The 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SarahBGisky.