I was born in Romania during World War II. My family immigrated to Israel when I was six, in the wake of the Holocaust. I grew up in Tel Aviv and spent years on a kibbutz. I was part of a “socialist Zionist” youth movement, “HaShomer HaTzair”. While serving in the army, I volunteered to teach immigrants in the Negev, mainly from North Africa. I continued on as a teacher and a principal until I moved to the US. There I taught at a Jewish day school and created curricula for Jewish and Zionist organizations. In 1995 I moved back to Israel and lived in Jerusalem. I was a liberal Zionist and felt strongly connected to Israel. I believed that Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories and blamed the settlements and the settlers. I was against wars, racism and discrimination. I felt that I had good values. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. I did not know that I lived behind an invisible wall.
As a child, like any child, I was influenced by people and institutions around me: teachers, youth leaders, pictures, ceremonies and the entire environment in the country. My education began in 1st grade or I’d better say the indoctrination began then. Starting in 1st grade, on Fridays, before dismissal, the teacher used to pass around the “blue box”, asking for donations (which were mandatory…) made to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). We knew that JNF were reclaiming the desert, planting trees, creating parks. Not a word about being the sub contractor of the regime that expelled the indigenous…
We had bible studies 3 to 5 hours a week, 2nd to 12th grades. The bible was used as a history document that gives us, the Jewish people, the right to live in the promised land. A secular society is using a great collection of ancient writings, while god is in a position of a real estate agent.
We learned ancient Jewish history, how 2000 years ago the Jews had been exiled and since then, we the wandering Jews, were hoping to return to our homeland. The national anthem is based on this core idea: The hope of 2000 years has been in the yearning souls of Jews. There is only one little fact: the Romans did not exile the Jews. The Romans did not exile anybody. The situation in the country was really bad, and whoever had the means, the luck or the courage, left for better places. Most people stayed behind. Are they maybe the Palestinians…?
We learned modern Jewish history in Europe, mainly in eastern Europe, especially in Russia. There the antisemitism was terrible, including pogroms. There Zionism evolved to save the Jews. Wasn’t it also the nationalist trend in the 18th,19th, 20th centuries, which the Zionist movement was part of? Many Jews from eastern Europe were trying to find better places to live. The majority immigrated to the US, also to Canada, Argentina, Australia, South Africa and more. Until 1925 only 1% went to Palestine. There was a call for the Jews, as a “people without a land”, to go to a “land without a people”. We learned that those who did go, were the pioneers, idealistic young people that sacrificed their own comfort for the sake of their people. They were “the new Jew”, physically strong, upright, suntanned and not religious. We admired them. They worked hard, built villages and kibbutzim, dried swamps, paved roads and struggled for Jewish work instead of cheap Arab work. They were tired and hungry, yet danced and sang at nights. So romantic… we admired them!
We learned about the Balfour Declaration, offering a home to the Jewish nation, as a great help to the Zionist movement, except that colonialist England gave out land that did not belong to them.
The war of independence in 1948 was a cornerstone of a great victory. The newly born state, bravely fought against 7 Arab countries that wanted to destroy it and throw the Jews to the sea. We did not know that mostly volunteers came from these “7 Arab countries”, that the Jordanians were the only real trained army. We learned how the Holocaust survivors came to rebuild their lives in Israel. The fact that the Europeans committed these horrible crimes and that the indigenous in Palestine were the ones paying for it, did not cross my mind. Arabs were described as a primitive cowards, who took off their shoes and ran away. Or they were described as cruel people, hosting you nicely, and once you turn to leave they stab you in the back. We were told the Zionist narrative only, expressed in Israeli literature, poetry, songs, history and ceremonies. That is only the Ashkenazi, Israeli narrative. The expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians, and over 400 villages that were razed to the ground and replaced by Jewish towns, villages and kibbutzim or JNF forests and parks, were not part of the story.
There was a struggle in Palestine. My enemies were the Arabs and the British. I belonged to a particular society and I knew who I was. It was my identity.
I graduated from high school and, as a young woman, who considered myself an idealistic person, volunteered to teach in a town, south in the Negev, where Jews from Arab countries had been sent. Until then I was rarely exposed to Mizrahi Jews and knew nothing about their culture. In fact, I didn’t know if they had any… With the best intentions, I taught them what I knew: East European and Ashkenazi literature and the Zionist narrative, the way I had been taught. I did it honestly with all my heart. As I continued on teaching, I did it only in towns with less privileged people from Arab countries. I believe that it made me a better person and less racist, as I taught and also learned from them. There is so much to say about the issue of Jewish Arabs, which I will skip in this article.
As a young adult in the sixties, working full time and raising my own children, I was not involved in any political activity. In fact, I did not pay any attention to daily news. There was no TV, there was news on the radio about 3 times a day, and I didn’t read papers. The media was dictated by the government anyway, more than it is today, when at least the internet plays an important role.
The 1967 war pushed me a little more into thinking about what my political stand was. As I had mentioned before, the West Bank occupation, the settlements, the right wing settlers, were for me the main political wrong doing. It was not that I ignored the Nakba, I did not know this term at all and 1948 remained holy in my mind.
What does it mean to be an Israeli liberal Zionist? In this piece of land, Israel/Palestine, the population is divided about half and half: Jews and Palestinians. There are the Palestinian citizens (the “1948 Arabs”) and the Palestinians under military regime in the occupied territories. Through most of my life I did not have any contact with Palestinians. Not one friend, acquaintance or neighbor, none. The Palestinians were on the dark side of the moon. I never went to Arab towns, definitely not to the West Bank or Gaza (before the blockade). Sometimes, while driving to the north I would stop at one of the Arab restaurants which are located along the roads, to eat some good Arabic food. I lived in Jerusalem, the “united Jerusalem”, where 40% are Palestinians, (residents, not citizens) I never went to East Jerusalem. I saw Palestinians cleaning the streets, planting flowers to beautify my city, building, carrying products in the supermarkets and washing dishes in restaurants, but I really, did not see them.
“Where a man cannot look, he cannot feel, and where a man cannot feel he has not really looked. Without both he will never understand” (Richard Forer, Breaking Through).
A deep fear has been instilled in our veins. I did not dare to cross the street to the Palestinian side. There is no need for formal segregation in Israel. It is implied perfectly by this deep fear. Two completely separate entities. This is a perfect way to dehumanize the other. “They” become demons, and you keep out!
It was November 2008. I heard on the news that the court ruled to evict two Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. I knew nothing about this matter. I vaguely knew where Sheikh Jarrah was, even though it is neighboring side by side with the Hebrew University, Hadassah hospital and the French Hill (where I lived a couple of years in the 1990s, not being aware that I was a settler living in a settlement…) sites which are busy locations in Jerusalem. What I knew was that two families were thrown to the street. It infuriated me. Then I heard that there was a group of people protesting the eviction. I did not join. I was not familiar with Palestinian neighborhoods and in Jerusalem city maps, these neighborhoods are blank.
And… I was afraid… My daughter Daphna, insisted on going there. I joined her, I had to protect her… Yes, we found Sheikh Jarrah. This was THE FIRST TIME in my life, at the age of 64, after living in Israel for 58 years, that I had conversations with Palestinians! I realized that not my daughter was to be protected, the Palestinians are those who need protection. My journey had begun. Sheikh Jarrah was my doorway to end the fear. I joined the weekly protests on Friday afternoons, where I met Palestinians and Jewish Israeli activists. It was then that I started my inquiry. I wanted to see, I wanted to know.
My first tour was with “Ir Amim” to east Jerusalem. I was shocked. It is a third world city. In this “united Jerusalem” the Palestinian neighbourhoods don’t look like the Jerusalem that I lived in. We were driving on narrow, bumpy, unpaved roads, of course no side walks, very poor and far from sufficient schools, no playgrounds, piles of garbage which are rarely collected and most houses neglected. There is a tremendous effort to Judaize east Jerusalem and house demolitions is one of them. Demolishing Palestinian houses that had been built without permit, is the pretext, as permits are not given… We met Palestinians and listened to their frustrating, sad stories. Their status as residents can be revoked easily, which indeed has been done. Since Oslo accords 140,000 Palestinians lost their residency, because they dared to go abroad, they lost their right to return home.
I joined “Machsom Watch” touring the north part of the West Bank. Poverty, restrictions, checkpoints that separate Palestinian villages and towns from each other and look like passages for cows. Through these checkpoints, Palestinians are waiting for hours from 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, to get to work on time, go to school or to a hospital. They are processed like herds of animals.
I went with a “Breaking the Silence” tour to Hebron. This is one of the biggest cities in the West Bank with about 200,000 Palestinians and a few hundred messianic settlers. It was hard to believe what my eyes witnessed. The once, vivid city market, turned into a ghost town. The stores are closed, with locked and welded doors. The streets are divided: the larger part for Jews only, and a path (cars are not allowed) for Palestinians. The apartments are fenced on all sides, protected from the stones that settlers throw at them regularly. The occupants don’t have access to the street and they climb over the roof and then down a ladder to go to a store, school or hospital. Hebron with its roadblocks concrete barriers guard towers and border police patrol is well controlled… I felt anger, shame, sadness and pain.
On a Friday demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, a guy was asking people whether they were willing to volunteer and join Ta’ayush to South Hebron Hills. I did not know what Ta’ayush was. I signed anyway and joined. I showed up at the meeting point, on Saturday, at 6:00 in the morning and off we headed south in a van. From that Saturday on, this was what I did on every Saturday for a few years.
Working together with Palestinians, (Ta’ayush=together) doing whatever was needed: harvesting, cleaning cisterns, rebuilding what had been destroyed and more. Being part of Ta’ayush has been one of the most meaningful times in my life, one of the most meaningful things I have ever done.
It has been hard work to examine my own mind. Many questions that leave me wondering how could I have not thought about them. My solid identity has been shaken and then broken… I have been an eyewitness to the systematic oppression, humiliation, racism, cruelty and hatred by “my” people towards the “others” and what you see, you can no longer unsee…
People ask for solutions. I don’t have one. I have a vision: A state for all its citizens with equal rights. A true democracy.