June 8, 2010 at 16:20

My heart wanted to ask her: What will it take
for Jews to say, Enough!
By Tema Okun

I’m not very proud of myself right now.

I was one of those shouting at the men and women who had come with
their Israeli flags, their righteous arrogance, their anger to disrupt
protest organized to
declare support for the Freedom Flotilla and the Free Gaza movement.

Central to this story is that I am a Jew. I
am a Jew who has spent four summers in Palestine witnessing the toll
that more than 40 years of Israeli occupation has taken on a people and
on a land. I am a Jew who has come to understand, as the sign I was
holding yesterday attests, that we are forsaking Jewish values for the
sake of a Jewish state.

And because I have seen Palestinian homes
demolished for illegal Israeli land grab, because I have met the fathers
and mothers and children suddenly homeless, because I have seen the 30
foot Wall standing like a sentinel on the landscape separating
Palestinian farmers from their fields and livelihoods, because I have
witnessed the disdain of young Jewish soldiers for the elderly, the
pregnant, the young that they so thoughtlessly control at the
checkpoints, because I have seen the Jewish settlers taking over
hillside after hillside of Palestinian land, I feel literally sick
about what is being done in my name.

“We are doing what has been done to us,” I
found myself shouting at one of the women standing underneath an Israeli
flag, unable to stop myself from making this dangerous comparison that
I know is sure to inflame. She turned to me, with as vile a tone as I
had just offered, charging “how dare you trivialize the Holocaust? Have
we put people in gas camps?”

I had no reply, having started the
obstructive exchange, but my heart wanted to ask her if this is what it
will take for her and others like her to come to their senses; at the
point Israel begins to put people in camps and gas them, then will we
say “enough”? At what point do we begin to wonder whether we have
become the very thing we say we fear? To my mind, Israel reached that
point long ago; the Jews who uncritically support all that Israel does
have reached that point; and ironically, tragically, I have reached
that point myself.

I have become what I say I fear as I yelled
at another older man, standing quite calmly beside me, doing nothing to
provoke like his other Israel-supporting companions. He started off
with a simple question, one I don’t even remember now, and my mind went
blank as I began yelling at him “we’re selling our souls to the
Devil,” “we’re selling our souls to the Devil” – I must have repeated
the line 5 or 6 times with a very loud and agitated voice. My fear shut
me down, reduced me to a recitation of angry slogans, direct cousin to
the fear that brought those who tolerate no criticism of Israel to the
rally to shout us down.

You see, my fear is that the Jewish community
is growing in its capacity to justify anything and everything in the
name of Israel. We have, as I shouted so loudly to the man standing so
quietly beside me, sold our soul to the Devil in the belief that
somehow that will make us safe. Five minutes watching any footage of
the damage wrought on innocent civilians in Gaza a year ago; five
minutes reading about the humanitarian and economic devastation, a
collective punishment on families, women, and children who live there;
five minutes talking to any Palestinian who has lost a home, a job,
loved ones to Occupation will testify to our collective ability to deny
culpability in the
oppression of a people and a land.

Their fear, well I can’t really speak to
that, because I am so much more afraid of what we are becoming than of
any threat. I am more concerned about what it means to survive as a
Jewish people if we become completely defined by our stubborn
unwillingness to see the “other” as human, as complex, as complicated
as we see ourselves. Those holding the Israeli flags yesterday do not
see Palestinians as the men, women, and children they are, with their
own individual hopes, desires, longings. They don’t understand that
Palestinian parents witnessing the killing of their children by bombs
dropped on Gaza grieve as hard and deep at these deaths as Israelis do
when their loved ones are killed (which happens much less frequently,
not that I want to suggest a competition about death counts). They
don’t understand that Palestinian men, women, and children enjoy eating
good food, drinking strong coffee, telling stories with family and
friends in the same ways that we enjoy doing those same things. All
they see is threat and this fear allows them to justify anything.

And me, I don’t see these diehard Israel
supporters as human in my turn, because I hate their inability to see
the Palestinians as fully
and as a result I am unable to appreciate their complexity, their

And so it goes, this cycling around of fear
and hatred. I expect and want more from myself than this. I know I am
capable of it because I have seen this capacity in other areas of my
life. What will it take, I wonder, for the Jewish community to wake up
to what we are doing? What will it take, I wonder, for me to bring
compassion to this question? For what I know for sure is that any hope
for our
collective survival, our
collective ability to thrive, depends on our ability to see ourselves
in the other. This skill starts with us, this skill starts with me, and
so I’m not very proud of myself right now.

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