If you’re Palestinian, you know about checkpoints. There are over 600 checkpoints in the West Bank alone. They block, obstruct, frustrate and kill. Women die in childbirth at checkpoints, students are kept from attending school, parents from visiting their children, laborers from going to work. No one can swim in the sea. Israeli Jews are waved through checkpoints. They can swim in the sea. No problem. Jews travel freely on a complex system of Jewish-only roads and live on the Jewish side of the Separation Barriers along hundreds of miles of walls and fortified fences that keep Palestinians out. Palestinians live in an open air prison. Sometimes there is a moment of spring and the guards open the gates. But spring never lasts long. Blockades, nightly incursions, full-scale invasions, imprisonment, collective punishment, land theft, water theft, denial of education, health care, an economic future, frequent beatings and no freedom of movement is the daily bread of Palestinians. You can’t travel more than three miles without encountering a check point. Talk about stress.
J Street was a place where Jews talked to Jews about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Few Palestinians were present. Apparently they didn’t make it through the checkpoint. The narrative of J Street, like most Jewish narratives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reflects the nature of the conflict as seen through a Jewish lens: Palestinians are physically absent. A Jew who seeks to express her activism in solidarity with Palestinians is in danger of loosing her ‘I love Israel’ card at a mainstream Jewish checkpoint. There were checkpoints at J Street. Some people were allowed in but not officially asked to participate, some were dis-invited, and some were not considered to be part of the conversation in the first place.
If we were talking to Palestinian friends and colleagues, we would already know that we cannot control the Palestinian struggle for human and civil rights. No matter how many congress people we talk to, or how many J Street members are recruited, the Palestinian struggle for freedom is in their hands. Whether the next eight years yields an agreement or not, Palestinians will continue to struggle nonviolently for an end to the Kafkaesque labyrinth of systematic inequality that oppresses every dimension of Palestinian life and culture. Martin Luther King observed, ‘The direction of history arcs toward justice.’ How can we think that calling together 1,500 Jewish progressives with few Palestinians present will yield a realistic picture of how and what kind of struggle we might conduct in the name of peace? Only in partnership with Palestinians can we ever hope to transform the current conflict.
In addition, peace will not emerge if we don’t start holding ourselves accountable for the massive abuse of human rights Palestinians endure at our hands, which has been meticulously documented for decades and more recently, in the Goldstone report. In that regard, as a Jewish practitioner of nonviolence, Shomer Shalom, I begin with the premise that we need a very different kind of imagination to construct peace. Only in shared struggle together with our Palestinian brothers and sisters can we transcend our current limitations and work toward realizing a future we have not yet envisioned.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a resident elder with the Shomer Shalom House at the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point, a multifaith community dedicated to nonviolence and peace activism.