(This is the author’s fourth diary of her life in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. Preceding it are: first Palestine to Sheffield: One month away from home, second Two months away from home, and third Being pessimistic is not a solution)
Sara, a Jewish friend, is going to cycle over 7000 Kms from Sheffield (Northern part of England) to Palestine. An extraordinary enthusiasm that she has to give up all the life comforts and paddle away to a distant land for a cause she believes in. She is going to raise awareness about the injustice of the occupation in Palestine.
Yes, she is Jewish and Judaism is not Zionism, though not everyone believes in this truth. I even used not to. I used to suppose that all Yahud, the word that most of the Palestinians use to describe Jews, are Zionist.
Judaism is a religion and a tradition, while Zionism is a political ideology. The latter refers to the idea that “Jews must relocate from the diaspora to their ancestral homeland.” It inevitably means that the native peoples of Palestine are displaced even though they have the right in their own home. Yet, not all Jews are Zionists. Also, some Zionist organizations are named Jewish but they do not represent all Jews such as the Jewish National Fund (JNF). This misuse between Zionism and Judaism is not intentional by Palestinians at all but has roots. Looking into big multinational or charitable Zionist organisations like JNF may clarify what I meant. JNF is “a non-profit charitable organisation founded in 1901 to buy and develop land for Jewish settlements to strengthen the bonds between the Jewish people and its homeland” the JNF official website states. In 2002, the JNF was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and Israel. It owns at least 13% of the total land in Israel, having acquired 70 percent of its land through confiscations from Palestinian refugees and present absentees through the Absentee Property Law of 1950. Jewish National Fund does not represent all Jews because simply not all Jews are Zionists; not all Jews believe in the work JNF is trying to do. I am not writing this to differentiate between a religious and a political view that we can know about through google, but this is to tell about what my Jewish friend Sara is doing to challenge the JNF.
I remember the first time I had the chance to speak to Sara was last year. She was Sheffield University Student Union Development Officer. Since then, we used to speak every week about different things. She has been so passionate on supporting the Palestinians in all means. Being an officer, she pushed to have links with the universities in Palestine; and this year a student union referendum of a formal twinning program with the Islamic University of Gaza, the biggest university in Gaza, has passed; a great effort she along with other officers initiated.
Sara began cycling to Palestine a few days ago from the place that we both consider our second home; starting from Sheffield, the city of love and passion; of hills and greens, the city that impacts us with confidence since we first laid our eyes on it. A geography graduate of Sheffield University, Sara brings this geography to life, out of the library, onto the streets and onto the land. She always wondered what better friends for geography than woman and bike? And here she will go–
“over hills and humps, bumps and bridges, past hedges bursting with wild food treats,” connecting a global community of resistance- from Manchester to Sheffield to London to Calais to Paris, through Switzerland and over the Alps towards Italy and Greece… telling the world about this holy land and the stories buried beneath it, under forests and playgrounds and shiny new towns.”
Visiting a number of countries in her way to Palestine Sara will highlight the work of the Stop the JNF campaign. She will also show the film “Enduring Roots- 100 years of resisting the JNF” with follow-up conversations about the film and the realities it shows.
For a few years she has dreamed of waking up one day, getting on her bike and not stopping (with some exceptions) until she got to Palestine. As spring is here, it is time to go. For Sara, this is a wild journey, as close to the earth as possible; as slow as possible, it is to watch the landscapes shift beneath her tyres, to feel the air change in her lungs and on her skin as she moves from England’s spring to the Mediterranean’s scorching summer. It is a journey with a purpose to tell the story of the land she is traveling to and to raise money and awareness about injustice in Palestine.
She is going to be cycling because she thinks cycling is the most empowering form of transport around and the most joyous wondrous stupendous experience possible- that has literally transformed lives (particularly women’s) over the past two hundred years…
And when Sara is being asked “Why Palestine?”, she simply answers saying that as a young Jewish person, this is the land she spent some times growing up and learnt about every day, a land that she grows intimately attached to and that she learnt to feel a great deal of responsibility for. She can’t quite shake that responsibility off. She is off again to find this land again, to see her friends, be a witness to the cruel occupation and join in solidarity with all of those resisting it.
Sara visited Palestine with her Jewish school and “socialist Zionist” youth movement Habonim Dror, whose trips wove a compelling thread, as Sara said; connecting young British Jews with a land half way around the world, whose soil and soul is so contested. She spent a year there after school with Habonim Dror, where her Zionist heart was fed with such fervour she almost did not come back to the UK after her 10 months there.
“Instead, I did come back, headed to university, where I had the space, support and resources to open my head and learn about another side of this story. It was here I met a Palestinian asylum seeker whose family was forced out of Palestine in 1948, leaving him stateless (a predicament which affects 1 million Palestinian refugees worldwide). Meeting this person, this man, in the flesh, who because of the creation of Israel in 1948, has been forced to wander all over the world seeking asylum, forced me to question the very basis for the Jewish state in Israel – the right to return for all Jewish people anywhere in the world, whilst not allowing the right of return to Palestinians who were born there in order to keep a safe Jewish majority. Sensing the injustice in me being able to gain Israeli citizenship at any given moment (whilst I had a safe and secure citizenship in the UK) as this means statelessness resulted in homelessness, poverty and discrimination I started asking more questions…”
Sara told me that what followed was a quite difficult year unlearning much of the information she had been fed and looking anew at a country she had thought she knew so well. She gave up on ‘Zionism’- the idea of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Yet, she did not give up on what socialist Zionism had meant for her at the time- an absolute commitment to seeking peace and justice in Palestine in solidarity with the Palestinian people and resisting however and wherever she could the apartheid and ethnic cleansing they face.
Sara did her undergraduate degree in Geography in Sheffield University. As she told me, in her first summer of University, she decided there was nothing to be done but to revisit the lands she had just lived in the year before and find out for herself, with her own eyes what was happening. Enough of the parallel untruths, enough of these two seemingly opposing stories trying to sell themselves to her with a ferocity and pace and power that left her feeling utterly paralysed and powerless.
She was not prepared for what happened that summer. For the first time, when she arrived in Jerusalem, it was like stepping out into a different country.
As Sara explains in her blog milk and honey: “It was. This was Palestine, which somehow had become so othered and frightening that (except visiting the very Jewish areas of the old city) I had totally missed it”:
the smells and the clothes and the language were so unfamiliar, yet this immediate warmth hospitality greeted me and my belly as i met my friend in beit hanina, east jerusalem and shared breakfast with her and her family. i then spent a month on a trail of discovery; witnessing the rubble and ruins of palestinian homes all over jerusalem, running from tear gas grenades at non violent demonstrations in the west bank, watching the wall wind its way through palestinian land strangling livelihoods and sanity, standing and waiting in checkpoints to get to the next palestinian village, waiting to be humiliated, waited to be searched, waiting to be constantly discriminated against but it was okay because i was white and my passport maroon and so for some reason i was considered (though not always) above such treatment. i learnt about the difficulties surrounding palestinians access to education and the inequalities in the education system for israelis and palestinians inside israel. i learnt that israel is a good place (a fucking amazing place) to be jewish. but not such a good place to be a palestinian. i came back committed to not participating in the project of zionism (which might have felt so wholesome and soul-full before) and to instead join in solidarity with the palestinians who have been living under occupation for over 40 years and before that had been dispossessed from their homes in order to create a jewish majority in the holy land. i joined the student palestine society and worked the next year to raise awareness amongst the student body about the situation in palestine and what i had witnessed.
That was not the end. Sara went back out the following summer to do research for her final year geography dissertation “exploring the landscape’s role in shaping national identities amongst Israeli and Palestinians” and has not been back for 2 years.
Sara is connecting a global community of resistance and spreading the truth:
I cycle because all oppression is connected. And the love i have for the palestinians extends to this earth which is also being plundered and exploited and made to disappear until soon there’ll be nothing left. unless we resist it. and so a plane ride, this time is not for me. but pedal power will push me over the mountains and across many arbituary borders, telling a story also of the human need to be OUTSIDE and to be MOVING (such POWERFUL medicines for physical and mental health). it is also an adventure which i hope will be more mindful of the breadth of culture and landscape that exists between england and palestine which i can come to know and acclimatise in more intimately.
With her shiny sincere heart that’s filled with love and passion for what’s right, Sara is on her way Palestine. Sara, I will be thinking of you, of your heart, your kindness, the power you inspired me with, the passion I learnt from you, the half-an-hour hug that we just had with lots of emotions that I can’t describe, of crying and laughing together, of the life, the Moon, the Sun that shines everyday because life is beautiful and so are we, of our beautiful hearts.
Life is full of us, of our smiles, of our passions, of people who can do the seemingly-undo-able deeds, and achieve what we thought can’t be achieved; life is lovely because of people like you teaching this life and this truth of the injustice in Palestine.