Shalom Kita Aleph! It’s Expel-Our-Neighbors Time!

This Shabbat morning in shul I suffered from acute cognitive dissonance. I daven in an egalitarian havura-style minyan in Jerusalem, and today’s davening was particularly beautiful. First, it was the Torah reading. Every once in a while it happens, when I see a group of powerful women in colorful talitot reading from the Torah in the center of our community, that I am overwhelmed with gratitude that there are egalitarian sacred spaces here in the heart of the Jerusalem, in the middle of the Middle East.

And then it was shalom kita aleph: All the kids going into first grade gravitated towards the bimah, each clearly on their own planet, as they are at that age, and finally gathering under a giant tallit held up by their parents. They started their bracha and soon the talis fell on their heads. When the talit was raised again, candy went flying, and so did the kids; in every direction they scattered on their hands and knees, under the table with the Torah, to collect as many candies as they could before the adult task-masters took control again. I thought: Look at all these loved and protected children! How wonderful that such a thing exists right now and here I am inside it!

And I thought: How different things are right now for the children of  Khan al-Ahmar only a short drive away. This Palestinian community, which was already there when we conquered the West Bank in 1967, has faced nothing but brutal discrimination at our hands for more than fifty years. Not only have we denied them the basic necessities of human life, like access to water, electricity, roads and adequate health care, we have repeatedly demolished their homes and expelled their families to make way for Jews. And now, as the courts give the green light once again, the bulldozers are poised to destroy and expel.

Like all West Bank Palestinians, the residents of Khan al-Ahmar are not represented on any level in the Israeli government bodies that decided to demolish their community and build settlements for Jews instead. Even as both Israeli and International law require the Israeli government to serve the interests of this protected civilian population, we shamelessly abuse the power of the state to dominate and dispossess them. Government leaders explicitly state that their intention is to further Jewish national interests. We’ve established hundreds of new settlements for Jews since 1967 but somehow – despite the fact that they were already there when we arrived – it is impossible for Khan al-Ahmar to receive permits and services like their Jewish neighbors. It is government of Jews, by Jews and for Jews, but ruling over Palestinians. A more absurd mockery of the rule of law is hard to imagine.

As I watch my friend’s children scattering for candies underneath the sefer torah, I ask myself how our Jewishness can be both so beautiful and so ugly and destructive. Here it’s graceful rituals accompanied by young voices chanting ancient sacred texts, and not far away it’s racist state-perpetrated violence destroying homes, traumatizing children, and driving the most vulnerable population in Eretz Yisrael into even deeper poverty.

Our mainstream national discourse today is shot through with explicit Jewish supremacism in both fundamentalist and ultra-nationalist flavors. We are witness to one of the greatest moral failures of Judaism in the long history of our people. How soon, upon returning to power, did we become like our oppressors! שבנו אל ארצנו ושכחנו כי גרים היינו בארץ מצרים   – We returned to the Land and forgot that we were strangers in the Land of Egypt.

But I do believe that one day, maybe not so long from today, we will remember that כל אלהי העמים אלילים – All gods of only one nation are false gods – ויהו”ה שמיים עשה – The true God is creator of the heavens, under which all human beings live out their lives.

We do not have to commit this crime against the innocent residents of Khan al-Ahmar. Raise your voice! Write a blog. Share this one. If you can, join the people of Khan al-Ahmar on the ground in their hour of need. God knows, it’s important.

About the Author
Shaiya Rothberg lives in Jerusalem and teaches Jewish Thought and Kabbalah at the Conservative Yeshiva. He's also a human rights activist focused on resisting the abuses of Israel's discriminatory West Bank regime. Shaiya holds a PhD from Hebrew University in Jewish Thought and a B.A. in Jewish Philosophy and Talmud from Bar-Ilan. He made aliyah in 1988 and served as a soldier and officer in the I.D.F. from 1990-1993 in the military government of the Gaza strip. The opinions in his blog are his own and do not represent any institution.
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