I had intended that my next post – this one! – would take a look at ‘Israel’s right to exist’, a key phrase in the armory of the Israeli State. But I’ve deferred that subject to the next blog, and that because I happened upon the open letter to President Biden from Dr Sara Roy published by Counterpunch. Her letter is succinct, direct, heartfelt, but invested with moral authority. And timely.
Dr Sara Roy is an American political economist and scholar. She is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Both her parents survived the Holocaust, but 100 members of her extended family did not. Her father, Abraham, was one of the two known survivors of the Chelmno extermination camp, while her mother, Taube, survived Halbstadt (Gross Rosen) and Auschwitz. While confined in the Lodz ghetto she endeavoured to hide children destined for deportation to the Nazi extermination camps, but they were seized and despatched to Auschwitz.
Dear President Biden,
I am writing to you about Gaza, a place that I have studied and written about for the last 35 years, a place that I consider another home, filled with the kindest and most generous people you will ever meet—have you ever been there? But I am writing not only as a scholar of the region but as a Jew and one whose parents survived Auschwitz.
I have a question for you, Mr. President: When is the death of a child acceptable? Or perhaps I should ask the question this way: When does the death of a Palestinian child become unacceptable? You have experienced the unspeakable loss of your own children so you are better placed than most to answer my questions.
Last week after 87 Palestinians in Gaza were killed and over 500 wounded you stated that you had not seen a “significant overreaction” on Israel’s part to Hamas’s rocket attacks. Among the dead at that time were 18 children. I did not know any of them but I know people who do. Would you please help me explain to my friends why the death of these 18 children does not constitute an overreaction? This brings up another question I have for you, Mr. President: How many children must die in Gaza before you would consider Israel’s response excessive particularly since you have made human rights the center of your foreign policy? I need to know so that I can explain it to my friends. As I write this, over 60 Palestinian children have been killed by the government of Israel. Is that enough to qualify?
I know people inside our government who work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I need to tell you something I heard from one of them about the death of Gaza’s children. This individual implied that some of the dead were likely the children of Hamas officials so their deaths don’t really matter, that is, their deaths are acceptable. Is this the answer to my first question? Should this be the way I explain it to my friends? Please help me out here.
It is tragic that after more than three decades of research and writing, I still find it necessary to argue for the humanity of Palestinians, even to you.
One more thing before I end this letter if you’ll indulge me. It is about my mom. When she was imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto during the Holocaust, she risked her life hiding children who were chosen for deportation to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. The Nazis eventually found the children and sent them to their deaths. But my mom tried to save them even though she knew she was powerless to do so. And I can assure you, knowing her and learning from her as I did throughout my life, she would have done the same for any child under threat, Jewish or Christian or Muslim. She would have been horrified by the senseless killing of children in this terrible conflict, both Palestinian and Israeli, and she would have railed at the injustice of it all. And this is my last question for you: Why haven’t you done the same?