Palestine is a Nuclear Issue – Why is Hiroshima Silent?

Pro-Palestine activists in front of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Japan. Image courtesy of Takeo Nakaoku.

On October 13, 2023, CounterPunch published my article “This is Genocide: All Out to End the War on Gaza”, in which I sounded the alarm about the genocidal actions of the Israeli state from my perspective as a Jew of Color living in Hiroshima. Since that day, Hiroshima citizens have held a candlelight vigil every single night in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome in the Peace Park, honoring the lives of the Palestinian people and encouraging visitors to stay informed, speak up and take action. This past week, members of the concerned citizens of the Hiroshima-Palestine Vigil Community hand-delivered an inquiry letter to Hiroshima City Hall asking local government officials a series of questions to understand: Why has Hiroshima remained silent on Palestine?

We are urging the city government to live up to its own standards as an “International Peace Culture City” and join the 227 other cities and prefectures throughout Japan that have already released ceasefire resolutions or statements. One week after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the city government released a statement condemning the violence, but there has been no such statement on Palestine after four long months.

As of February 22nd, the city has replied to our letter of inquiry with a mediocre response, exposing their own disinterest in taking action and deferring responsibility for international matters onto Tokyo policymakers. In response, we have launched a petition on change.org to pressure the city to make a ceasefire resolution and take other actions within its power to address the urgent need for humanitarian aid in Gaza. We will deliver these signatures to the city on February 29th. We are calling on the International Community to join us in holding Hiroshima to task in activating its history, responsibility, and power to be serious advocates and initiators of actual Peacemaking calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Palestine.

Hiroshima purports itself to be an advocate of anti-nuclear peace initiatives, yet it has not addressed Palestine as a nuclear issue. Israel, despite operating under a policy of “nuclear opacity”, has around 100 nuclear weapons. At least two Israeli government officials, Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu and Knesset member Revital “Tally” Gotliv, have openly called for the use of a nuclear weapon against Gaza. Counterpunch editor Joshua Frank lays out the details of Israel’s nuclear history in his comprehensive piece, Israel’s Nuclear Threat (also available in Japanese).

Since November, the news media have used visual and statistical comparisons between Hiroshima and Gaza, with the Middle East Monitor reporting that as of January 5, 2024, 65,000 tonnage of bombs have been dropped on Gaza in 89 days – almost 5 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. This kind of comparison is both inaccurate, given the additional long-lasting and devastating effects of radiation poisoning from nuclear weapons, and incomprehensible — how can we understand the abstractness of “5 Hiroshimas”? The suffering of the Palestinian people is not legible in compare-and-contrast blast stats or rubble pics. But these comparisons shouldn’t be ignored or disregarded, especially by Hiroshima citizens who are very familiar with the individualized stories of hibakusha. As we try to comprehend the immensity of the damage wrought on a place as small and densely populated as Gaza, we must also create our own narratives of connection across place and time as to why Palestine matters to Hiroshima on a human level, not simply because of the scale of destruction.

The Hiroshima-Palestine Vigil Community has been doing the work of peace education and Palestine Solidarity in front of the dome since October. We have engaged in diverse forms of protest actions: art, music, demonstrations, performances, writing, flyers and banners, BDS campaigns, and social media. We have collaborated with organizers across Japan and around the world from Berlin to México, Hawaiʻi, and the United States on coordinated actions. We collect and display messages of peace from travelers to the Peace Park and artists from all over the world. We have had hard conversations with Israelis, American soldiers stationed at the nearby Iwakuni military base, Germans who cannot fathom critique of Israel as anything but anti-semitic, and Hiroshimans who protect the sanctified silence of the Peace Park.

Cross-community organizing and solidarity have been essential in spreading awareness and building support for our movement. In November, we were joined by a community of anti-war and anti-nuclear punk and noise musicians who host our weekly Saturday Art Vigil and monthly benefit concerts. On the 3-year anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar, we hosted the Hiroshima Myanmar community for a teach-in to learn more about the situation in Myanmar. We have been visited by the Peace Choir of the Hibakusha peace organization, World Friendship Center, and we have partnered with the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA) to create large messages spelled out in thousands of burning candles, including the most recent: FREE PALESTINE! NO NUKES! NO WAR! At our press conference, we were joined by the local Postal Workers Union, which also issued a statement demanding the city council adopt a ceasefire resolution.

We marked Chanukkah (for Ceasefire), canceled Christmas (as was the call from Bethlehem), and rang in the New Year with a demonstration. We discussed the Zionist destruction of olive trees on Tu B’shvat, the Jewish birthday of the trees, and marched in twos making noise with signs around the Hondori shopping district on Valentine’s Day. We have distributed thousands of educational flyers, appeared in countless newspaper articles and television clips, and continue to receive messages of empathy and support from the local Hiroshima, Japan-wide, and international community. We have received gifts of Palestinian flags, a keffiyeh, handmade pins, patches, and even a bundle of 1000 origami cranes, the symbol of Hiroshima, folded by an elder in Kure who wanted to send her support for Peace for Gaza. Not everyone has the time or possibility to stand with us every day, but we feel the love and support of our extended communities throughout Hiroshima and the world.

Our participation in the Japan-wide boycott of ITOCHU and Nippon Aircraft Supply (NAS), Japanese manufacturers who have an MOU with Israeli weapons firm Elbit Systems, has been the most satisfying win of our many collective actions. While most mainstream media cited the ICJ ruling as the reason behind the cancellation, Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada recognized the role of Japan’s grassroots BDS movement as the lynchpin in the move by both ITOCHU and NAS to cancel their MOU. There is no doubt that the consistent protests in front of ITOCHU headquarters in Tokyo, the weekly Loud Standings with drums and hardcore punk vocals at the Nagoya office, and our dead baby factory performances in front of the Hiroshima office were causing significant embarrassment for their corporate image. Along with the disciplined convenience store boycott in Indonesia and Malaysia of FamilyMart, an ITOCHU subsidiary, both companies caved from international pressure in the same week.

This public divestment from Israeli weapons technology by Japan corporate conglomerates, who admit to having been pressured by the Japan Self-Defense Forces to engage with Elbit, also has implications beyond Palestine. As Saul J. Takahashi, Professor of Human Rights and Peace Studies in Osaka, writes for Al Jazeera: “Itochu’s move to cut ties with Elbit Systems may mark the beginning of a new trend, and a major step back in Japan’s remilitarisation and full integration into US’ anti-China military grouping in East Asia.” As Japan continues on its path of “record” military spending to become the 3rd largest military behind the US and China, the MOU cancellation does make waves, albeit subtle, in the seemingly boundless militarization efforts occurring throughout the Pacific.

As we see the success of worldwide community organizing, BDS campaigns, direct action by groups such as Palestine Action in the UK, and mobilization of union labor to halt weapons shipments to Israel, grassroots movements to dismantle the military-industrial complex actually have been shown to be effective if they are coordinated, consistent and collaborative. Paired with effective campaigns for political pressure, as we have seen as cities like Chicago and San Francisco pass their ceasefire resolutions, we can only hope that our actions contribute to pressure the cracks to collapse the Israeli state and military. At the very least, we hope our actions can provide a shred of hope to our fellow humans under siege in Palestine who are also paying attention to how the world is responding to their unending, daily genocide nightmare.

Back in October, none of us could have possibly imagined the extent to which this would come. Yet, we still sit impotently as Palestinians resort to eating animal feed and comforting their children in tents under airstrikes in the “safe zone” of Rafah. Millions are marching weekly in the streets around the world. Entire countries – South Africa, Colombia, Bolivia, among others – have cut formal diplomatic ties with Israel. But today, after almost five months of bombing, 100,000 Palestinian civilians killed, wounded, or missing; a historic court genocide case at the International Court of Justice; and countless hours of the most graphic and mindboggling footage and testimonies we have ever seen or heard, international institutions still refuse to stop Israel from committing war crime after war crime against the Palestinian people.

For Hiroshima, is it possible to be a “City of Peace” and remain silent on the greatest Peace issue of our lifetimes? As a Jew, a descendant of Holocaust survivors and victims, and a citizen of this city, I refuse to be silent, and I refuse the bombs on Gaza. Along with my fellow Hiroshima citizens, we continue to stand every night at the site of the first atomic bomb and nuclear genocide to appeal to the people of Hiroshima to speak up and ACT UP. We sing it, scream it, read it, write it, play it, and tweet it. If we cannot DO it, then what is peace? To be against war is an ACTION. To be a Peacemaker, you must be DOING Peace. Our vigil is an act of LOVE for the Palestinian people and for humanity itself.

We invite you to join us in holding the Hiroshima government accountable to its responsibility as an International City of Peace. Sign and share our petition here before February 29th.

Rebecca Maria Goldschmidt is an artist and cultural worker engaging in place-based art and research projects. Her recent work reflects studies of cultural and land-based practices of her Jewish and Filipino ancestors. She is the co-founder of LAING Hawai’i, a heritage language preservation organization, and Program Director for Queer Mikveh Project. She received her MFA from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in Honolulu in 2020 and is pursuing her doctoral studies as a MEXT Scholar in Sculpture at Hiroshima City University in Japan.