A Conversation We Do Not Have But Need To
When a family member continues to repeat the same behaviors causing irreparable harm to self and others, we need to speak up…we need to intervene. Israel is that family member. Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians—the building of settlements, eviction of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem, and control over the daily lives– has not brought security to Israel .
Instead, Israel’s actions have brought continual strife and warfare; heightened hatred and enmity; strengthened Hamas on the West Bank; eroded support and respect in the world; and divided Jewish communities. No longer does Israel have a Jewish moral and ethical compass guiding her actions.
As a community, not only do we not report what Israel does, but we refuse to look at her actions through the lens of Jewish law and morality. We stand up for the killing of black lives here, but are silent when Palestinian lives are taken in similar circumstances. For the most part the leadership of the American Jewish community supports Israel’s policies and seeks to squash and demonize any questioning and criticism of Israel by labeling critics as either self-hating Jews or anti-Semites.
For decades, Jewish settlers have been destroying Palestinian olive groves, attacking individual Palestinians and stoning children walking to their schools and destroying and defacing their property and cars with near impunity. Few arrests are made; Jews indicted for murder can be let out on bail; and no home of a suspected Jewish terrorist is ever demolished. And until the U.S government recently intervened to stop this practice, money from right-wing Jews in America was sent to support the families of these terrorists.
Israel legally discriminates against Palestinians. For example, Arabs living in East Jerusalem will lose their homes if out of the country after a defined period -of- time. This does not apply to Jews living in East Jerusalem.
The eviction of Palestinians from the Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods in Jerusalem clearly demonstrates that Israel has no interest in fostering the conditions for a peace agreement and peaceful Arab-Jewish co-existence. Yes, at one point these homes were owned by Jews who left for safety during the Mandate period. However, these deeds are not being returned to the descendants of these families but to a right-wing group, funded by American Jewish money, whose goal is to Judaize Jerusalem. So Israel uses the law for its purpose of displacement. The cost? Further anger and conflict. Of course, no one is suggesting that Arabs who were forced from their homes and villages (detailed in recently released Israeli military documents) be allowed to return to their homes or be given compensation.
We cannot even begin to fathom what Israeli actions toward the Palestinian on the streets, in the villages, and on the farm or pasture have created for both the Palestinians and Israelis. Not only has Israel taken their land but also the springs Palestinian farmers used to water their herds and crops. Israel rarely gives permits for Palestinians to add on to their homes, build additional rooms for schools, or build homes.
Most American Jews are unaware of the constant raids at night into the villages, the jailing and torture of teenagers, and the killing of Palestinians that parallel what has been happening in our communities of color in the U.S. Yes, there is a difference. A soldier who murders a Palestinian subdued on the ground gets paroled to a hero’s welcome after serving just a few month on his sentence.
Israel’s continual violation of Jewish values and ethics has undermined the moral foundation of Israeli society. Bet Tzelem, an Israeli human rights organization has documented these violations since 1967. These reports are not the fiction of self-hating Jews and anti-Semites.
I want to state this unequivocally to those who view the world’s condemnation as unjust: When we excuse holding Israel accountable for her actions by citing the actions of others, we are committing an act of assimilation. We then move away from our obligation to be a holy nation. We are no longer separate; we are just one of the crowd. A Jewish nation based on the values of others. Is that the Israel we want?
Israel has relied on its military power and might to give her security. The United States has learned that military power does not guarantee victory and control unless you truly kill off your enemy without concern of the costs to human life to either side. I have no illusions about Hamas. Instead of building a viable Gazan entity, Hamas has chosen to divert its resources to manufacture weapons, construct tunnels and purchase arms. Hamas wants to destroy Israel. So does Hezbollah.
Abbas and the current PA leadership in the past has refused to make any compromises, instead demanding that Israel return to the pre-1967 borders. This is impossible. I do know that the cooperation between the PA security forces and Israel has shown that both sides can work together. We also have Israeli-Palestinian peace groups such as the Parents Circle and Combatants For Peace, composed of individuals who have who have lost family members to terrorism and the wars.
There are Palestinians who want peace. Israel needs to support their standing by significantly changing her policies. I do not know if Israel is capable of creating the conditions for peace. The Israeli electorate has kept Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition in power sine 2009. Netanyahu has used fear, hatred, and divisiveness to rule. The so-called center in Israel does not have a leader calling for change.
The settler movement continues to build settlements. Even the National Jewish Fund has been supporting the settlements and is poised to make their involvement official policy. The religious parties like this arrangement as long as they get monies for their schools and institutions and control of aspects of the daily lives of Israelis regardless of the long-term effects to the workforce, economy and social fabric of society.
The Occupation and the Jewish Establishment’s knee-jerk response to defend Israel has also had a corrosive effect on our American Jewish community and our democratic rights. Following the Yom Kippur War, an organization called Breira, “There is a Choice” formed to create a dialogue in the American Jewish community to support a two-state solution. Breira organized national speaking tours featuring Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti, former Labor Party Secretary General Aryeh Eliav, MK Marcia Freedman, and retired Major General Mattiyahu Peled. The Jewish establishment branded the group as self-hating Jews and traitors. A McCarthyism-like attack began that resulted in the loss of positions for those Breira members who had jobs in Jewish institutions.
The lesson of Breira continues today with the silence of the Jewish communal institutional leaders and the local Jewish press. Discussion is not encouraged unless choreographed to avoid talking about is really happening on the ground. We talk about Jewish ethics and values ad infinitum but rarely look at Israel’s actions through these lenses unless to praise Israel’s humanitarian aid to other countries and her myriad of inventions that have helped the world.
Regarding our rights for free expression in America, the Jewish establishment with the collusion of Israel have been successful in making boycotting Israeli products illegal. (Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if a China lobby were able to get the same type of legislation passed?) Now they are supporting legislation that would not allow the U.S. to place conditions on aid to Israel.
We can no longer be silent. What Israel has been doing can no longer be hidden. If Israel continues her same policies, the consequences will be even more catastrophic once the PA has lost control to Hamas. (I do not want to imagine Israel fighting Hamas on those two fronts. Would Hezbollah then be emboldened to act? I shudder to think of what would have happen if Hezbollah launches its rockets along with Hamas.)
More and more Americans-especially the younger generations both Jewish (If Not Now} and Christian-want to see a two state-solution. A recent poll of Evangelical Youth showed tht just one-third unequivocally support Israel. This trend is significant because the Evangelicals give vast amounts of money to Israel including financing the evictions in East Jerusalem.
We are not in 1947 with the entire Arab world poised to crush Israel. Israel has treaties with Jordan and Egypt and forging new relationships with the Gulf States.
By allowing a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and a shared Jerusalem, Israel strengthens these relationships and its own security.
Israel must change its behavior. I believe her actions may well imperil her physical existence. What I a certain of, moreover, is that Israel will no longer be a nation guided by Jewish ethics and values as well as democratic principles. This is not the Zionist dream I was taught.
I close with these statements of Breira in 1975:
“Our immediate and overriding concern is peace in the Middle East. Our concern grows out of our love and respect for the people and the land of Israel as well as our understanding that the continuity of Jewish life in the Diaspora is inextricably linked to the existence of Israel.– Breira statement, 1975
“We are not innocent bystanders. If we share the anxieties about Israel’s policies, we have the responsibility to say so. If we detect mistakes that might have catastrophic consequences, we must not ignore or swallow our concern…For the sake of Zion, we shall not be silent.”