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Personal Journeys

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Wasan Abu-Baker pens a reflection on growing up in Palestine as a “child of the stone” dedicated to Ahed Tamimi. She recalls when her father first came home to live with the family after years in prison. Wasan was already seven: “I still remember those days when we came home from school and then going out to the field to pick the olives, then coming back home to finish our homework. After the harvest was completed we would take the olives to our family factory where the olives were pressed to make olive oil. I remember standing next to my dad to have a taste of the freshest olive oil along with my pita bread. He used to say that once you drink olive oil it becomes part of your soul. I will never forget and miss always miss the smell of olives on those days.”

Pro-Israel groups are working to save the Hebrew program at Evanston Township High School, north of Chicago, where enrollment has slipped in recent years to only 34 students. “The message of these Hebrew programs are clear: If you’re going to learn Hebrew, you’re going to learn to love Israel.  No room exists for students to master the language while disagreeing with Israel’s policies”–writes Liz Rose, former Hebrew teacher in a Chicago area public school, who lost her job when she attempted to show students the Palestinian side of the story.

Gideon Levy has described Zionism as “Israel’s fundamentalist religion.” But what happens to those Israelis who reject it? Jonathan Ofir describes his journey away from Zionism, and the societal exclusion that befalls those who drift away from the ethos.

Yossi Gurvitz recounts how he went from growing up in a national-religious family in Petah Tikva to rejecting Judaism. For him, it all started in yeshiva: “On October 28th, 1984, I had my first crisis of faith. That evening, David Ben Shimol – an IDF soldier – fired a stolen anti-tank rocket into a Palestinian bus as vengeance for an earlier Palestinian terror attack. Every evening we had a seder erev, which began punctually and without fail at 19:10. That evening, for the first and only time I was in Nechalim, it was postponed. So that people could have time enough to dance.”

Israeli-American Ronit Dinson makes the decision to leave Tel Aviv and return to the U.S., “Am I coward for saying “khalas” (Arabic for “enough”), I want out of here?  Or, are there just too many avenues that have dead-ended here in Israel?  I want the same thing that all Israeli Jews, Arabs, and asylum seekers want, to live in peace with my family and for my future children to have equal opportunities.  I don’t see this happening here in Israel unless the apartheid structure finally ends and all people have equal rights, regardless of their nationality, race, or religion.”

Susie Day writes, “Izzadine was born 25 years ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His father, a Palestinian Muslim, and his mother, a white Christian, raised him and his two brothers Muslim. They also raised Izzadine female, but when he was 21 and in college, he came out as a transgender man and began, he says, to reinvent himself. He’d always wanted to live in New York, so he got a job at the Institute for Middle East Understanding, based in Brooklyn. Izzy’s now here; he’s queer; and–with due journalistic objectivity–he’s slightly awesome. I started by asking him what it’s like, combining Ramadan with Gay Pride.”

Aida Qasim remembers the start of the Six-Day War, as a small child seeing her mother watch reports of the war broadcast over television, “My mother stood wailing near the television screen as though intent on entering the box and rearranging the scenes. The defeat of the Arab armies of the Six-Day War and ensuing occupation of her beloved Jerusalem unraveled her like a forgotten sweater that had not been mothballed. My three-year-old self looked on, frightened and yet mesmerized by the histrionics of this strange woman who up until then had been my anchor.”

Iris Keltz relates: “Forced to wait three days for a visa allowing me to cross the U.N. checkpoint into Jerusalem, Israel–– gave me the chance to meet a handsome young Palestinian poet, musician, and world traveler. After a whirlwind courtship of less than three weeks, we married and were planning a honeymoon when war broke out. The day Israeli soldiers barged into a basement apartment in Ramallah where were hiding, I was afraid––afraid for my life, afraid the soldiers would not recognize me as Jewish, and surprised these Jewish soldiers invoked such terror. I meant to cry out, “I’m Jewish, American, and these are my friends.” But I spoke no Hebrew, and they spoke no English, so I remained silent. My silence that day inspired me to write this book.” Her memoir, “Unexpected Bride: In the Promised Land” was published earlier this year.

A shuttered Palestinian shop in Hebron closed down by the Israeli military that was vandalized with a Star of David, an ancient Jewish symbol adopted by the Israeli state as a national symbol. (Photo: Lauren Surface)

According to a recent New York Times op-ed, Israel today is “nothing like” South African apartheid. Yarden Katz, an Israeli, abandoned the warnings about visiting the West Bank and toured a housed in Bethlehem trapped by the wall, and a ghost town in Hebron, “If we only dare look, we see that there’s apartheid and much more.”