War comes home to my small town

By Matt Witt

At the coffee shops in Talent, the little Oregon town where I live, the conversation is often about the high cost of housing or the way the weather has been dramatically changing.

But lately another topic has crept in—the escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine.

That might seem surprising since my town is more than 7,000 miles from Gaza, where in just a few months more than 29,000 people have been killed and nearly 2 million have been driven from their homes. But what is happening there reverberates here in its own way.

For one thing, much of the funding for Israel’s assault on Gaza comes from U.S. taxpayers. Since Israel was formed 75 years ago by displacing more than 700,000 Palestinians from their communities, the United States has provided the Israeli military with more than $225 billion in today’s dollars.

“A lot of us are questioning why our elected officials sign off on billions for military spending overseas with such ease,” said Rianna Koppel, a solar-energy worker who lives in our community of 6,000.

Koppel is a member of a local group of Jewish residents, affiliated with the national organization called Jewish Voice for Peace. They have organized a series of protests, film showings and Hanukkah events, all aimed at encouraging elected officials to support a change in U.S. policy.

They say their focus is on four goals: “bringing about an immediate and permanent ceasefire, freeing hostages and prisoners held by both Hamas and Israel, getting much needed humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, and ending U.S. military aid to Israel.”

Responding to those concerns, the mayor and city council of Talent sent a letter to our representative in Congress and our state’s two U.S. senators, urging them to support those same four goals.

Jason Clark, the town councilor who drafted the letter, said that he is “deeply saddened and horrified by the loss of all innocent life in this conflict and that it has been allowed to go on for this long.”

He added, “People all over the world want a negotiated solution that provides peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. More military aid just provokes more resistance and makes a negotiated solution harder to achieve.” One recipient of the letter from our town, Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, joined the call for a ceasefire.

Of course, this issue is highly controversial, and not everyone in the valley where I live agrees that it needs to be open for public discussion. In November, local rabbis organized what they said was a Rally Against Antisemitism. One of them, whose synagogue was fundraising to send military equipment to Israeli soldiers, equated criticism of Israeli government policies with antisemitism and urged residents to “call it out.”

To be sure, antisemitism is present in many rural western communities like ours. A few days after Thanksgiving, law enforcement agencies in four towns within a few miles of my home reported that during the night, antisemitic material had been deposited outside hundreds of local residences. The material directed residents to a video that included laudatory clips of Adolf Hitler.

But local critics of the Israeli assault on Gaza, supposedly to rid it of Hamas, say hateful antisemitic attacks like we have seen here recently make it even more important to speak out for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

“Incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia are increasing, not just around here, but all over the world as a side effect of this war,” Koppel said.  “We need our elected officials to help find a better way.”

Matt Witt is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a writer and photographer in Talent, Oregon.

Paragraph five has been corrected, February 26, to reflect Rianna Koppel, an earlier version had Gianna.

War is not the answer, Matt Witt photo

This column was published in the following newspapers:

02/26/2024 Vail Daily Vail CO
02/27/2024 Wenatchee World Wenatchee WA
02/27/2024 Columbia County Spotlight Scappose OR
02/28/2024 Marinscope community newspapers Marin County CA
02/28/2024 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Grand Junction CO
03/01/2024 Ashland News Ashland OR
02/28/2024 Greeley Tribune Greeley CO
02/28/2024 Aspen Daily News Aspen CO
02/28/2024 Your Oregon News Portland OR
03/01/2024 Durango Telegraph Durango CO
03/01/2024 Four Points Press Garryowen MT
03/01/2024 Kingman Daily Miner Kingman AZ
03/03/2024 Moscow-Pullmand Daily News Moscow-Pullman ID
03/03/2024 Hungry Horse News Columbia Falls MT
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4 months ago

110% agree. Ceasefire poster in my front yard.

4 months ago

I do not get the 2.5 star rating. I find it clear,
true, and inspiring. Looking forward to another.

Andrew Seles
4 months ago

Nicely done, Matt. Our local Jackson County Democratic Party also approved a resolution asking for a permanent ceasefire. It went out to all city councils in Jackson County and to our state and federal legislators. Raising our voices in objection to violations of human rights and international law does not make us anti-semitic or pro-Palestinian…it makes us conscientious objectors.

4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Seles

I am just wondering if any of you know or heard of Yassar Arafat?
Do any of you know what he did and what he didn’t do?
That statement that Matt made about 700,000 people being displaced is so wrong.
Why has Matt not discussed what Hamas has done and not done for the Palestinian people?

4 months ago
Reply to  Alan

The old dogma that Palestinians left in a huff has been now been debunked. Most were forcibly removed, their homes and lands appropriated. The daily Palestinian death toll in Gaza is now at 250 and climbing. These are uncomfortable facts. Combine the violence with starvation and disease, and the lack of water. It’s a humanitarian crisis not seen in this century. The Israeli army wields weapons paid for with American taxpayer money. Now tell me what Yassir Arafat did. Spell it out. Did he kill 250 people per day. Order civilians to evacuate to the south only to bomb them in their last refuge.

Diana Roome
4 months ago

Thank you for reflecting on local views about this important and highly sensitive topic. It is tragic that the historic and present suffering of Jews has somehow been used to justify unconscionable violence against innocent people in Palestine. I’m grateful that Jewish Voice for Peace is helping people here to understand the crucial difference between the actions of a far-right Israeli government and the opinions of many Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere who are as horrified as anyone about the destruction in Gaza. The fact that the US is inadvertently furthering this conflict with military aid while sincerely trying to end it through diplomacy is a sad contradiction.

Linelle Diggs
4 months ago

Matt, you said it well: concisely and to the point!

4 months ago

Well said! This lays it out so clearly.

4 months ago

Hamas is prolonging this war in Gaza and calling for more bloodshed.

The terror group has rejected the latest hostage deal terms agreed to by Israel and negotiated with the United States, Egypt and Qatar.

Israel agreed to pause the fighting, send more aid into Gaza, and free hundreds of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists, but Hamas has so far refused to free the hostages.

Notably, those leading the calls in Congress for an immediate ceasefire have failed to condemn Hamas.

Rep. Ritchie Torres further exposed how these members are quick to criticize Israel but fail to unequivocally condemn Hamas, and Rep. Jared Moskowitz called out Hamas’ sick strategy.

4 months ago

There are genocide deniers, just like there are holocaust deniers. The situation in Palestine did not begin on Oct. 7. It is a matter of historical record that after World Wars I and II the big western powers like the U.S., Britain, and France did not want Jewish refugees from eastern Europe and Russia so they supported the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians to establish Israel. Anyone who wants to understand the history from both the Palestinian and Jewish perspectives could benefit from three books. The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. A book originally published in 2006 follows two families – one family of Palestinians who were driven from their house in 1948 and the other a family of Bulgarian Jewish refugees who took over that home. The Palestinian family goes from believing their displacement is only temporary, to believing that the surrounding Arab nations will insist on their right to return, to ultimately believing that armed resistance is the only path left. The Jewish family goes from believing their new home was abandoned, to understanding that it was stolen, to ultimately believing they now have a right to it although Palestinians are owed reparations. Members of the two families meet but never resolve their differences. Apeirogon by Colum McCann. This is the dramatic true story of a Palestinian family and Israeli family who each lost a child to the endless violence in that region. The children’s fathers have joined forces to campaign for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as a first step toward a peaceful and just solution for all. As members of Combatants for Peace and The Parents Circle they have given multiple presentations in the U.S., whose tax dollars fund the Israeli military. Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter. Drawing on his direct experience as an international negotiator, the former president wrote in 2006 that negotiated solutions had been acceptable to Hamas and other Palestinian groups on multiple occasions but that “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement.” Illegal Israeli actions are condoned by “a submissive White House and U.S. Congress,” “voices from Jerusalem dominate in our media,” and “most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories,” he wrote.

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