Thursday, September 26, 2013

From Boston to Bethlehem: Reflections on the "Jewish Homeland"

It's been a while since I last posted anything! But to be honest, I kind of feel guilty every time I want to write something about what's happening here; while in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and many other places surrounding us it's really awful and the conditions are much worse than here! Compared to all of them, Palestine is a much better place to be at the moment; as one of my friends put it; "we know things are bad in the Middle East when Palestine is one of the safest places to be." But yesterday another one of my friends posted something on his facebook page that was really powerful to me. He's come to Palestine just recently from the United States, and he's going to be staying here for a while living and working in Bethlehem. 

I don't want to give any comments or anything on the complexity of what he's written, I'd rather people read it and just think about it by themselves. Here it goes:

"Perhaps one of the most terrifying things for me while traveling around Palestine is realizing how many American Jews come to this land and believe that Israel and what Israel is doing somehow makes them feel closer to their Jewish identity.

The violence that surrounds me sickens me so much, particularly because I recognize as an American how complicit I am, and how many of my fellow Americans spend their lives supporting these horrors…

Down the street from my apartment in Bethlehem, a Palestinian city cut apart by an Israeli wall, there is the holy site of Rachel’s Tomb. The Tomb sits inside the city of Bethlehem but the Israelis built a wall on three sides to make it inaccessible to the Palestinians living beside it but accessible to machine gun-toting Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn. Just beside the Tomb’s Israeli walls are Aida and Azza refugee camps, full of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homes by Israel in 1948, prevented from ever seeing their homeland by Israeli laws which allow Jews from anywhere on Earth to move to Israel subsidized, but prevent Palestinians born there from ever going home. On the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road, some of the refugees’ old homes and mosques are visible along the side of the highway, but most Israelis call them “ancient, Arab-built ruins.”

In the Old City of Hebron, fences have been placed above the streets to prevent 500 Orthodox Jewish settlers who have taken over the second stories of Palestinian houses (with IDF support) from throwing trash down on the residents who have stayed. They still throw trash, which collects on the fence above as a visible reminder, and now they sometimes pee on Palestinians as well, as they know their piss will fall through the fence and hit Palestinians as they walk. At the tomb of Abraham, surrounded by dancing Orthodox Jews with American accents and Israeli soldiers who demand to know your religion before deciding whether you can pass, a visiting Latin American Orthodox tourist beside me laments that part of the tomb is still accessible to Muslims on the other side.

I travel from Bethlehem to Ramallah, taking a road that carefully avoids Jerusalem and Israeli settlements (off-limits to almost all Palestinians) by going South, East, North, and then finally West in order to reach a destination immediately North of us. Along the road sit white Jewish settlers, toting machine guns and waiting for their buses into Jerusalem. Sometimes the Palestinian roads are closed by the IDF inexplicably or for Jewish holidays or at odd hours, stranding Palestinians miles away from home, while the Jewish-only roads that bypass the West Bank remain open for use.

And on Rivlin street in Jerusalem, young American Jews drink the night away, ecstatic at the chance to reconnect with a land they start to call “home,” and to buy “Israeli Defense Forces” shirts for friends back home, apparently happy about (or at least, not giving much of a shit about) the violence that makes life a living hell for the millions of Palestinians all around them…"

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