US rabbis launch 'Jewish Fast for Gaza' initiatve

Religious group seeks end to siege and start peace negotiations with monthly water-only fast day.

gaza unrwa rubble 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza unrwa rubble 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
A group of 13 American rabbis from across the religious spectrum has launched an initiative called "Ta'anit Tzedek - Jewish Fast for Gaza," and plans on holding a mass water-only fast on the third Thursday of each month, lasting from sunrise to sunset. The first such fast is scheduled for this Thursday, July 16. Those behind Ta'anit Tzedek say seeks to end the Jewish community's silence over Israel's collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza. The initiative it is not affiliated with any organization or institution, but it counts Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox and Conservative rabbis amongst its numbers. The inspiration for the scheme, led by rabbis Brian Walt, former executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and Brant Rosen of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Illinois, is taken from the Jewish tradition of holding a communal fast in times of crisis. A fast can be both "an expression of mourning and a call to repentance," the group's Web site says. Ta'anit Tzedek began with a commitment by a minyan of rabbis to engage in a fast to support relief efforts, call for a lifting of Israel's blockade of Gaza and support all efforts toward a substantive resolution to the humanitarian crisis there. According to Rabbi Rosen, "we oppose the Israeli blockade of Gaza and realized that it was not fair to deny a person enough food to eat - it's just not basic human decency." On the Ta'anit Tzedek Web site, the group explains the reason for their action. "Since the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, Israel has imposed a blockade that has severely restricted Gaza's ability to import food, fuel and other essential materials. As a result, the Gazan economy has completely collapsed and it suffers from high levels of unemployment and poverty and rising levels of childhood malnutrition." Although the fast is meant to pressure the Israeli government to act more responsibly towards Palestinian civilians, the group nevertheless condemned what it called Hamas's deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians. On the Web site, Rabbi Rosen declared, "We condemn Hamas's targeting of Israeli civilians," in reference to Hamas's shooting of rockets and mortars at civilians living in the South, but continued, "it is immoral to punish an entire population for the actions of a few… Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people in Gaza amounts to nothing less than collective punishment." The group's Web site describes the group as "rabbis, Jews, and people of conscience who have committed to undertake a monthly daytime fast… to call upon Israel, the US, and the international community to engage in negotiations without pre-conditions with all relevant Palestinian parties - including Hamas - in order to end the blockade." Rabbi Rosen justified his belief that Israel should negotiate with Hamas, which does not recognize Jewish state's right to exist, by asking "why does Israel need other countries to agree to the nature of its existence… why should other parties affirm the Jewishness of Israel?" The rabbis also called for lifting the blockade on Gaza, which they said prevents the entry of civilian goods and services, as well as for increasing aid to the Strip's people. The Web site asks fast participants to donate the money they save on food to the Milk for Preschoolers Campaign sponsored by American Near Eastern Refugee Aid (ANERA), a relief campaign that combats malnutrition among Gazan preschool children. The IDF Spokesman stated that it "would like to emphasize that any organization or country that wishes to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, can legally do so via the established crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip with prior coordination."