This might be the most difficult blog piece I have ever written. Difficult for me to write and difficult for you to read.
I am a passionate Zionist. I chose to leave Australia and come here because I believe that this is where Jews belong. I believe in the mission of creating a society that can be a model for the world; I believe in the vision of the Prophets that from Jerusalem will emanate peace. I believe in my responsibility to join the enterprise, despite the challenges.
As a Zionist, I want what is best for Israel and that includes not providing ammunition for Israel-haters to use against us. I want to fight our battles against injustice within, so that enemies of Israel have less reason to attack us.
I am also a feminist Zionist. Perhaps this is a unique category of Zionism — this is an idea that needs more exploration. What it means is that I look at the world through a gender lens. I am critical of my own Zionism and critical of Israel — critical and committed. Feminism proclaims that all people should have equality in social, political and personal matters, regardless of gender or other aspects of their identity. My feminist values drive me towards the pursuit of social justice. They impel me to give a voice to the voiceless. And that sometimes means my Zionism is challenged by my feminism.
There are times when I know of no other way other than to speak up, even if it means that Israel’s critics will use the my words against us. I cannot be silent if speaking up might make a difference, especially as we approach elections.
There is an unknown number of people, perhaps thousands, born here, in Jerusalem, within the borders of what we claim is Israel, who have no status, no national identity, no opportunity for citizenship, no voting rights, no medical coverage, no right to education, no right to employment or social security benefits, no legal protection. They mainly include the children of East Jerusalem residents, themselves classified as Permanent Residents rather than citizens – because even though we proudly tell the world that Jerusalem is “United” we don’t mean that the people who live here are under one law. If a parent fails to register a child in the right way, during the right window of opportunity — and the goal-posts keep on changing as to what those are — then the child may never be able to remedy that situation, even in adulthood. They cannot become Palestinians under protection of the Palestinian Authority because they are not registered as Palestinians and do not live under the Palestinian Authority, and here in Israel, where, according to our laws, they were born and live, we refuse to offer them their basis human rights.
It is an embarrassment. Much worse than that, it is criminal under any interpretation of international human rights law. I write with a great sadness and a weight on my heart for the people affected and for all of us who perpetrate these injustices in ignorance.
I see Israelis crying over children in Africa, in Myanmar, in India and in the Arab world. But what about the children in our own land? Can we not insist that every child who lives here has the dignity of some status and the protections that come with it? Can we not demand from our political leaders that they deal with this anomaly, which is a tragedy and a humanitarian crisis?
Israel says it wants to be Jewish and democratic. For me, nothing could be more Jewish than being democratic. Although Judaism speaks in terms of responsibilities and the language of democracy is rights, they are perfectly compatible. Both Judaism and democracy concern themselves with the dignity of the individual. Democracies protect their citizens and the minorities within their borders. Judaism is based on the principle of all humans being born in the image of the Divine. We want to be Jewish and democratic. How can we call ourselves either when we do not obey the most frequent Biblical injunction – not to oppress the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our land?
I don’t see the status of East Jerusalem’s children on the political agenda of any of the parties running for election. There are parties calling calling for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied after 1967, claiming that this is the only possibility for a just solution for Palestinians, but they cannot believe that it is realistic to imagine that Israel will cede control over most of East Jerusalem. The calls for withdrawal are not tackling the very real problems of Jerusalem’s Arab residents. East Jerusalem is abandoned. There are parties insisting that Israel go even further in annexing these territories. They want the land but not the people living on the land. Their program is to extend the problem and create a mass population without rights or protections. The moderate parties simply ignore the issue.
Spreading word of our shameful behaviour is not easy for me. I know that there are those who will do and say whatever they can to undermine Israel with the aim of erasing us from the map. Those people may want to use Israel’s regulations that have led to the disenfranchisement of many East Jerusalem residents in their arsenal against us.
But there are important reasons to spread the word. We need to know. Knowledge is the first step in making change. As Naomi Chazan wrote earlier this week about Israel’s ongoing battle with the International Criminal Court, “the best way for Israel to safeguard itself from constant external calumny is to desist from policies that contravene basic humanitarian values.” So now you know.