My heart wanted to ask her: What will it take for Jews to say, Enough!

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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demoI’m not very proud of myself right now.

Yesterday, I was one of those shouting at the men and women who had come with their Israeli flags, their righteous arrogance, their anger to disrupt our protest organized to declare support for the Freedom Flotilla and the Free Gaza movement.

Central to this story is that I am a Jew. I am a Jew who has spent four summers in Palestine witnessing the toll that more than 40 years of Israeli occupation has taken on a people and on a land. I am a Jew who has come to understand, as the sign I was holding yesterday attests, that we are forsaking Jewish values for the sake of a Jewish state. 

And because I have seen Palestinian homes demolished for illegal Israeli land grab, because I have met the fathers and mothers and children suddenly homeless, because I have seen the 30 foot Wall standing like a sentinel on the landscape separating Palestinian farmers from their fields and livelihoods, because I have witnessed the disdain of young Jewish soldiers for the elderly, the pregnant, the young that they so thoughtlessly control at the checkpoints, because I have seen the Jewish settlers taking over hillside after hillside of Palestinian land, I feel literally sick about what is being done in my name. 

“We are doing what has been done to us,” I found myself shouting at one of the women standing underneath an Israeli flag, unable to stop myself from making this dangerous comparison that I know is sure to inflame. She turned to me, with as vile a tone as I had just offered, charging “how dare you trivialize the Holocaust? Have we put people in gas camps?” 

I had no reply, having started the obstructive exchange, but my heart wanted to ask her if this is what it will take for her and others like her to come to their senses; at the point Israel begins to put people in camps and gas them, then will we say “enough”? At what point do we begin to wonder whether we have become the very thing we say we fear? To my mind, Israel reached that point long ago; the Jews who uncritically support all that Israel does have reached that point; and ironically, tragically, I have reached that point myself. 

I have become what I say I fear as I yelled at another older man, standing quite calmly beside me, doing nothing to provoke like his other Israel-supporting companions. He started off with a simple question, one I don’t even remember now, and my mind went blank as I began yelling at him “we’re selling our souls to the Devil,” “we’re selling our souls to the Devil” – I must have repeated the line 5 or 6 times with a very loud and agitated voice. My fear shut me down, reduced me to a recitation of angry slogans, direct cousin to the fear that brought those who tolerate no criticism of Israel to the rally to shout us down. 

You see, my fear is that the Jewish community is growing in its capacity to justify anything and everything in the name of Israel. We have, as I shouted so loudly to the man standing so quietly beside me, sold our soul to the Devil in the belief that somehow that will make us safe. Five minutes watching any footage of the damage wrought on innocent civilians in Gaza a year ago; five minutes reading about the humanitarian and economic devastation, a collective punishment on families, women, and children who live there; five minutes talking to any Palestinian who has lost a home, a job, loved ones to Occupation will testify to our collective ability to deny our culpability in the oppression of a people and a land.

Their fear, well I can’t really speak to that, because I am so much more afraid of what we are becoming than of any threat. I am more concerned about what it means to survive as a Jewish people if we become completely defined by our stubborn unwillingness to see the “other” as human, as complex, as complicated as we see ourselves. Those holding the Israeli flags yesterday do not see Palestinians as the men, women, and children they are, with their own individual hopes, desires, longings. They don’t understand that Palestinian parents witnessing the killing of their children by bombs dropped on Gaza grieve as hard and deep at these deaths as Israelis do when their loved ones are killed (which happens much less frequently, not that I want to suggest a competition about death counts). They don’t understand that Palestinian men, women, and children enjoy eating good food, drinking strong coffee, telling stories with family and friends in the same ways that we enjoy doing those same things. All they see is threat and this fear allows them to justify anything. 

And me, I don’t see these diehard Israel supporters as human in my turn, because I hate their inability to see the Palestinians as fully human, and as a result I am unable to appreciate their complexity, their complications.

And so it goes, this cycling around of fear and hatred. I expect and want more from myself than this. I know I am capable of it because I have seen this capacity in other areas of my life. What will it take, I wonder, for the Jewish community to wake up to what we are doing? What will it take, I wonder, for me to bring compassion to this question? For what I know for sure is that any hope for our collective survival, our collective ability to thrive, depends on our ability to see ourselves in the other. This skill starts with us, this skill starts with me, and so I’m not very proud of myself right now.

About Tema Okun

Tema Okun is a long time activist, teacher, writer, and artist. Like many Jews, she worries. She worries mostly that g-d is crying.

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