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What's a Nice Jewish Girl Like Me Doing in Ramallah?

My Bat Mitzvah. That's me and Rabbi Larry Kushner in front of the ark at Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, MA, 1986.

I was raised Jewish. In a loving, nurturing, Jewish community where questioning and thinking were encouraged. Really, you could question anything, with only one exception. Support for IsraelĎs policies and practices, a sort of loyalty to the tribe, was non-negotiable. And so I struggled later in life when I learned that for my people without a land, we created another people without a land. I thought I would have to secede from Judaism, I wanted no part of this legacy of driving a people from their land, of the on-going occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, of the decades of unfair treatment and humiliation which Palestinians experience at the hands of the state of Israel.

But as I think most Jews will tell you, you are born a Jew, that is who you are, who your people are, you canít swap out and become, say, Pakistani. But before and after I am a Jew, I am a human. If I recall correctly it is not 'justice for Jews, justice for Jews, shall you pursue'. And so I have an obligation to be as truthful as I can be about what I have seen.

I do not condone or ignore atrocities or injustices visited by Arabs upon Arabs, by Arabs on Jews, or any other combination of aggressor and aggrieved, but I know my work is within my own group. On my motherís side we are Iraqi Jews. Just as so many Palestinians fled their homes in fear in 1948, my grandparents and mother fled Baghdad, leaving behind their belongings and the land of their ancestors since time immemorial. In the case of both peoples the hurt from this injustice remains. I believe these parallels can help us to have compassion for each other. And even if we cannot have compassion for each other, then letís at least take the pragmatic steps necessary to work towards ending this cycle of violence and oppression. I believe one of those steps is hearing each otherís stories. It is in that spirit that I share what I've seen.

Culturally, I believe we Jews have work to do. Equating questioning Israel (policies, practices, even right to exist) with anti-Semitism is distracting and deceitful. There is actual anti-Semitism to combat, enough with this red herring. And, just as Islam and Christianity have extremists, so does Judaism. I believe we Jews have a responsibility to reign in Jewish extremists. Settlers who believe they have a right to take over land which Palestinians hold title to because God said the land belongs to Jews, and then make life unbearable for Palestinians who donít flee, make me embarrassed to be a Jew.

I am not a good source of information on what most Israelis know, think or feel. And as the old saying goes, with two Jews you've got three opinions. The overwhelming majority of Israelis are on line and speak English, so I encourage you to find out. If you are American or European, you'll probably feel a sense of shared culture, people who like the same music or read the same books as you.

In addition to hearing the stories of Palestinians, I am interested in understanding better why Israel is as it is today. I believe one reason we Jews have been so slow to recognize weíre oppressors, is weíre so accustomed to the idea we are victims. Jews are not only and always victims. I think that concepts of vulnerability and survival underlie Israeli politics. Likewise I believe concepts of pride and humiliation underlie Palestinian politics. Of course, I am neither Israeli nor Palestinian, and so it is with palpable hubris that I offer my outsiderís view.

You may be able to give up on the middle east, write off this part of the world, decide those people will always be killing each other. For reasons I donít understand, I donít have that luxury. I care about this place. I know peace is possible.

If you want to comment on what I've written in this website, you may do so here. You are welcome to completely disagree with me or anyone else, but please do so respectfully.

Introduction Why you should be angry about the occupation Photos Some stories from my travels Outside Links Post a comment