Since I returned from visiting the West Bank for the first time in January, my internal state has not been quiet or the same. I have been exposed to a new reality, which is hard to digest. I have days where I feel so sad for Israel, what it has become (an occupier) and what has happened to world opinion of it.
My soul searching involves my questioning myself and my loyalty to Israel. At the same time, I feel that it is morally wrong to be quiet about what I see as injustice. My father, who lost his father and sister in the Holocaust, talked a lot about standing up for justice. I know he would be proud of me. But, it is hard when I speak about meeting the Palestinians and getting to know more about them, my Israeli and Jewish friends (most, but not all) don’t want to hear me and go as far as shame me.
The reality of the occupation has become unbearable for the Palestinians and is not just. In the West Bank, I saw people building a nation with goals and aspirations. For the first time, I saw their humanity and wishes for peace and more of a normal life, as much as us Israelis want.
The Palestinian family I stayed with in Bayt Sahour by Bethlehem, could have been an Israeli one. They looked like one of my Israeli friend’s family, with their three teenage daughters with long beautiful black curly hair. Family is central to their lives and their children’s education of utmost importance. I heard how the checkpoints make their lives miserable and how caged in they feel. The father told me in Hebrew what an ordeal it was to cross the checkpoint daily on his way to work in Jerusalem. For a trip that would normally take 20 minutes, it took him 2 hours and sometimes more because of the wait at the check point.
The Palestinian peace builders touched my heart. Most Israelis think of Palestinians as murderers. I was amazed to hear the transformation of three f them, from prisoners in Israeli jails to guiding their people in non-violent resistance. One recalled how he heard for the first time about the holocaust, while watching a movie about it, and he cried. The Palestinians are asking the Israelis to acknowledge their Nakba, which is their pain.
Last week I watched a video of the Collaborative Memorial Day Ceremony, held in Tel Aviv. It is organized by Combatants for Peace and the Bereaved Families for Peace. It was so incredible to see Palestinians and Israeli joining efforts for peace and declaring they will not rest till it is achieved. A human life, Palestinian or Israeli, matters. It gave me some hope. But not for long. At the end of the week I attended a Nakba Commemoration Day, here in the Twin Cities. It was organized by the American Muslims for Palestine Association. It was attended by about 100 people, mostly Muslims Palestinians. The speaker, Dr. Batem Bazian of University of California Berkley, talked about the pain of the Palestinians, their right to self-determination and settler’s colonialism. He believes the official political channels are not working for the Palestinians and talked about grass roots organizing, primarily, BDS.
I left scared. It felt again like the continuation of war as a way of life. The Palestinians are looking out for themselves, which they should, and most Israelis have no conception of who the Palestinians are. Many in the world, including most of the Palestinians, have no desire to recognize the needs and fears of the Israelis.
I think any effort to get to know the other, would be awesome, and is necessary if change is going to happen. I love Israel and it is very painful to see it has become very different from my parents’ dreams and efforts and from my memories of my childhood home. There are amazing peace builders on both sides, lets join them.