single life is asguilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues asingle life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” Byspeaking out on behalf of those who risked and even sacrificed their lives sothat others might have a better future, you will be sending a powerful messageof compassion straight to the collective heart of mankind. Publish yourstatement of reprimand and rescue the world!

Sincerely, Richard Forer, author of Breakthrough:Transforming Fear into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-PalestineConflict.