Rev. David W. Smith: A modest suggestion to Senator Al Franken on Gaza

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Senator Al Franken recently responded to my concerns over the Israeli attacks on Gaza this past summer.

This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.

While I support most of the senator’s political positions, I take strong exception to his positions on Israel/Palestine.

In an effort to help the senator improve his message, I sent him and his field representative a revised version of his statement. Because I believe that his response reflects a common position of many politicians, I thought it might be helpful to share it and my revised version more widely.

This is what Senator Franken wrote:

Dear [Constituent], Re: Israel/Palestine

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.</blockquote>

I continue to be a strong supporter of a two-state solution that would enable Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side with a just and durable peace between them. Progress toward that goal has been frustratingly elusive. It is a goal that can only be achieved by the parties themselves through negotiations, and I was disappointed when negotiations fell apart earlier this year.

In the wake of that collapse of talks, and in response to the June kidnapping and murder of three Israelis and a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas, Israeli Defense Forces launched air strikes, followed by a ground invasion in the Gaza strip. Thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel. No nation can allow that to happen and Israel has the right to defend itself from these rocket attacks from Hamas. But the loss of life, especially of civilians caught in the crossfire, is a terrible tragedy, and we must do everything we can to get a ceasefire as soon as possible. The U.S. should play whatever constructive role we can in helping to broker such a ceasefire, and in helping ensure that it lasts. It remains my hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will return to the table for negotiations to make progress on peace as soon as possible.

Thank you again for contacting me on this very important issue, and please don’t hesitate to write or call again in the future regarding any matter of concern to you.

This is my proposed revision:

Dear Constituent, Re: Israel/Palestine

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I have recently become a strong supporter of a one-state solution that would enable Israelis and Palestinians to live together in justice, mutual respect, and peace in this birth-land of the three Abrahamic religions. Progress toward the earlier and admittedly inadequate goal of a just two-state solution has been blocked repeatedly by the government of Israel, and the “facts on the ground” that the government of Israel has encouraged extremist settlers to create now show that such a goal was never really intended. Just, reasonable, and sustainable solutions can only be achieved when the parties themselves sincerely want them and enjoy relatively equal power. Otherwise, negotiations merely institutionalize deeply unjust situations. I am disappointed that the lack of such conditions, especially the overwhelming support that the United States gives to the stronger, unjustly occupying party caused negotiations to fall apart earlier this year.

In the wake of that collapse of talks, and in response to Israel’s eight-year military blockade of Gaza (which made normal life impossible) and forty-seven year occupation of the West Bank, its discriminatory laws within Israel proper, its refusal to allow refugees to return to their homes as demanded by United Nations resolutions as a condition of Israeli membership in the UN, its violations of previous cease-fire terms with Gaza (which Hamas had largely observed) that should have largely opened border traffic between Gaza, Israel, the West Bank, and the larger world, and finally the June invasions of the West Bank with arbitrary arrests and detentions without charge (including of the 500 prisoners released in the previous negotiations), home demolitions, and other trashing of the West Bank (undertaken on the pretext of the kidnapping and murder of three Israelis by a rogue group), Hamas launched rockets against Israel. Israel then attacked Gaza by air, land, and sea, killing thousands, mostly civilians, and including many children, women, and elderly, destroying thousands of homes, as well as schools, hospitals, mosques, Gaza’s only electric power station (which had been built with money from the U.S.), sewage disposal and water purification facilities. No nation can allow that to happen, and Gaza has the right under international law to defend itself from Israel’s blockade, air attacks, rockets and bombs, artillery attacks from land and sea, and invasions with tanks and ground troops. But the loss of life, especially of civilians caught in the crossfire, is a terrible tragedy, and we must do everything we can to get a ceasefire, an end to occupation and blockade, and a just settlement of all grievances as soon as possible. The U.S. should play whatever constructive role we can in helping to broker such a ceasefire and durable peace, and in helping ensure that it lasts by assuring equal rights and equal laws for all races, religions, and nationalities. It remains my hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will return to the table for negotiations to make progress on peace as soon as possible through an end to occupation, oppression, and discrimination, and an end to U.S. support for such injustice.

Thank you again for contacting me on this very important issue, and please don’t hesitate to write or call again in the future regarding any matter of concern to you.

I invited him to sign the revised statement and return it to me, but so far I have not heard from him.

I also invited him to let me know how else I could help. He has not responded to that offer, either, apart from requesting my vote and financial contributions.

(Rev) David Whitten Smith, S.T.D., S.S.L.
Emeritus Professor of Theology
Emeritus Founding Director, Justice and Peace Studies
University of St. Thomas, MN

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