A month ago, I spent my Shabbat morning being chased down a hill by IDF soldiers in the city of Hebron. I was part of a group of 40 Jews who were helping a Palestinian landowner clear his factory land to make way for a cinema, before it was declared a ‘closed military zone’. I was scared – scared of an army that I had been taught to respect and admire for most of my life. Scared of what might happen to the Palestinian activists who were with us if they were caught.
I was taking part in a 10-day trip organised by the Centre for Jewish Non-Violence (CJNV), which brings Jews from around the world to the Occupied Territories to do peaceful solidarity work with Palestinian communities. During the trip, we met with a number of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists who are working together to help end the occupation.
Recognising that, as Jews, in the context of occupation we are more powerful than our Palestinian counterparts, all actions were led by our Palestinian partners. This was particularly powerful as, while there are numerous discussions, events and trips about Israel/Palestine in the Jewish community, my experience is that very few prioritise the involvement of Palestinian activists and communities as was done on this trip.
While the actions in which we took part may seem ineffectual in comparison with the power of the Israeli government, they still have impact – whether that is helping with agricultural work in the Palestinian village of Umm al-Khair, or putting on a street party in the east Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan.
Acting in solidarity with those who are challenging actions by the IDF and some settler communities that make life for Palestinians unsustainable and unbearable was important to do as Jews. We wanted to actively denounce policies that continue to perpetuate the indignity of occupation. Our experiences, of helping pave a road with the organisation Ta’ayush, of clearing out Palestinian owned land to make way for a cinema in Hebron, reinforced to me how we have to challenge the tired and prejudiced narrative in our community that it must be ‘us or them,’ that there are ‘no partners for peace’.
Residents of the Palestinian village of Susiya in the south Hebron Hills were expelled from the land in 1986, and it is now an Israeli archaeological site. Since then, there have been multiple demolitions when the village is rebuilt on different parts of the land. Susiya was where we spent our Shabbat after our action in Hebron. The family of Nasser, a B’Tselem activist, prepared a room for those who were shomer Shabbat, cooked us our Shabbat meal and was kind and welcoming to us. On 15 August this year, Susiya is once again set for demolition. The notion that it could be justified that these people’s homes should be destroyed for my safety is frankly absurd.
The majority of conversations in our community revolve around end points. One state or two? Zionist or non-Zionist? Jewish or Democratic? These are all important questions but, at present, they are secondary to the impact Israeli government policies are having on Palestinians living in the West Bank. We have a responsibility to listen to the experience of people who live their lives under military rule. It’s ok if these conversations make us uncomfortable or even ashamed.
On one of our final days, the director of the CJNV told us that there is no ‘it’s complicated’ with the occupation: You either support it or you are against it. As diaspora Jews, we have a fundamental responsibility and obligation to help bring about its end. We must do so not only because we care about Israel acting out its democratic values.
Being part of the movement to end the occupation must come from a Jewish place, because it is from Judaism that I learnt my values of social justice, and ending the occupation should be a Jewish social justice issue. We must recognise that ongoing Israeli control over the Occupied Territories means that Palestinians continue to be treated in a manner that lacks human dignity. This is something about which we cannot remain silent.
Next year marks 50 years of occupation and the CJNV wants 500 diaspora Jews join us in Israel/Palestine to say 50 years is 50 years too many. I hope you will join us.
Read Joshua Pomerance’s response here: What occupation? – The moral high ground of close minded openness