From Jerusalem and Against the War

December 14, 2008 by

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In the interest of full disclosure: I live in Jerusalem, I am married with 2 young children, a son who is six and a daughter who is nine. I am a human rights worker, I have an MA in Jewish Education and I am a PhD student. I grew up in a Reform congregation in NJ and I made Aliyah in 1995, after spending a year as a student in Jerusalem and meeting the woman who is now my life partner. I am also against the war. I was against the war from its first day and remain absolutely opposed to it. I am also against the Occupation, the settlements, and work to expose and stop Israeli human rights violations.

Some may ask: Why? The initial answer is that I am against the war, not because I am some “radical leftist” or a “self-hating-Jew who is an anti-Israel Israeli” which I am often called when people want to delegitimize my opinion or avoid the complexity of the issue, but because I support democracy, universal principles of human rights and the rights of local people to their unique cultural expressions, including Jews of every variety, Palestinians, and others. It is a difficult experience being in the opposition here in Israel, especially at this time. Of course these difficulties pale in comparison to the monumental suffering in Gaza and in the protracted suffering in southern Israel, where, in both places, civilians are being targeted, killed and exploited. My position, then, is not only that the war must end immediately but that it is directly connected to the way in which Israel has been an occupier for more than 40 years. In fact, even after the ‘disengagement’ in 2005 Gaza has remained under Israeli control, albeit without settlements and direct military force inside and this is critical to the context of the current war. This does not mean the leadership in Gaza has a right to fire rockets into Israel, especially at the Israeli civilian population. What it does mean is that the answer that Israel is employing, to the rockets, is not only disproportionate, but it is symptomatic of what I would describe as Israeli chronic myopia that plagues its policy in Gaza as well as in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

This means that it is impossible, illogical and a disservice to the current discourse on the war and on the Occupation to separate the Gazan Palestinian and his/her situation from the West Bank Palestinian and his/her situation. The continued building of settlements, land appropriations, the barrier and direct military Occupation in the West Bank is directly connected to Gaza. (See a human rights report about abuse of Palestinian detainees by Palestinian authorites, written by a Palestinian HR organization)*, The relevance is unavoidable, be it in internal “Jewish discussions” or discussions that involve Jews and others, and Israelis and others as well as Jews outside of Israel with Israel. It contributes an unavoidable complexity to what, in many forums, has been a relatively simplistic discussion in which one is forced to be either “for the war and therefore for Israel” or “against the war and therefore anti Israel”. It seems that one cannot be both anti war (and against the Occupation) and in favor of Israel.

Part of the complexity of the discussion, I imagine, for the Jewish community in North and South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, is that there is a genuine pull to be as ‘supportive of Israel’ as possible. However, I would suggest that as ( and in particular as Jews in progressive movements) the first priority is the universal principle of human dignity and human worth. That is to say the difficulty faced is in how to negotiate the real need to identify with the greater group to which one belongs while not becoming consumed by that group. So the debate about the war and its complexity goes beyond whom it is that shot first, second, third and who shoots last and it also goes beyond the undemanding notion that being supportive of Israel means supporting this war and the Occupation. Complexities are inherent in Jewish discourse, which is why what troubles me is that there is a tendency to conflate the Jewish voice with the Israeli voice, especially in times like this and to disregard and disengage from dissent. When I express dissent my ‘love for Israel’ is often questioned. My response is that I reserve love for my children, my spouse, my family and friends. Israel, I respect and in spite of everything, still find it worthy enough to work for change.

 

*”The Modi’in Illit settlement was established in 1993 as an urban community intended to ease the housing shortage of ultra-Orthodox Jews from Bnai Brak and Jerusalem.” From the 2005 human rights NGOs report.

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