Elisa Strauss has a piece in The Forward about how she checked out of the Israel issue because she was turned off by the propaganda she got on Birthright and from Hillel, even as she was seeing the wall in Palestine. Excerpts:
I went to Hillel and on Birthright because I was looking for a source of unbiased information on, and sober insight into, the country. I naively believed that I could rely on the Jewish community to educate me… I just wanted facts, presented by someone who did his or her best to be fair. I found nothing of the sort.
… [M]y indifference eventually became willful. I just couldn’t juggle the experience of Tel Aviv’s lively beaches, the serene intensity of Friday evenings at the Kotel, and the sadness and shame I feel when I hear about life in Gaza and the West Bank. So instead of finding a way to reconcile these discordant realities, I detached. Israel just wouldn’t be my problem to solve…
I went on Birthright in 2004, on a trip called “Behind the Headlines.” I chose this one hoping to do exactly that, to get the backstory on Israel. Imagine my disappointment, then, when, a few days into the trip, our bus traveled alongside a very tall, very long wall and the trip leader felt no need to explain what it was there for and who was behind it. This was the moment when I realized that not only were we not going behind the headlines, we weren’t even going to cover them….
The happy ending is that Strauss says, ten years on, she might have to engage:
I am starting to think that as a Jew, I might have a responsibility to pick a side and take a stand. Distancing, which once let me avoid Middle East politics, now just makes me feel complicit. The next step is figuring out where to start.
I know I should welcome Strauss to her new path of seeking the truth, because I’m confident that path leads in one direction, toward supporting equality for Palestinians. And as someone who had to stumble out of a lot of tribal traces to get here, I have to respect others’ processes, especially the young who haven’t learned indifference to authorities.
But I must say I find the piece annoying. It’s like Jeremy Ben-Ami talking to the JCC in New Haven last night and saying, “It’s very hard as a Jew,” to go to Hebron and see a divided street with Jews restricted to one side, and Palestinians restricted to the other. OK, Ben-Ami was trying to hold the hand of a rightwing Jewish crowd and explain the reality of Jim Crow. But I’m sorry:
This is not hard.
When you actually see apartheid and racial discrimination, you have one responsibility in this world, Jew Christians Muslims atheists etc: Repudiate it. Seeing that street in Hebron changed Brian Walt’s life forever. My wife went to Bethlehem and the penny dropped in two seconds, she saw that it was wrong. There’s an ancient spiritual responsibility, to bear witness. I urge all Americans to cast their eyes on that wall and then come back home and run through the streets with the news.
Update: Today the Times has a piece describing the Oscar-nominated movie Omar, by Joshua Hammer. It includes this sweet little euphemism:
In an early scene, an Israeli military patrol catches him scrambling over the security fence, which bisects Omar’s village as it imprecisely traces the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.
What do you see when you see that wall?