Giskin: Standing with Palestine

Jewish Americans should support Palestine not despite their religion, but because of it.

Sarah Giskin

Sarah GiskinThe Gaza strip has a slightly smaller area than Philadelphia, around 139 square miles, and a slightly higher population, at around 1.8 million. In the last month the Israeli military has killed more than 1,800 Palestinians in Gaza and injured and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an issue that is incredibly difficult to talk about anywhere – not only because people have such strong opinions about it, but because these different opinions are informed by “facts” that are completely contradictory.

Growing up as a Jewish American, I was told that Israel is the youngest country in the world – but I was not told exactly how it came to be. My synagogue celebrated Israel’s Independence Day – but I was not told that Palestinians call this day the Nakba, which means catastrophe.

One Jewish member of Temple’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, Hannah Keogh, had a similar experience of misinformation.

“We are taught from a very young age about … how Israel was founded as a safe place for survivors [of the Holocaust],” Keogh, a sophomore early education student, said. “They would only tell us good things about Israel.”

Keogh added that Jewish Americans like us “need to stop focusing on the fear we have instilled in us and always try to look at the other side that we haven’t been told.”

For the past few years, I have tried to do precisely this through reading, talking, listening and going to demonstrations. It became clear that the state of Israel has created widespread poverty in Palestine for decades by occupying land, restricting access to economic and natural resources and destroying homes, crops, schools and hospitals. When it comes to the way Israel has treated Palestine, “wrong” is an understatement.

In virtually every country in the world there is a rich minority and working class majority, and the rich are much more highly represented in government. Thus the government, which controls the military, does not generally speak for the masses. This is true in America, and this is true in Israel.

Statistics regularly confirm that large segments of the Israeli people do not support the continued oppression of Palestinians. A Brookings poll reported that 71 percent of Israeli Jews reject the idea that the state should be defined as a homeland exclusively for Jews, which is the status quo. There is a growing movement of young people who conscientiously object to the mandatory military service, choosing imprisonment instead of taking part in the oppression of Palestinians.

In the last month there have been massive protests in cities all around the country, larger than the pro-war demonstrations, against this most recent assault on Gaza at which Jews, Palestinians and others stood together. New Statesman reports that around 5,000 people gathered at one such protest in Tel Aviv. Despite the fact that there are some Jews who are ethnically Arab, most are of European descent, so a prominent chant at the protest was “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”

Do American Jews share these sentiments? Many who make arguments to justify Israel’s violence are the same people who do not hesitate to condemn the United States for its unjust wars, immoral military tactics and even the racist and classist issues that exist within it.

Why can’t some Jews apply the same standards of morality to the state of Israel? Keogh believes that it is imperative that we do.

“It’s especially important to hold up the values of Judaism in terms of a country that is supposedly ‘ours,’” she said. “I can’t be Jewish and support Israel. I can’t put up with innocent people being murdered by anyone.”

Like Keogh, I support Palestinian liberation not in spite of being Jewish, but because of it.

I know that if I lived in Israel, I would be at the protests. I would be condemning my government for its crimes against humanity, for its racist and classist structure, just like I do in the U.S. I would demand an end to the occupation and oppression and do my absolute best to be useful to Palestinians engaged in the struggle for liberation and self-determination, just like I do in the U.S.

I think many of my Jewish friends and family who believe in social justice would be right there beside me. I believe that mass Jewish solidarity with Palestinians is critical, not only to how quickly they will be able to achieve liberation, but also to who we are as people.

Sarah Giskin can be reached at or on Twitter @SarahBGisky.


  1. Sarah this gave me goosebumps. As an American who became muslim I appreciate that you are such an empathetic human and that you express it, which may be difficult. My government is just as guilty as israel in oppressing the people in Palestine, specifically Gaza. Thanks for speaking out!

  2. Thank you for standing up for humanity, and for everything that’s right about Judaism and Jewish culture!

  3. Despite its precedents in the Nazis’ kauf nicht bei Juden campaign begun in 1933 and the expulsion of Jews from German universities by “Hitler’s Professors,” and the Arab economic boycott of Israel now over 66 years old, the BDS movement may fairly be called, despite local variations, “Jews Against Themselves.” It was begun in England in April 2002 by the Jewish academic Steven Rose and his wife. Espousal of the boycott of Israel, especially its academic institutions, soon became the identifying mark of “progressive” English Jews, so much so that Howard Jacobson devoted a whole satirical novel (The Finkler Question, 2010) to “the Jews of shame,” people who were ashamed of Israel’s very existence, though not of their own illiteracy, cowardice, and treachery.

  4. I feel sorry for you when I read your so called moderation. With due respect, you have the typical historical Jewish minority, “PLEASE LIKE ME” complex and it is so pitiful to read. Throughout Jewish History especially in Nazi Germany there were those Jews who begged to be accepted and liked by the host country’s people. “Like me and I will eat ham for you on Yom Kippur. Like me and I will put up a Christmas tree and call it a Hanukah Bush, like me and I will only pray one day a week, Sunday if you wish (the early German Reformed Jews), etc.” The first Jews to be gassed by Hitler were those Reformers (“please like me…”) who were viewed as a major threat by Hitler and his Jew hating Nazis. Fast forward to today: Here you are apologizing for Israel who is expected to live a double standard. Never mind the rockets and atrocities implemented by the Palestine people. If you read your history parts of Jordan are supposed to include part of Palestine–the world has convenient amnesia with this one. In the meantime here you are with your “please like me” attitude and no matter what you do they are NOT going to like you. You can stand on your head, eat ham and cheese sandwiches and they are still going to hate you because you are a Jew, period! Look in the mirror and accept that you are a Jew. Say it to yourself over and over and perhaps YOU can accept YOURSELF. Remember, if Israel disappears (the Jewish Host country) there IS NO place for American Jews or the World Jewish community to go in the event of another pogrom, anti-Semitic uprising or Holocaust. If there is another anti-Semitic uprising you are a Jew to these people no matter how much you apologize or try to appease them.

  5. That being the case, it is pertinent to remind ourselves of the 1977 statement by Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Zahir Muhsein:
    ‘The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.
    For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.’

  6. Bravo, Sarah! So fair & noble in your own mind. Your arm must hurt from patting yourself on the back for being such a wonderful human being, a good Jew, a citizen of the world.

    Meanwhile, you seem to have so little empathy for those Israelis who have endured thousands & thousands of rockets aimed at them, suicide bombings, kidnappings & murder.

    1800 Gazans killed? I’d ask how many of them were terrorists & who supplied that number, but that’s beside the point. I guess that’s what happens when you shoot rockets from schools, hospitals, mosques, & homes & transport them in ambulances.

    Shall I mention what the Israeli death toll would have been if only your beloved Palis’ missiles had struck their targets successfully, rather than being shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome? Well, better luck next time, Sarah.

    And not to worry about those destroyed terrorist tunnels. Hamas is already back to building more of them. Which brings me to the blockade of Gaza, which undoubtedly breaks your heart. The international community is supplying the cement for building more tunnels & the Gazan supply of missiles & other weapons is being replenished. Can’t keep a good terrorist down!

    Will finish with 2 bits of advice: Try reading “The Siege” by brilliant Irish diplomat & historian Conor Cruise O’Brien. And then, if you’re still in love with the Palestinians, put your money where your mouth is; promise to live amongst them for a year. Oh, & be sure to let them know you’re a Jew. I promise to attend your funeral if it’s held anywhere in the Tri-State area.

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