I know there are those who wonder why, with all of the various injustices going on in the world, do I seem to dwell on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians? It’s a fair and important question. For me it boils down to this: I’ve come to believe that too many of us in the Jewish community will unabashedly protest persecution anywhere in the world, yet remain silent when Israel acts oppressively.
I know all too well how we actively avoid this truth. We use any number of rhetorical and political arguments to deny it, to mitigate the discomfort and pain it causes us. We engage in a kind of tortured dance of rationalization that we save for no other world issue but this one. But for me, at least, but none of it really addresses the core issue at hand: however difficult it might be for us to face, Israel is unjustly oppressing Palestinians.
So what are we going to do about it?
Many of us deal with it by putting our faith and efforts into the peace process. And well we should: though I’ve been honest in expressing my own doubts and concerns regarding the peace process, I understand that in the end the only true solution to this conflict will be a political one. But as the peace process enters into its latest incarnation, as the various actors involved painfully wrangle over diplomatic parameters, it is safe to say this saga will continue to take its time to unfold. And in the meantime, the real lives of real Palestinians on the ground will continue to grow increasingly intolerable.
For myself, at least, I cannot use the peace process, critical as it is, as a kind cover to keep me from facing and protesting the oppression that is occuring in Israel/Palestine every day, even as I write these very words. While I will do what I can to advocate for a just and peaceful political settlement to this crisis, this work does not give me a pass on speaking out. If we truly believe we must protest injustice anywhere, anytime, then it seems to me that this principle must apply to Israel/Palestine as well, no matter how painful or difficult the prospect of doing so.
Earlier this week, I was the moderator of a discussion following the showing of a powerful new documentary, “This Palestinian Life” – a film that was often unbearably painful to watch. TPL documents a little-seen aspect of Palestinian life: the nonviolent steadfastness (in Arabic: “sumoud“) of Palestinian villagers who live with a crushing occupation, constant settler attacks, and the deliberate, relentless annexation of their farm land.
This quote from one villager sums up the movie’s essential theme:
I don’t own a gun.
I don’t own any weapons and I’m not prepared to own any…
My only weapon of defense is that I won’t leave this place…
and my hope is that the world will respond to Israel’s treatment of us.
As difficult as it was, I was honored to have been asked to moderate the post-film discussion. I know there are many who would regard my participation in such a program as an act of disloyalty or at the very least an exercise in masochism. But in the end, it really came down to this: I just can’t do the dance any more.