From my weekly email to Tzedek Chicago members:
As I write these words, it’s been reported that Israeli troops have killed nine Palestinians, including an elderly woman, in the Jenin refugee camp. Another twenty have been wounded, at least four of whom are in critical condition.
This tragedy should not come as a surprise to us. Observers have noted that the Israeli military has been killing Palestinians with alarming regularity in recent months. According the UN, 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2006. 30 Palestinians have been killed in January alone – and the month isn’t even over yet.
Though it has not been widely reported, Israel has been dramatically escalating these deadly raids against Palestinians in the West Bank. While the election of its radical right-wing government is garnering the lion’s share of attention these days, it’s important to note that these raids were initiated well before Netanyahu’s regime took power. As journalists Mariam Barghouti and Yumna Patel reported last October (before the election):
The past few weeks have witnessed a noticeable intensification of Israel’s crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank, targeting both ordinary civilians in their homes and villages, and armed resistance fighters and groups…
The current repression, and the resistance to it, are part of a larger, months-long campaign to quell growing Palestinian resistance, particularly armed resistance, which has seen a resurgence in areas of the West Bank.
While the Israeli government justifies this violence as “security measures to fight terrorists” and the mainstream media describes these events as “clashes,” I’d argue for a different power analysis: “this is state violence, full stop. The state of Israel was founded upon the dispossession of Palestinians and Palestinians have been resisting that dispossession ever since. Yes, some of that resistance is violent in nature. Such has been the nature of resistance struggles from time immemorial.
As I watch this current violence unfold, I’m mindful that we’re currently reading the Exodus story in our weekly cycle of Torah portions. At its core, this narrative has a very clear power analysis: it’s a story about resistance to violent state power. How else are we to regard Pharaoh, who responds to the demographic growth of the Israelites by subjecting them to avodah kashah (“brutal servitude”)? How else are we to understand a God who “hearkens to the cry of the oppressed?”
If we are to be true to this sacred narrative, I do not think we can dither on this point. Yes, as a Jew, I’ve obviously been conditioned to identify with the Israelites – but as I’ve learned about the history of liberation movements (including those inspired by this very story), I’ve come to understand that any people who suffer under oppressive state violence are, in a sense, Israelites. And any state — even a Jewish state — that builds its statehood on the backs of another people can become a Pharaoh.
As Shabbat approaches, may this be our prayer:
To the One who demands justice…
give us the strength to resist power
wielded with fear and dread;
fill us with the vision and purpose
to build a power yet greater,
a power rooted in solidarity,
liberation and love.
Grant us the courage to dismantle
systems of oppression –
and when they are no more,
let us dedicate our wealth and resources
toward the well-being of all.
May we abolish all forms of state violence
that we might make way for a world
free of racism and militarization,
a world where no one profits
off the misery of others,
a world where the bills owed those who have been
colonized, enslaved and dispossessed
are finally paid in full.