An open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

January 11, 2009

Dear Prime Minister Olmert:

You have been in my prayers during this time of war. The weight of your high office must feel especially heavy at a time like this.

For eight days now — since the Israeli ground incursion of Gaza, January 3 — I have been fasting for peace. I plan to continue fasting until the war stops.

I write humbly as a Christian, painfully aware of my faith community’s centuries-long mistreatment of Jews, and the indefensible silence of many Christians during the Holocaust.

I write humbly as an American, agonizingly aware of my own nation’s historic occupation of Native peoples and more recent occupation of the people of Iraq.

And yet I write boldly as a fellow human being, begging you to learn from these terrible mistakes of history.

In a candid moment after announcing your resignation as Prime Minister several months ago, you said that, to achieve a durable peace with Palestinians, Israel would need to end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. You used strong words to condemn the traditional Israeli defense strategists: “With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories . . . and this hilltop and that hilltop. All these things are worthless.”

Why now this war on Gaza?

Frankly, I don’t believe that “Operation Cast Lead” can be justified on moral, legal or strategic grounds.

Morally, how is it possible to justify a military battle in which Israel attacks an imprisoned civilian population? The vast majority of Gazans are already refugees. This time, there is no place left to flee.

Legally, under well-established principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, Israel has a special duty to protect the rights and well-being of the citizens of Gaza. While Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, it is still effectively an occupying power – with tight control of Gaza’s borders, coastline and airspace. Not only are Gaza’s women and children being killed by the hundreds — but humanitarian agencies that are seeking to help civilians have been targeted as well.

Strategically, how will this military assault make Israel safer? It is possible that, for the short-term, Israel may diminish Hamas’ capacity to fire rockets into Israel. But in the long-term, Israel’s overwhelming show of force is only likely to create more enemies. That was certainly one lesson from the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

I understand that your cabinet is debating whether or not to escalate the fighting in Gaza. Already, more nearly 900 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have already been killed. Thousands more have been injured. Instead of moving to “Phase III” – which will almost certainly lead to massive casualties for both Israelis and Palestinians — I implore you to end this war today.

I appeal to you to talk directly with the leaders of Hamas. It is clear that there are serious philosophical and political differences. Without a doubt, Hamas should stop firing rockets at Israel. But until face-to-face encounters begin and differences are dealt with, there will not be a secure future for either Israelis or Palestinians.

Several months ago, you said: “We face the need to decide but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians . . .” Today, I pray that you will have the courage to make an agreement with Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Let peace be your legacy, not war.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler
Amman, Jordan

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