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I would like to think that if I had been a college student in the summer of 1964, I would have gotten on a bus, headed south and joined those civil rights heroes.
But I wasn’t alive then, I wasn’t alive to march for peace in Vietnam and I was too young to take part in the movement to free Soviet Jewry.
But there’s a civil rights campaign taking place right now that is just as important, just as urgent and arguably the most significant challenge and opportunity facing Jews in the world today: the campaign for Palestinian rights in the occupied territories.
That’s exactly what my organization, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, is doing this summer and I invite you to join us. This July, Jews from around the world will spend 10 days on the ground in the West Bank engaged in creative, nonviolent activism in a campaign launched by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence called “Occupation is Not Our Judaism.” We will work in solidarity with Palestinians under threat of eviction from their homes. Just a few weeks ago, on February 2, 2016, the Israeli army demolished 23 homes in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank to make way for IDF training zones. We will stand with Palestinians in the segregated city of Hebron, where Israeli settlers are attempting to appropriate even more Palestinian homes. We will use our presence to expose the discriminatory and oppressive policies of occupation and bring that message back to our Jewish communities at home.
As Peter Beinart wrote in Haaretz in August 2014, “It’s time for American Jews who support Israel but oppose the occupation to commit to large-scale, direct action of our own. And the most important place to do so is in the West Bank.”
When I left New York and moved to Jerusalem in 2004, I didn’t go to Israel to search out a civil rights campaign. I moved to Israel to be ‘just Jewish’ in a Jewish-everything country. I deeply loved the stillness of Friday afternoons as Shabbat swept over the Jerusalem hills and the spontaneous-seeming sprouting of Sukkot that peppered front yards and alleys in the fall.
But while I feel nothing but love for the public expressions of Jewish life, I feel nothing but sheer contempt for the Israeli military occupation that controls an entire population.
After spending nearly ten years working on the ground in the occupied West Bank, I came to realize that for many Palestinians, Judaism is equated with domination because that’s their lived experience.
What Palestinians living in the West Bank see is that the people who steal their farmland are Jews, often wearing kippot and tzitzit. What Palestinians living in the West Bank see is that the people who carry guns, ride in military vehicles and subject their children to at-will stop and search frisks are Jews, barking out orders in Hebrew with Hebrew letters on their army uniforms. These kinds of policies are deplorable under any circumstances, but I find them all the more intolerable because they are being carried out in my name, in the name of a religion that I love, a religion that I teach to my child and a religion I teach to my students.
Under Israel’s military occupation, Israeli settlers and Israeli soldiers become seen as representative of the entire Jewish people. Whether we like it or not, Judaism has become equated with policies of land appropriation and the use of violence to maintain military rule over another population.
This is not my Judaism. If it’s is not your Judaism, I urge you to join us. We’ll be there July 10–20, 2016, because Occupation Is Not Our Judaism.
Ilana Sumka is the founding director of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, engaging in creative, nonviolent activism in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel with the aim of bringing an end to the occupation. She also teaches Jewish conversion classes in Brussels.