A message to our mums after ’50 Years of Occupation’

To our Mums,

We are sorry for worrying you last Saturday night when we were in South Mount Hebron. It was not our intention to keep you glued to your phones, watching Facebook Live. Unlike when we were 16, we did not keep you up because we were at some dingy party. This time, we were on a barren hilltop helping to re-establish a destroyed Palestinian village called Sarura, joining the Popular Committee for the South Hebron Hills and 140 international Jews who were part of the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV)’s “50 Years of Occupation” trip.

Unfortunately, stories like Sarura’s are common under Israel’s Occupation. The village was part of 30,000 dunams in the South Mount Hebron Hills that the Israeli government declared a closed military firing zone. By 1999, the IDF had evicted over 700 Palestinians from their homes in the area, sealing water cisterns and barring them from their caves. While the firing zone stopped Palestinians from living in the area, in 2001, Israeli settlers moved to a hilltop near Sarura, creating Havat Ma’on, which was subsequently connected to Israeli water and electrical infrastructure.

Mum, we have grown up experiencing Israel differently. Your generation, in very Zionist communities in South Africa and the USA, had many young people who made aliyah, inspired by plucky little Israel – the country that took on the Arab World and won. Your love of Israel inspired us to spend significant amounts of time there. We sweated on kibbutz, connected with Israeli family, volunteered in Israeli society and studied at religious Israeli institutions.

But while we met lots of Israelis, we also wanted to meet Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Why? Because of the values you brought us up with – to inquire, to act with kindness, to learn. What we experienced shocked us. Palestinians shared stories of discrimination, curfews and violence. We saw roads in Hebron divided into ‘Jewish’ and ‘Palestinian’ sections reminiscent of the signs in Apartheid history museums or the Jim Crow segregated South.

Palestinian life under occupation, carried out in our name, led us to participate on this trip. During a joyous camp barbecue to celebrate the return of Sarura families to their homes, the IDF arrived in force, threw our friends to the ground, hit them across the face, without a legal order. The IDF tore down our community tent, where we had just celebrated Havdalah. We sang songs from the Psalms: ‘Olam chesed yibaneh’, ‘We will build this world from love.’ We asked the soldiers what we should tell the children in our Hebrew school. We said that we stood, as Jews, against forcing families off their land, because the Torah teaches chesed, lovingkindness. Chesed, lo neshek. Love, not guns. Some of the Jewish soldiers were moved, some kicked us. But we stood strong, and we rebuilt the camp together the next day.

What we experienced, working alongside Palestinians and Israelis to bring life back to a barren hilltop, gave us a hope that we could build a different, just world. A world that you taught us it was our Jewish obligation to pursue/create.

Mum, even when we disagree, we appreciate that you have always supported our choices. Our conversations will not be easy, but we hope you know why, despite the risks, we are part of a new Jewish generation saying ‘The Occupation is not our Judaism’.

With deep love and respect,

Your children.

Rabbi Leah Jordan and Daniel Mackintosh

  • This article has been co-authored by Rabbi Leah Jordan and Daniel Mackintosh
About the Author
Leah serves as the Progressive Chaplain for Students for Liberal Judaism, working with university students, and as the rabbi of the Norwich Liberal Jewish Community. She grew up in the great American Midwest, learned Torah in Jerusalem and as a Fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in New York City, before moving to London a number of years ago to complete her rabbinic studies at the Leo Baeck College.
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