I am writing this to my fellow American Jews. Well, to some of them. For a specific type of American Jew, actually. To those whose parents or grandparents were socialists and started unions before marching with Dr. King in Alabama. To those who despised George W. Bush and marched against the invasion of Iraq. To those who knocked on doors for causes they believed in while telling their children “be the change you want to see in the world”. To those who read poems at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs about “first they came for the…and I did not speak out because I was not a…” To those who instilled in me the unshakeable conviction that we must always stand on the side of the oppressed, even when no one else will.
Because of you, I am loud and I shout. But I’ve noticed you are growing quiet – almost silent – as an injustice is taking place in Palestine. I think that I know why. I think that as Operation Protective Edge marches onward, you feel your convictions clashing. You, more so than me, were raised to believe that Israel is something it is not: a democracy, with values just like yours, amidst a sea of aggressors. But with each passing day, it becomes harder and harder to close your eyes to a glaring reality.
I want to share with you the way I see things. Maybe it will be helpful, maybe not.
Let’s start with Gaza. Since July 8, at least 230 Palestinians have been massacred (what else can you call it when one of the world’s most powerful militaries drops bombs all day and all night on a population and locks down the borders so that they cannot flee?). Eighty percent of those killed were civilians, including at least 40 children. Israel consistently strikes non-military targets including mosques, hospitals, rehabilitation centers for the disabled, schools, UN compounds and beaches where children play. During Operation Cast Lead they targeted these places when they knew hundreds of Palestinians had fled there to take shelter after Israel shot missiles at their homes. Since the beginning of this recent crisis/escalation/renewed cycle of violence/massacre only one Israeli has died.
Israel likes to claim that it is acting in self-defense. Putting aside the fact that, according to laws of armed conflict, Israel does not actually have the right to self-defense against a population that it militarily occupies, I still find this a hard pill to swallow. While Netanyahu claims that Hamas has disrupted the ‘calm’ of the last few years, I’ve lived in Palestine and I can tell you that there was no calm. At least not for Palestinians. There is a constant, nagging, never-ending violence. This didn’t start with three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped while hitchhiking home from their schools in settlements through an Israeli military controlled area. Before there were those Israeli teenagers, there were two Palestinian teenagers who were shot in the chest and in the back as they milled around in front of a store in the West Bank. Their murders were caught on camera and yet there was no justice. And there was the systematic and institutionalized arrest and detention of approximately 8,000 Palestinian children since 2000. And there was Israel’s torture and mistreatment of hundreds of Palestinians who went on hunger strike to protest their detention without charge or trial. And there were Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, sewage water, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition at weekly non-violent Palestinian demonstrations against settlements. And before that there was the construction of a Wall that cuts through Palestinian land and isolates families from one another.
I know that you were raised to believe that Israel exists to protect Jews and Judaism. But Israel is killing my Judaism. It is killing the Judaism you raised me with. How can I reconcile “stand with the oppressed” with supporting an army that drops white phosphorous gas on children? How can I “question everything” while believing New York Times headlines that blame Gazans for their own deaths? “To remain neutral is to side with the oppressor” – you taught me that. To grow silent is to turn my back on our Judaism – a Judaism that speaks of community and love and healing the world. I refuse to do that. I hope you will too.