The other day I was speaking to an old friend of mine I met in Israel 25 years ago. We both lived in Jerusalem in the early 1990s and attended graduate school at Hebrew University. Both lifelong Zionists at the time, we shared a love for Israel that, sadly, was an extension of our fear of Palestinians. We were naive liberal Zionists treating Jerusalem like our twenty-something Gen X playground. Often, we would sit at the Botanic Gardens on Mt. Scopus during breaks in between classes–a large flat rock became “our spot”–and we’d look down at the bustle of the city, marvel at the outline of the wall around the Old City, and we’d picture what it might have looked like thousands of years ago. Like children, we’d use our fingers and pretend we were holding little trucks and tanks, and we’d move them around the city that seemed so little in between our hands, making little explosion noises as we crashed our imaginary tanks into each other. As Zionists, of course, our discussions of what might have occurred there thousands of years ago and what occurs today would always, unbeknownst to us at the time, leave out everything that had happened in between–the occupation of Palestine.
We came to our spot to gain a perspective of the city–really, our place in it–and to sit physically above it and watch the buses wind around the streets and other hills below us; we were detached from the noise and dirt. We felt this way often on Mt. Scopus–attending graduate school on a hill–and we developed what I’d later recognize as a false sense of perspective because we were physically higher than others. Without making the connection, we had replicated what soldiers do–physically placing ourselves above the city–a timeless strategy used in military operations and in the strategic building of settlements in occupied Palestine.
Our sense of detached bravado did, however, leak into our dreams. As dreams will, ours reflected our unconscious fears about living as students in a foreign land, unaware of the historical context around us. As we reconnected on the phone, a long phone call catching up on events in our lives of the past few months, Danny reminded me of the dreams we both used to have when we lived in Jerusalem. “Remember our ‘Hamas’ dreams?” he said on the phone. “We’d be walking in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, and in the dream Hamas would chase us down the narrow streets and they’d catch us and kidnap us?” I had not thought of those dreams in a long time. The first time we both talked about having that same dream was after a bombing in a Jerusalem restaurant on Yoel Solomon Street which was next door to a cafe where we had been having dinner. First we heard the loud explosion, then screams, and then we saw people running down Yoel Solomon Street. We left the cafe in a hurry and jumped into a taxi, smelling something burning and sour that must have been human flesh. The next day we met at our spot on the rock and we tried to find Yoel Solomon Street and the restaurant from where we were on the hill, as though locating it from a distance would help remove some of the trauma we had experienced the night before.
Danny continued, “And we’d be so scared that they’d find us in our apartments at night and they’d take us.”
“Those were our ‘Zionist Holocaust trauma’ dreams,” I said. I explained to him that as a child I had similar “Anne Frank in the attic” dreams, and these “Hamas” dreams were just another version–a kind of post-Holocaust, post-1948 dream. And we laughed and reminisced about how young and stupid we were when we lived in Jerusalem.
I haven’t explained to Danny yet how my dreams have changed. This shift began years after I became an anti-Zionist. I was staying in the Deheishe refugee camp just south of Bethlehem with a Palestinian family who had been living in the camp since its establishment in 1949–not uncommon for people who live in Deheishe. After a lovely dinner and conversation, my hosts went to bed. I was staying in an added-on, square-shaped room on the roof of their home–one of the only ways for Palestinians who live in Deheishe to add needed space–when I started to remember the “Hamas” and “Anne Frank in the attic” dreams. I must have fallen asleep thinking of these, because I awoke from another–what I now call the “anti-Zionist post-Holocaust” dream. In this one, I am still a Jew frightened about being rounded up and taken. But this time I am a Jew worried that it’s the Israeli soldiers barging in and taking me. I awoke from the dream, confused at first about where I was, and then, minutes later, sickened at the newly-discovered privileged empathy for my hosts: to finally feel what they had been living as part of their day-to-day lives. What privilege that the real conditions of their lives came to me in a dream, and that I would leave Deheishe after a three-day visit. I got up that morning in the camp, ate a delicious meal of pita and hummus, baba ganouj, tahini, and other salads. I didn’t mention the dream.
Danny is still a Zionist, and he knows that I am an anti-Zionist. We’ve been able to talk about this shift I’ve had because we are old friends who love each other. But my friendship with Danny isn’t the norm. I’ve lost numerous friends and family members since becoming an anti-Zionist. I am not writing this to claim victim space; I only mention this loss because it speaks to something that other Zionists-turned-anti-Zionists I know have gone through. But transitioning away from Zionism is a necessary paradigm shift that one has to make in order to work towards any real justice for Israel and Palestine. As my dreams changed, my modes of activism changed. When systemic issues intrude into such personal spaces like dreams, we must face our internal conflict if we hope to make any kind of changes in the external conflicts of history.
Shortly before we both left Jerusalem with our Master’s degrees in our hands, Hebrew University blocked off the entrance to the Botanic Gardens to rebuild some of the gardens. Unable any longer to sit on our rock and gain the perspective we thought we needed (and could only get on top of the hill), we made our way down to the city, the dust and dirt from the buses and roads hitting us in our faces as we walked towards the bus stop.