The following is a report from the screening of the film Rachel at the The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this past Saturday. The screening had been controversial, and opposition to it focused on the fact that Cindy Corrie would be speaking at the event, and that two of the co-sponsoring organizations were Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee. This opposition included a scathing and misinformed statement from the the Koret and Taube Foundations, two funders of the festival. A speaker from the right wing San Francisco Voice For Israel was added at the last minute to calm critics. The Castro Theatre, which holds around 1,400 people, was reportedly packed to capacity.
The flap around the film about Rachel Corrie shown at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on Saturday, July 25 is simply another incident in the cycle of controversies that accrue to individuals and organizations who advocate for Palestinian human rights.
The Koret and Taube Foundations are part of a wide spectrum of individuals and organizations, Christian and Jewish, who attempt to enforce the axiom: there shall be no public criticism of Israel. This platitude ironically goes hand in hand with the view that ‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.’ Over the past several decades, self-appointed watch dogs of appropriate Israel discourse have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and poured out enormous doses of vitriol upon any individual or organization that dares to expresses even a drop of sympathy with the plight of Palestinians.
The fact that the vast majority of people in the crowd at the Castro Theatre would not let the Voice of Israel representative speak his mind without interruption reflects growing frustration with the use of pubic slander, character assassination, cancellation of speakers, firing of faculty and demand for resignations by the so-called defenders of Israel. Since when are people with views that differ from AIPAC, for instance, invited into mainstream circles to speak for five minutes before a pro-Israel speech or film? The representative of Voice of Israel was not there to dialogue. Only to chastise. The crowd refused to be chastised. When the impassioned proponent of Israel mentioned JVP and AFSC in order to condemn them as virulent anti-Semites, the crowd burst into cheers and applause to honor them instead.
The crowd at the Castro represents a growing movement of individuals and groups who believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can never be achieved without addressing and redressing the issue of Palestinian human rights. Resistance is sometimes rowdy. Naturally, the side of privilege and status quo demand politeness from resisters in order to maintain decorum. Well, politeness isn’t always the best way to go in a situation where you have never been given a voice in the first place. While I am a proponent of compassionate listening, I learned from people of color that interrupting the language of hatred and racism also has a place.
As an eye witness to Palestinian life since 1966, I have come to my own conclusions about the conflict. Whether Rachel Corrie’s death by a Caterpillar armored bulldozer on March 16, 2003 was accidental or intentional, there is much in the Israeli relationship to Palestinians which is not accidental. As reported by scores of Israeli NGO’s including B’Tselem, New Profile, Physicians for Human Rights, Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, and even by Israeli soldiers whose testimony about Gaza directly contradicts the official version of Operation Cast Lead, the ongoing Israeli appropriation and destruction of roads, houses, land and water from Palestinians by force is not accidental. Neither is the assault on the educational, health and cultural institutions of Palestinian life, the use of administrative detention, torture, beating and harassment of civilians, the cutting down of tens of thousands of fruit and olive trees on Palestinian land, the building of Jewish only roads to over 100 ‘illegal’ settlements and the ghettoization of Palestinian towns and cities by the Separation Barrier. One can deny the accuracy of a single story. What about ten thousand stories, one million stories, six million stories?
As a pacifist Jew I feel very comfortable as a staff person at the American Friends Service Committee. I, along with thousands of other pacifists across the globe, disavow violence and oppose war and militarism as a matter of religious principle. I feel comfortable in an organization that utterly resist the allure of violence as a redeeming force, whether perpetrated by the Israeli state or Palestinian armed resistance or the United States. I feel at home in an organization that has cultivated a relationship with the extensive Palestinian nonviolent resistant movement and the Israeli peace movement and does everything it can to support coexistence and human rights of all people.
I also feel at home as a member of the advisory council of Jewish Voice for Peace. Each organization has its place and contribution to make toward the historic struggle for peace. JVP is an important voice for freedom of discussion. History will decide the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And history, as Martin Luther King, Jr reminds us, flows toward justice. Anyone who desires peace among Israelis and Palestinians must be an advocate for the resolution of the conflict based on nonviolence, human rights, mutuality in negotiations and adherence to international law. Our future is together, not apart. Toward that end, we will not be silent.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is cofounder of Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence and the Co-director of Middle East Programing for the American Friends Service Committee’s Pacific Mountain Region.