[Source: middleeastmonitor.com]

A Palestinian boy living on Israel’s West Bank rolled a rubber truck tire toward an already burning fire. Wearing a mud-smeared T-shirt and a determined expression, he dumped the tire and ran for another.

“There’s my column,” I said to my wife, Stephanie, pointing to the TV screen as we watched morning BBC news. “Him, I’d write my column about him.”

To do the child justice, though, I’d need to know everything I could find out about him—where he lives, how he lives, who cares for him and who loves him. I can’t do that because I’m secure and comfortable in my house in Scranton, PA, the birthplace of America’s President Joe Biden.

“Go Phillies,” said Biden at a recent appearance during Israel’s deadly aerial assault on Gaza City.

Major League Baseball means more to countless Americans who would rather see their team make it to the World Series than see Gazan children make it to safety. Too many supposedly well-meaning people “stand with Israel” while America grows increasingly distracted amid a shallow, self-absorbed entertainment culture, validating each day Biden supplies Israel with taxpayer-funded weapons of mass destruction by running up the score on national apathy, ignorance and warmongering.

A group of people protesting

Description automatically generated
[Source: thtrangdai.edu]

Once long ago I walked in a war zone and watched children like the one on TV grow up surrounded by bombs and gunfire—not in the West Bank in Israel but in West Belfast, Northern Ireland. I accompanied a 12-year-old and his 11-year-old brother through tense streets where they grew up among violent, bigoted British soldiers who occupied their homeland. I bought the boys sweet cinnamon rolls and photographed them as they dug into the sticky white icing with their fingers.

Years later, the younger brother, whose skull a British paratrooper had already fractured with a high-velocity rubber bullet, died when a speeding stolen carload of “joyriders” ran him down in the street. The older brother joined a group of other young revolutionaries who pulled two British soldiers from their car and executed them.

A group of people in military uniforms

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British soldiers in West Belfast c. 1969. [Source: reddit.com]

Now I sit in my warm, safe home watching another young aspiring freedom fighter grow into a soldier who one day will take the reins of resistance and do whatever he must do to rid invaders from his land by whatever means necessary. He, too, will suffer the consequences. We all will.

Men, women and children die.

Ideas don’t.

Back in 2014—during the Israeli ground attack on Gaza and before corporate bosses fired me from my news talk radio show for fighting the Trump legions—I came home from work to see two trucks with New York plates parked across the street from my house. New neighbors moving in made for a lively scene—their children excitedly jumping in and out of the trucks, bringing joyful chaos to the nervousness of arriving at a new home. As I stood in the street waiting for a chance to introduce myself and welcome the Hasidic Jewish family to the neighborhood, I noticed a Hasidic elder, a rabbi, making his way to me.

Uh-oh, I thought, here comes trouble. My daily local news talk radio show provided an outlet for Northeastern Pennsylvania Muslims and their supporters to speak, to support a free Palestine, criticize Israeli occupation, invasion and Zionism. I advocated for Palestinian rights and argued for a Palestinian state where all people could live with the dignity and equity all people deserve.

Supporters of Israel called me anti-Semitic.

As the rabbi drew closer I prepared for the latest backlash to which I was no stranger.

I had spent 17 years as a Wilkes-Barre, PA daily newspaper columnist with a Jewish editor who periodically fielded calls from irate Jews and even her rabbi calling for her to tone down my free-wheeling opinions. One day my Jewish critics accused me of going too far.

An anonymous door had gifted the local library with a magazine a Jewish reader eventually noticed and deemed anti-Semitic. Powerful members of the local Jewish community demanded the magazine be pulled from the shelves. The librarian removed the magazine with the support of the library’s board of directors that included supposed progressive thinkers I mistakenly thought understood freedom of speech.

I quickly wrote columns opposing removal of the magazine and any library book that offended readers in any way. Use the moment to open discussion, I wrote. Share ideas and perspectives, I wrote. Be brave enough to see other sides no matter how abhorrent. If nothing else, know what we’re up against. Think deeply about how we must face rising hatred that always exists. I asked if the library’s two copies of Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, should also be removed from the shelves. Of course not, I wrote.

My editor once again stood beside my desk with that stern look on her face I knew so well. She said some of her Jewish friends didn’t even like the way I wrote the word “Jew” in my columns, as if they discerned some coded insult in my usage. Her rabbi had called to complain. Jews branded me as the enemy—no better than the Holocaust deniers who published the magazine and now viewed me as some kind of ally, a kindred spirit.

Yet I was the same good neighbor who had regularly written about human rights and the scourge of anti-Semitism. I literally stood with Jews when vandals spray painted swastikas on the doors of the orthodox synagogue across the street from my apartment.

My then partner Stephanie and I laughed one night when she stood in our cramped kitchen stirring spaghetti and an elderly Jew interrupted our almost ready dinner with a knock on the door. His car wouldn’t start. He felt comfortable enough to take for granted I would give him a ride home to the other side of the river. Of course, I did.

Co-workers invited me to an Orthodox wedding in Boston and a bat mitzvah here at home.

Stephanie and I attended both.

Another time I asked rabbis living in a rented house at the other end of my block if I should write a column about their students—troubled teenagers from New York City—when drunken Wilkes University students pelted the teenagers with snowballs and taunted them with Nazi salutes. Or, would it make matters worse? I assured the rabbis I would follow their guidance – quite a concession for an aggressive street columnist who loathed censorship.

At the height of the library controversy, the men’s club from another local synagogue asked me to speak before their membership. I rarely turn down a chance to share my ideas, but this invitation repelled me. I’m not one to stand by silently and get berated or accused of something I didn’t do. But my reasonable political scientist partner and I talked through the opportunity to stress the importance and power of expression. I agreed I should go.

The packed audience, including a handful of Holocaust survivors, listened as I cautioned against book banning which could easily escalate into book burning. I mentioned the Nazis. At the end of my talk, most of the crowd applauded. I always wondered who hated me even more after my appearance. I wondered if they ever tried behind my back to get even. I wondered if they succeeded.

That night years later when the new Hasidic neighbors moved in I braced for the rabbi. Wearing a wide-brimmed black hat and a huge smile he extended his hand. He addressed me by name. He said he listened to my radio show. No fan of Zionism, he said, he, too, opposed the Israeli invasion of Gaza. I didn’t see his wisdom coming. Nowadays I don’t see truth coming.

I have yet to see mainstream American cable television coverage of Orthodox Jewish opposition to the latest Israeli revenge and retaliation against Palestinian people in Gaza City and elsewhere on the five by 25-mile strip of holy land. Yet, significant opposition exists among Orthodox Jews in Israel and elsewhere.

A military tank with a flag on it

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Many orthodox Jews in Israel and the diaspora oppose the Israeli invasion of Gaza and attacks on civilians. [Source: bnn.network]

That recent morning as I watched BBC coverage of the war, I spotted another boy quickly replace the one rolling the tire into the West Bank fire. This new boy swung a shepherd’s sling above his head—swinging and swinging and picking up momentum to launch a rock at his enemies the way David defended himself against Goliath in the Bible.

I hoped the rock missed its target.

A person in a wheelchair with a selfie stick

Description automatically generated
The slingshot—A symbol of Palestinian resistance. [Source: palestinechronicle.com]

Instead I wanted the ample energy of this young rebel’s resistance to spread around the world until one day young and old alike would trade for peace and nonviolence their endless supply of rocks, slings, arrows, guns, rockets, shells and nuclear bombs—weapons of war that can and do kill without conscience, exterminating realistic hope for a fair and promising future.

Maybe people will one day put aside their guns and gods in exchange for goodness.

Reciprocal butchery is never acceptable—no matter what apologists for Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, North Vietnam and the firebombing of Tokyo say. We must enforce international rules of war and protect noncombatants rather than sacrifice lives of any children and other innocents.

American soldiers abandoned humanity and law in 1968 when they killed babies at My Lai.

Victims of the My Lai massacre. [Source: nytimes.com]

So did the American platoon of 45 Tiger Force paratroopers who killed civilians and beheaded Vietnamese children in 1967—one baby for the necklace he wore, another teenage boy for his tennis shoes—atrocities uncovered and documented (unlike unconfirmed rumors of beheaded babies in Israel) in a 2003 Pulitzer Prize awarded The Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio.

In recent days I’ve watched President Biden, elected Scranton officials for whom I’ve voted, knee-jerk Scranton liberals, Scranton’s mealy-mouthed milquetoast of a newspaper columnist and too many shallow neighbors and fair-weather friends publicly pledge blind loyalty to Israel.

Rather than stand in the middle of downtown Scranton’s freshly christened Biden Street as part of the problem, I stand symbolically with the child rolling the tire on TV. I stand with the child swinging the slingshot. I stand with righteous societal self-defense that demands fighting back against apartheid and brutal oppression.

Lambs being led to the slaughter, these and countless other children need all the good shepherds we can provide to protect them before desperation and suffering drive them to kill in the name of the free Palestine they deserve.

Shalom, kids.

Peace, not war, is always worth the effort.

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