Today I am having a hard time. I am praying (and I’m an atheist) for justice, for human rights, for all people to remember their humanity, and for a serious structural change in the inhumanely racist regime ruling Israel. I moved to Israel over a year ago, and even though I have been in Israel during a previous war before, it was never anything like this where I was. A few sirens, runs to the shelter, and that was it. Since the beginning of this chapter of extreme violence that started at the end of September, I have felt scared every day. Not only for myself, but also for my loved ones. More than anyone, my concern is for my boyfriend who is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. Every time he goes to work I am worried he will be stopped by police and questioned due to his “Semitic” features, attacked by someone who thinks he’s a Jew, attacked by someone who thinks he’s a Palestinian, or even lynched by a hate-filled crowd. In the reality that is November 2015, the possibilities are endless. To say I’m ready for this “Wave of Terror” to end would be an understatement.
I couldn’t sleep after I watched the video of the shooting and deadly beating of Eritrean asylum seeker, Habtom Zerhum, in the Beer Sheva bus station. Thinking about it now, my eyes are filled with tears. He not only didn’t deserve to die, but more than anything to be murdered by a Jewish crowd that kicked him and threw furniture on his body after a security guard shot him multiple times, assuming for some bizarre reason that he was a terrorist. Shame on you barbaric people who did this.
I have spoken to countless Israelis about the current “situation” and everyone agrees it’s horrible. When I ask them what they see as a solution, no one has an answer. How about ending the occupation and deeply rooted institutionalized racism upon which this country is built? I’m not exactly sure how revolutions work, but as long as mainstream Israelis don’t realize how their privileges as citizens oppress others, nothing will change. I’m talking about Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza who are without basic resources and human rights, Palestinian citizens of Israel, Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, and Mizrahim — all of whom are marginalized in Israeli society.
In all my years in the United States I never once felt like “the other” or a victim of discrimination. But my time has finally come, and I had my first brushes with prejudice and discrimination. I have been searching for apartments for a few months, and it turns out that I am a less than desirable candidate for a roommate because my boyfriend is Arab. This was not stated outright, of course, but a conclusion I drew after shallow excuses were thrown my way by fellow diaspora Jews on more than one occasion. I never once had trouble finding roommates in New York, where apartment hunting is just as competitive.
As long as the occupation continues, I am ashamed of my Israeli citizenship, and likewise, like I have been of my American citizenship. But at least I can leave if Israel I want. That is a privilege that many people here, fearing for their lives, do not have. I am welcome here with open arms because I am an American Ashkenazi Jew. I’m even paid to be here! Despite the “good on paper” criteria I embody, I don’t fit the mold of an Olah Hadashah (new Jewish immigrant). I am not a Zionist and didn’t move to Israel to be with Jews. I came to Israel because I felt an obligation to help those suffering most through my profession as a social worker. In all honesty, I do enjoy the perks of Tel Aviv living, and I am the first to admit it. I’m labeled a smolanit (Hebrew for leftist), because I believe all people -– not just Jews — deserve basic human rights, and I do not think it’s okay to oppress and occupy another people. These are the Jewish values I was raised with. Since when is this a “left-wing” position? Shouldn’t this be part of the code of ethics of being a human being?
As all this continues, the world expresses pity over the conflict and/or takes sides about who is right and who is wrong. While it is nice to have an opinion and even to be able to engage in a heated debate, it does nothing. It is the Israeli government’s responsibility to it’s people to create structural changes and end the occupation so that all people in Israel and Palestine can enjoy the same rights and live together peacefully. Israel refuses to do this, then other nations, namely the United States, need to exert pressure and stop providing financial support. Let’s not forget that my American and now Israeli tax dollars and shekels are being used to fund this war, the occupation, and the murders of civilians in Israel and the West Bank.
This entire time I have been afraid to speak up because I fear the repercussions. Sure, I have posted articles about horrific incidents, but never have I stated what I think. To many people in Israel “smolanim” is a dirty word, as is “Arab” and “coexistence”. During war times in Israel in the past, there have been waves of witch-hunts and persecution of so-called left-wingers and mixed Arab-Jewish couples by extreme and violent right wing groups, such as Lehava. I fear the negative impact that expressing my views can have on me and people I care deeply about. For this reason, I am making this reflection anonymous by using a pseudonym. But if I do that, what agency and voice do I really have? I am proud of my choices, my relationships, my work, and the potential to touch others and give them the courage to also speak up.